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Philosophy of Institutions

Towards a Digital Revolution in Philanthropy
Digital Donations as Catalysts for the Sustainability Of Nonprofit Organizations

Whitehead Initiative in Digital Donation - download white paper pdf - 1.6 MB

Sabre's very practical work to promote education and free inquiry around the world stems from its long-standing philosophical programs, directed for the past 25 years by Josiah Lee Auspitz. Sabre's book donation program began when Auspitz, awarded a research fellowship at the Polish Academy of Sciences in 1986-7, sought to supply a list of 31 technical titles his Polish colleagues had requested. While those specific titles were in the end purchased through the generosity of Sabre board member T. J. Coolidge, in the course of researching the larger potential for scientific and scholarly assistance Sabre developed a program that spread quckly through newly chartered NGOs in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and thence, through the efforts of a dedicated staff, to over 80 countries.

In addition to launching a book donation program, the Philosophy of Institutions Project has from time to time partnered in, sponsored and organized international conferences, publishing ventures, fellowships and other scholarly undertakings. Several of these programs have continued outside Sabre. Economicprincipals.com, incubated at Sabre in 2002-4, is the most recent such spinoff, as detailed below. Previous to this, the newly organizing, web-based Michael Oakeshott Association was domiciled at Sabre from 1999 until its chartering in late 2002 as an independent tax-exempt organization. The Polish-produced annual Praxiology, another Sabre-incubated project, is now in its twelfth year of independent publication.

The unifying thread in the project, however, has been Auspitz's own sustained philosophical inquiry. He has sought to provide an anatomy and critique of the principal modes of thought underlying modern institutions. To develop a fresh conceptual ground for this, he has gone beyond the standard academic topics to explore, among other approaches, the late semiotic and graphical logic of Charles Sanders Peirce, the attempts at a logic of practice (or 'praxiology') deriving from the Lviv-Warsaw School of Philosophical Logic, and various modern reworkings from medieval and ancient sources of the category of modality. His occasional papers and reviews have given evidence of such exploratory work.

Auspitz and University of Neuchâtel Professor Kilian Stoffel were awarded a US software patent for a 'semiotic switch' applying to the storage and retrieval of multi-media computer data, an approach pioneered by C. S. Peirce. In addition, a paper entitled "Modality and Compossibility" presented at the Burton C. Gray Memorial Conference of the Michael Oakeshott Association (London School of Economics, 2001) was published in The Intellectual Legacy of Michael Oakeshott, edited by Timothy Fuller and Corey Abel (Imprint Academic, Exeter, 2005). The first part of a three-part essay, it traces a strand of reflection on modality from Spinoza to Hegel to Oakeshott, who used the concept to describe both the main modes of human experience and two modes of association that have shaped the character of the modern European state. The second and third parts of the essay are covered in Auspitz's presentations at subsequent international conferences at Colorado College (2003/2006). They trace a second strand of reflection on modality from Locke through Kant to Peirce and then propose an integrated view applicable to the full range of modern institutions. Auspitz's occasional articles are preparatory to a longer, original treatise in progress, with the working title, The Centrality of Trust: an introduction to the philosophy of institutions. This will be completed outside Sabre. In 2006 the Philosophy of Institutions project will follow the example of several of its own programs and be spun off to seek an independent career.

Auspitz's philosophical work has been supported over the years by outside fellowships, consulting and other non-scholarly work, and through Sabre by a core group of loyal contributors, among them several members of Sabre's board. Sabre will continue to accept earmarked financial contributions to the Philosophy of Institutions Project until March 31, 2006, with the understanding that such contributions may also be applied to successor arrangements.

Economic Principals

Until 2002, when it was abruptly cancelled by The Boston Globe "Economic Principals" by David Warsh had been one of a handful of regular columns in the American press devoted to serious economics. It concentrated, uniquely, on the economics profession and leaders of economic thought (the "principals").

Under Sabre's sponsorship, Warsh kept up his coverage of technical economics in digital form. By the end of 2004 it had garnered an influential online readership, regularly reaching more than 10,000 readers in 90 countries. A fellowship at the American Academy of Berlin enabled Warsh to complete work on Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery, scheduled to be published by W. W. Norton in early 2006. "Not since Robert Heilbroner's classic work The Worldly Philosophers have we had as attractive a glimpse of the essential science of economics," says the publisher.

Beginning in 2005, Economic Principals left Sabre to become an independent web-based weekly, www.economicprincipals.com. Sabre was honored to have assisted so distinguished an observer of economic institutions and ideas in the transition to a new medium.

Whitehead Initiative in Digital Donation

With the departure of Economic Principals, Sabre took on in late 2004 its third web-based project since 1999: a pilot effort devoted to an exploration of the coming digital revolution in philanthropy. A seed grant from the Whitehead Foundation of New York will enable Sabre to develop a white paper outlining the prospects for digitally transmitted donations and to pioneer sample applications. "Digital donations" are grants of software, of network and professional services, of templates for governmental and institutional procedures ('e-government'), and of micro-scholarship and other grants transmitted in digital form. The project white paper will address both the promise of digital donations in themselves and in conjunction with more traditional philanthropic techniques. A sample application will be an e-training program for loan officers at an African micro-credit union. The project's 'virtual' character permits Sabre to conduct it jointly under the aegis of Sabre Europe of Brussels. The work will be largely led by former Sabre Executive Director Mark Frazier and a new non-profit, Open World, Inc., to which elements of the project will migrate. John C. Whitehead and the Whitehead Foundation were the venture philanthropists critical to the launch of Sabre's book donation work, and their return for this new initiative represents further evidence of a spirit of philanthropic innovation.