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He believed in civilisation and the power of rational thought, and felt that these were being undermined by the degenerate forces of his age, not least by the politicians who dominated Athenian affairs. The philosopher envisaged his university as a chance to change the climate of opinion and to perform in the outside world some of the same intellectually hygienic manoeuvres as he practised in many of his books.

Plato’s belief that wise books may not be enough feels correct, to this writer at least. However convinced one might be at an intellectual level of one’s commitments to an examined life, one risks being only reliably devoted to it when it is routinely affirmed by such public institutions as magazines, television stations and universities. In danger of being corrupted by the idle chat of our societies, we require places where the aspirations inside us get some confirmation from prestigious bodies around us.

It is common to accept that new desires and needs should continually spawn start-up businesses.

So it seems only right that our multiple cultural needs, many of which remain ill-served even in this exceptionally wealthy era, should every now and then also be allowed to spawn original cultural institutions that could better serve our deepest intellectual aspirations. I’ll continue to dream of a world which is sensibly equipped with a University of Life.

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