History recounts how Plato founded his famous Academy in 387 BC, in the gardens next to the shrine of Akademos, an Athenian hero. He created, both in the academy itself and through his peripatetic oral teachings, a select forum of philosophers; literally “lovers of wisdom”. Being an academic or academician then meant, just as it does today, belonging to a group of intellectuals who apply responsible thought to our historic moment through scientific research. The life of the Academy cannot therefore become a repository of timeless ritual associated with outdated ideas; nor should it attempt to proclaim absolute truths in the sense of ab-solutae, or that which is decoupled from plural reality. As Kant might put it, only the critical path, with its need for vigilance and commitment, is open and passable to the scientist.
Being an academic therefore chiefly involves being a witness and bearing testimony to our historic moment. We cannot speak of the present as something about to be packaged and placed in a display case for the benefit of the past; we must rather reflect on the past to make it relevant to the present, thereby helping to create the future options in which life, hope and expectation reside. It is in this equilibrium, through which we take the pulse of our time, that our critical task is none other than to sieve out what is truly important.
We are currently in a time of change and turbulence, and we will need both to take risks and be tenacious in our efforts to find solutions. Scientific research, which is what our task amounts to, cannot be anything but interdisciplinary, and the Royal Academy of Doctors applies just such an approach to science. Its members, who are from the fields of law, economics, medicine, psychology, physics, engineering, geography and anthropology, among others, come together to create a bundled body of research which aspires, despite being based on a multifaceted perspective of reality, to build an edifice of knowledge, based on science and culture, which is fit to be inhabited by man.
Scientific researchers thus perform an almost Promethean feat of stealing light and fire, as they transform their profession into a passion that leaves more than a few casualties along the way. But the austere insistence that places the commitment inherent in this scientific venture at the service of humanity also delivers a remarkable sense of joy at having written a passionate biography based on so many different styles. An academy, especially an interdisciplinary one, allows all these biographies to become linked together and adopt a single, synchronised heartbeat.
“Being an academician is both an honour and an affirmation of intellectual nobility.”
Being an academician is both an honour and an affirmation of intellectual nobility. Academicians are like the patres conscripti or senators; functioning as the prebísteroi or elders of the intellectual community. There are other forms of nobility and other honours, but being an academician is distinct.
The status of academician is normally bestowed, on the basis of an accumulated set of scientific or academic achievements, at the apex of the holder’s maturity and career of magisterial teaching and research.
We live in an age of instant consumerism and sensory immediacy, deconstruction and flattening equality; and of axiological devaluation, in which having takes precedence over being, with a disrespect of whatever is sacred and a lack of trust in intelligence. It is in these contexts that the Academy constitutes the prestige of identity, the honour of responsibility and the nobility of service.
The mission of the academician must be none other than to gain access truth, to defend life, to labour in favour of science and to proclaim an intercultural coexistence.
For the academician, as the classical text says nihil mihi alienum hurnani, nothing that concerns man is foreign to him.