The Franklin Forum
Skidmore College • The Intercollegiate Studies Institute • Skidmore Honors Forum • The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization
The Franklin Forum is a student-led reading group at Skidmore College that facilitates, through the discussion of closely read texts, the pursuit of knowledge of oneself and of one’s historical circumstances.
Members read texts drawn from the Western tradition from a variety of sources and disciplines touching on politics–in the broadest sense of that term. We meet weekly to discuss the readings and to assess the arguments made by their authors. In addition to our regular meetings, we also occasionally host speakers and travel as a group to conferences.
The Franklin Forum is, and must be, directed by the student members themselves. While we have several faculty sponsors who support our efforts and have pledged to come to the occasional meeting, we aim for an atmosphere in which students are more at ease to take intellectual risks than they are in the classroom. Students lead the discussions and maintain pleasant, civil, and serious inquiry.
The Franklin Forum is not beholden to any particular discipline. We take a broadly humanistic approach, drawing from politics, literature, and philosophy. The Forum also seeks, through its selection of readings, to explore authors or themes not often covered in the classroom. There are approximately ten meetings per semester, following readings from a syllabus that is generally prepared prior to the start of each term. As the semester progresses, the syllabus may change to accommodate any newfound interests that members may want to explore further.
We take our name from the polymath Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, justly famous for his broad range of interests, his devotion to the pursuit of knowledge, and his dedication to associational life. In his self-reliance, concern for virtue, and devotion to political life, Franklin serves as a model citizen of the modern liberal republic–in particular, of the one whose celebrated liberties make our free discussion possible.
Professor Flagg Taylor (Government)
Other supportive faculty:
Professor Catherine Golden (English)
Professor Tillman Nechtman (History)
Professor Jennifer Delton (History)
Professor Natalie Taylor (Government)
Professor Barbara Black (English)
1. Regular attendance is required. Occasional absences, though, are fine.
2. For each meeting, members ought to read all of the assigned texts and to prepare in advance a few comments and questions.
3. Dress code for meetings is business casual.
4. Personal anecdotes are generally discouraged, as they tend to lead discussion away from the text and generally fail to contribute anything meaningful.
5. Political correctness is unnecessary. Members should not be afraid of presenting views that conceivably offend those who hold their opposites. That said, members ought not to take others’ comments personally. The proper disposition for discussing ideas seriously is one of self-distance.
6. Members should seek always to root their comments and questions in the assigned texts. Once discussion becomes detached from the readings, the level of intellectualism is instantly reduced: we are not great thinkers like the authors of the texts we read and therefore should not think that anything we might offer off the tops of our heads could be as profound as what we could find in the texts themselves. It also follows that we must be humble in our attempts to understand these authors’ thought.
7. Approach the reading and discussion of these works with the understanding that what the authors write may be based in truth (i.e., the nature of things).
Remember that our living at a time in history later than that of the thinkers we read does not entail our possessing any greater moral knowledge than they. The nature of moral knowledge is qualitatively different from that of scientific knowledge in that the basis for its confirmation as truth lies not in physical demonstration, but in argument and the use of reason.