Sunday, 6 September 2020

Building a new Personalist Website Using the Ideas and Values of Personalism

by David Jewson

 It must have been a couple of years ago that the committee of the British Personalist Forum decided to change from publishing their journal Appraisal in printed form to a completely on-line journal and I volunteered to try to update their website with a new version capable of on-line publishing.

The first thing I had to decide was whether it was worthwhile. I had come across Personalism quite by accident, having formed a friendship with Richard Allen, the founder of the forum. I spent my working life as a GP and had always known the importance of understanding people and helping them personally. It was important to understand patients as a whole and how their problems fitted into their lives. It was also important to them to have their personal stories understood. In many ways these things were even more important than the things I had learned at medical school. I soon realized that personalist philosophy connected exactly with the way I thought about the world and that it had valuable insights that were both interesting and practically useful. So, for example, John Macmurray’s studies on fellowship and friendship as both an important part of being human, but also as a practical political way forward and an alternative to materialism and the self as the important things in life, suddenly seemed to me quite obvious revelations. I now see personalism as reaching towards a solution to current human problems, something important, something that I emotionally feel to be good and worthwhile pursuing, and something that I want to do with other likeminded people.

I’m also interested in physics and consciousness. It is conventional to start with physics and material things and then try to explain consciousness from that starting point. However, I have found that it is actually much easier to start from consciousness, that is the personal world and how it changes, and explain physics from that starting point. That means I believe that personalism, as in the personal view, also has a great contribution to give to science in forming a coherent view of the world from the mess that physics currently is.

So, the answer was that, ‘yes’, I definitely though it was worthwhile to have a website that would allow people from across the world to express and publish their views on personalism and help develop what I think is both a dynamic and modern philosophy.

The next question was whether I would be able to do it. I am not naturally a completer-finisher, I like having ideas and will spend many happy hours thinking about things, but when it comes to putting them into action, that is completely different. I thought I could at least have a go. The other problem was that I didn’t know much about websites at all. Fortunately, technology came to my aid as building a website online is now extremely easy to do, even for a novice, with a variety of companies all offering good options. I chose Weebly as it had good reviews. Learning Weebly was very easy, which also means that, in the future, anyone could help me with the site, or even take it over completely if necessary. The site allows multiple editors and as many pages as you need, which would allow other personalists to have and edit their own pages on the site, which I hope is something that could happen in the future.

I was still able to use the address of our old website,, which was important for continuity and was able to add a wealth of material on the original site, a lot of which had been put together by Richard Allen, as well as all previous issues of Appraisal. This means it is already a good reference to use.

Becoming an on-line publisher has great advantages. Costs are minimal so we can now offer free on-line access and free publishing and should be able to maintain our website through donations. This gives access to personalists ideas to anyone who can access the internet completely free of charge. Authors can also publish articles without having to pay the exorbitant fees charged by some other journals. In this way, friends in the personalist community can share their ideas as friends; ideas freely given and freely received with the idea of helping each other, rather than making a profit.

I was able to take inspiration for the site design from other on-line journals, while trying to keep a simple consistent theme and make the website easy to use and had some valuable initial advice from Simon Smith. The site also has several advantages over a printed copy. Multimedia such as sound, video and colour pictures are easily added, so I have, for example, been able to add some video clips of Polanyi. All the articles on the site should be searchable from within the site but also using Google or other search engines. Philosophers trying to find out about personalism should be easily able to find our site from anywhere in the world and, by applying Google Translate, be able to translate it into any language. They should also be easily able to find authors and articles or even parts of articles by a standard google search.

It’s been an interesting time and there’s been a lot to learn. For example, if you want people to be able to find your site when they do an on-line search then you need to have your site ‘search engine optimized’ which means trying to find out the likely search phrases people will use. So, will they search for personalist philosophy or the philosophy of personalism or British personalists or British personalism or something else entirely? There have also been technical issues such as how to set up a store and on-line payments, but these have been steadily overcome. An option to be able to use PayPal has recently been added, for example.

Entirely against my own expectations, the web site is now up and running and we have posted the first on-line issue of Appraisal. We want to be an academic journal with the highest standards. We have already signed up several supporters and have had some generous donations. We now need some really good articles for our next Appraisal issue, so we need to let everyone know that we are up and running!

With lots of interesting ideas to explore and then thinking how they might apply to our ever-changing world; I think the journal and the site have a great future.

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