The United Kingdom is home to some of the most respected and established higher education institutions in the world, but they are in decline. Universities are supposed to be bastions of reason, of purposeful intellectual pursuit. And yet today, too many universities serve an opposite function, and in fact, hinder and even retard one’s intellectual development. The choice to engage one’s mind is a first step toward intellectual development, but the content and method of thinking is of crucial importance. Are you engaging your mind to observable facts and following logical connections based on such facts, or are you devising theories based on illogical hypotheses and “gut intuitions”? Are you constructing systems of thought based on desired conclusions, or are you reaching conclusions based on observable facts? Are you engaging your mind to the natural, or the supernatural world?
The answers to these questions will determine whether one’s intellectual pursuits are conducive to his intellectual development, or to its detriment. It is for this reason that one should be highly selective not only of the content of his study, but on the purpose of his educational endeavour. And if that purpose is intellectual development, universities may not be fit for purpose.
Such was the experience of Prometheus on Campus founder and chair Ely Lassman. Over the course of a three-year-long economics degree at a top Russel-Group university, independent thinking, active mindedness, and scrupulous examination of ideas and traditions were seen disfavorably by professors, the Student’s Union, and even much of the student body. There was no platform for one to critically examine ideas freely, without being condemned of doubting the status quo. There is an economic principle known as Gresham’s law. It states that “bad money drives out good”. There is no merit to it, yet a parallel can be drawn: good ideas drive out bad ones, and it turned out that there was a desperate need on campus for a platform in which students could have meaningful discussions, examine multiple perspectives on fundamental issues, and push one another to intellectual limits. Unfortunately, the university did not provide such a platform, so Ely decided to create one himself.
Returning from the summer holiday into the second year at university and determined to found a student society that would provide an environment on campus for the free exchange of ideas, Ely drafted a manifesto, a constitution, and was finally required to gather 30 signatures from students who were interested in seeing the society founded and participate in its activities. Yet two hours before the deadline and only 19 signatures, Ely was almost ready to give up. But as mentioned above, he was determined to create such an environment on his campus. So with two hours left before the deadline, he took to the streets, pitched the society to total strangers (if they were students), and by the time of the deadline had 33 signatures. The society was founded.
But why is this story relevant? What is the takeaway, you may ask. Well, the Liberty Society concluded that year with over 50 paid members, and were the most active and engaging academic student society on campus. There is another economic principle, known as Say’s law. It states that “supply creates its own demand”. The platform that the society provided—an open and safe environment for the free exchange of ideas—and the demand that they saw, is evidence of it. They continued to have an even more successful second year.
During his time as president, Ely witnessed first-hand the impact such a platform can have both on individual students, and the campus as a whole. It was truly inspiring to hear such positive feedback and learn how the organization changed many student’s university experience for the better and aided in their personal development. So nearing graduation Ely decided to found a charity with the purpose of extrapolating the activities of the Liberty society to a national scale. Prometheus on Campus was established.
We are an educational charity working to promote philosophy for liberty and independence across campuses in the United Kingdom. We do this by supporting existing viable student societies, and encouraging ambitious, active-minded students to establish their own organizations. Central to our organization is the recognition that with the free exchange of ideas comes the responsibility of advocating for the right ideas, and rejecting the false and the bad. As stated on our website:
“By focusing on philosophy and fundamental ideas, we encourage individuals not only to identify societal and institutional flaws, but introspect and understand what motivates them. Everybody has a philosophy—a system of ideas they hold to be true and are guided by—whether implicitly or explicitly. Prometheus on Campus encourages young people to identify and decide for themselves what ideas and premises to accept.”
This is done through the recognition that this world is intelligible, and we must be left free to use our minds. Freedom is a precondition to thinking; thinking is a precondition to life. If one wants to live, one must be left free to think. If one wants to live a good and happy life, one must think. And what other desire can one have?
Prometheus stole fire from the gods and brought it down to mankind. He gave man reason, technology, foresight. For this he was sentenced to eternal punishment. The flames at our university campuses today have long been put out, and students are in desperate need of such a fire. We at Prometheus on Campus will rekindle it by finding and creating titans on each and every campus who will carry the torch of reason.