With HF’s support, Széll Kálmán Fellowship Alumnus, Tamás Boldizsár Hajas participated in The Witherspoon Institute’s First Principles Summer Seminar.
The two-week program’s purpose is to complement university education by introducing students to “first principles”, i.e. the foundational philosophical and theological ideas.The seminar examined traditional texts of metaphysics and epistemology as the backdrop for the university. Students read and discussed classics like Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas, along with later authors like Nietzsche, Giussani, and Arendt, just to name a few.
The seminar’s greatest achievement is to open up the eyes of young adults to the importance of philosophy and reflection in general. According to our fellow, Boldizsár, the two weeks feel like a retreat in a certain sense, dealing with the most important and heaviest questions of life: such as God, truth, friendship, or marriage. The specialty of the experience was further aided by the location of the University of Pennsylvania, with its great parks, historical buildings, and vivid atmosphere in spite of the summer break.
The lessons were exceptional in their balanced teaching method as well. The professors inspiringly guided the students through their discussion, prompting them to think and making them engage with the topics, yet not letting thoughts stray too far away from the original intent. The faculty represented different schools of thought or styles, yet one thing was common in all of them – they were committed to the highest level.
The experience consisted of a lot more than just the morning and afternoon sessions though. Guided tours of both the university and the city of Philadelphia provided the participants with important historical accounts of their surroundings. The tours featured anecdotes, pieces of historical texts, and poetry.
The international cohort spent a lot of its free time together as well, continuing classroom discussions while forging lasting friendships. All 12-15 participants were able to connect with each other, and the general ambiance was of friendship and acceptance.
All in all, the program was greatly successful in cultivating the students’ longing for the “culture of joy” and exposing them to a fruitful alternative to today’s “story of suspicion” – that is, moral relativism and destructive criticality.
“I am prompted to engage more with life – reflect more, stand up for truth more and search more for meaning and God. These two weeks were «game changers» in a sense, strengthening and inspiring.” – Boldizsár Hajas