The original Academy was a public grove in which Plato, his pupils, and invited guests would, through vigorous discussion and debate, attempt to uncover the secrets of society and human nature. Over time its members and the focus of their discussions evolved, but at heart it remained a forum where the process of engaging with diverse ideas—even if the ideas in question turned out, ultimately, to be faulty—were of primary importance.
The contemporary ‘academy’ might cause Plato and his immediate successors some disappointment. Scholars tend to write articles to pursue funding and fulfill quotas. The peer-review process and publish or perish culture at times leads to a lack of passion and vibrancy in published work. At times it appears that higher education is at risk of devolving into something akin to a factory production line, whereby students are seen as revenue to be captured and volume of research as a checkbox to be ticked by administrators. Scholars can run the risk of becoming targets for public exhortation should they buck the current trend. Political groups also exert pressure, with governments, international organizations and think tanks (formerly ‘pressure groups’) rewarding research supporting their agendas, and targeting those which do not through rewards and boycotts.
Hestia maintains that scholars are at their most useful as intellectual teasers of the mainstream. With this in mind there are two broad areas within which Hestia seeks to provide insight and grounds for action. The first is the unprecedented scale of modern society, which consists of an interwoven network of complex institutional and individual ties making elements of uncertainty an intrinsic element of all human activities, and rendering future prediction in certain realms difficult, if not irresponsible. The second is the issue of freedom of expression.
Frequently in academia the originality of a work is determined by its generation of new data, regardless of whether the aims and results are irrelevant to broader society. Too many researchers proudly proclaim that, “No one has studied this before!” without carefully considering precisely why no one chose to do so. At Hestia we do not care about generating data per se, nor do we insist that the work we publish is ‘groundbreaking’. While we applaud original thought, we recognize that 2500 years after Socrates it is difficult to be truly original. In our opinion it may instead be more worthwhile to reintroduce the ideas of great thinkers of the past, and to apply these ideas in ways that are new to our audience. The primary focus is therefore not on originality but the application of good ideas, new and old (and perhaps even original) to the understanding of problems facing contemporary society.
The Flame of Hestia, source of light, purifying fire. Hestia is the Greek goddess responsible for the proper ordering of Home, Family and State. When new colonies were founded, a flame from Hestia’s hearth would be carried to the new settlement as a symbol of the spread of Greek civilization that we recognize (tentatively, not dogmatically) as the root of a free society.
Mendacia in Luce Moriuntur (Lies die in the light)