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What is the purpose of this website?

Arisbe is being developed as a place for use by an international telecommunity with shared and overlapping interests that are held together in a common appreciation of the relevance of the work and life of Charles Peirce, a thinker of the advance guard at the beginning of this century who has turned out to be at the leading edge of inquiry in our own time. This includes the goal of providing unitary and universal access to all scholarly resources relevant to understanding him and his work. But although there is much to be learned by studying Peirce's ideas — and his life and times as well — and this will all be provided for as a matter of course, Arisbe is not devoted primarily to the study of Peirce himself but is intended rather to be a place on the frontier of inquiry where people who have an affinity with Peirce's way of thinking about things will naturally go, for their various reasons, because it keeps them in common contact with something important to them. It has no agenda other than support for people with this sort of concern.

As a resource center, the aim is to provide unitary and (in due time) seamless access to three kinds of things at once:

  • document and data resources of every relevant sort (understanding "document" in the general or multi-media sense)
  • state of the art instruments of inquiry, research, education, and communication
  • other people with similar or coinciding interests
  • Ideally, it will make everything of any use available in its best and most complete form and thus be the one place on the world wide web where all that is needed to support these interests is universally and unrestrictedly available. In actual practice, it will be successful insofar as it becomes the matrix of a process of communication, interpretation, and criticism which is heading in that direction, governed by that ideal as a regulative principle.

    Arisbe is also intended to be a contribution to the development of the web itself. The world wide web may be the most significant accomplishment of our time, though it is still only dimly understood and poorly appreciated by us. Its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, who is still active in its creation, is hardly known of outside of web development circles. (It is true that the web is not a single-handed creation at a datable moment but something whose origins can be fairly traced back at least as far as Vannevar Bush some four decades ago; but Berners-Lee was decisive in its creation in a way that should not go without special appreciation.) The web is not the internet, though it makes use of it, but is rather a dynamic matrix of places and spaces — nodal points and proximities and connections — with properties importantly different from the matrices of places and spaces we have taken for granted heretofore as our common-sense constraining environment.

    Thus, for example, a place on the web can be compared to Borges' fabulous sphere whose center is everywhere (or anywhere) and circumference nowhere: an image with affinities both with Einsteinian relativity and with archaic conceptions of the world as radiating from a central point or axis defined by the center of tribal life (as distinct from the nonperspectival or absolutist view of the world as something that can be surveyed and mapped from a location exterior to itself), and a website is comparable to a Leibnizian "monad" in being (potentially) a representation of the whole web universe from one of innumerably many possible points of view, each constituted as unique by the uniqueness of the way in which the web itself is internalized representatively.

    A better place — or at least a more sober one — to start from in understanding it, though, is perhaps to see that it is comparable to what Immanuel Kant dealt with in his Critique of Pure Reason in the part called "the transcendental aesthetic", which is concerned with the space/time schema of the world-order, which constitutes the basis of the world as we have it in common, insofar as we actually do have it in common, by constituting the objective domain of the world as physical. The web itself is, however, at a level above that, providing the objective domain of the world as represented. (This is why it is characterized as "virtual", which is a way of being real, as distinct from being a misleading substitute for the real.)

    A peculiar consequence of the mode of being of the web as representative is that it is not especially interesting intellectually to conceive of how to establish a place where all or nearly all of such-and-such is to be found, insofar as the material can be specified with precision to begin with. Such is the remarkable character of our times that something which only a few years ago was an aim too extravagant to take seriously has now become a matter of skill, industry, patience, and of course some considerable ingenuity: for all that is necessary for that is to find out what is "out there" on the web as best one can using the many search engines available, create a web page that links in a perspicuous order all of it that one has discovered, and then to maintain and sophisticate that system of linkage from day to day as new material appears and is incorporated. A worthwhile and interesting task, certainly, and a difficult and essentially incompletable one that requires much resourcefulness, yet not an especially challenging task for the creative thinker since one knows in a general way how to go about doing that. The challenge lies rather in designing and developingan on-line location that is an embodiment of an idea that has the power of life in it, such that it is not only something people use but also the active source of something they can be in the service of as well because it has its own life independent of them as individuals and that life seems to them worthy of their work in sustaining and growing it.

    Consequently, the virtual Arisbe must have a second purpose besides the one described initially above: it must aim not only at providing for its users but also at teaching its users to become providers as well — and perhaps even to understand that it really is as good to give as to receive, if not better. The site itself must teach this. It cannot be done by preaching it but must be so constructed as to teach it as a matter of course: if it doesn't then it will never be what makes it worth constructing to begin with, and will be put to other uses serving more particular interests in short order.

    The establishment of a website of this sort is a design problem with little precedent to draw upon, and there is good reason to be sceptical of its viability. Most people — though by no means all — who are interested in Peirce are academicians, and academicians, particularly those in the humanities and human studies generally, are customarily trained as a class in being irresponsible as regards the conditions for their activity as such. This is not a character flaw inherent by nature in people who become academics but is rather a part of the university system as a traditional institution, still visibly rooted in the pre-modern world of the 13th Century and earlier. There are, of course, many exceptional cases — none of us are merely products of our institutions — but the standing assumption of the university professor, stated somewhat simplistically to keep it short, is that the university administration is to take care of all matters that pertain to the arrangements with students as such, and to do so without disturbing the thought and time of the professor as far as possible, and the library, bookstore, and computer service people are to take care of all arrangements having to do with research and education resources, also with no disturbance of professors except where necessary.

    We thus regard ourselves, in effect, as an aristocratic class, properly serviced in our basic professional needs by several varieties of servants. This assumption — conceptually problematic in much the same way that the ancient conception of the "natural slave" is problematic, perhaps simply incoherent — is traditionally and powerfully reinforced in academia by making it explicitly clear that we have three distinct types of duties to perform: research, teaching, and service, and then making it equally clear that time devoted to the service function carries no weight as regards questions of tenure and promotion, so that if we do choose to indulge the service tendency in ourselves it is understood to be a matter of private whim rather than public good, a personal idiosyncrasy rather than a professional norm, noble in spirit, perhaps, but also likely to be regarded as exhibiting poor practical judgment.

    The construction of a successful website of this type, then, requires that it be so designed as to be clear that participation in the maintenance and development of the website itself is the proper task of the users, not of a special servant class, as we are presently accustomed to think, and to show that this, too, can be a matter of personal and professional satisfaction and not a mere obligation which one is required to satisfy for reasons too abstract to motivate us.

    This can be an exciting prospect for a philosopher or a philosophically minded person because philosophy has always seen its peculiar vocation as being that of getting at the fundamental assumptions, conceptions, and presuppositions we live by but of which we are normally oblivious, and many of these assumptions are presently buried within the structures of professional arrangement and accommodation which academicians have traditionally turned over to others as beneath their own concern. Thus, philosophers — amateur and professional alike — can look forward to a rich new harvest of bewilderment in the not too distant future.


    This page contributed by: Joseph Ransdell

    You can contribute to Arisbe yourself by responding critically to anything you find here, or by providing more information or other resource material, or simply by raising a cogent question. Whatever it might be, your contribution will be incorporated into Arisbe by explicit hypertext inclusion and itself become part of the standing resources here, and thus subject to further critical response or augmentation by others. In this way the collection of materials at Arisbe will grow continually toward the ideal of being the single and universally accessible resource center for all matters of interest in connection with Peirce and his work. In view of Peirce's extraordinary role in American intellectual history and his continuing relevance the aim is a reasonable and appropriate one.
    More on this and on how to contribute
    Page last modified by B.U. August 11, 2014, earliest on July 18, 2011 — B.U.
    Last modified August 10, 1998 — J.R.

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