What is AGORA-net?

Raphael's School of Athens

AGORA-net is a Computer-Supported Collaborative Argument Visualization (CSCAV) tool. An argument is defined here as a set of statements—a claim and one or more reasons—where the reasons jointly provide support for the claim, or are at least meant to support the claim.

AGORA-net can be used for free by everybody. The software provides step-by-step guidance to construct arguments and networks of arguments and counter-arguments. The software is collaborative in the sense that users can work simultaneously on the same argument map via an internet connection, be it in face-to-face communication or online. They can add arguments and objections to statements, as well as references, links to resources, comments, definitions, and friendly amendments.

The design of an AGORA-net argument map is based on the consideration that the main point of arguing is to provide a justification for a claim, a thesis, or a recommendation. Thus, these statements are always located on the top left of your screen. By providing reasons for your claim, you work to the right. Of course, any map can be read from any direction.

In a Greek city, the “agora” is an open place in the middle of town where citizens come together for all kinds of public purposes. The famous Agora of Athens was the place where Socrates engaged his compatriots in discussions that revealed how full of beliefs and opinions they were, but without any real knowledge.

Socrates was driven by the imperative γνωθι σαυτον (“know yourself!”), and the same spirit drives the AGORA-net. The AGORA-net is a place on the web where everybody can propose arguments for his or her positions, recommendations, or theses for the world to see or in protected spaces, and learn something about the structure of his or her own reasoning—and its inevitable limitations and weaknesses.

Our AGORA-net provides a space to interact with others, to engage the presentation and discussion of a diversity of perspectives, to develop and refine positions in social interaction or for oneself, and to clarify controversies by visualizing the best possible argumentation for each point of view. The AGORA-net is a virtual online world in which users can walk around, find interesting discussions in which they can participate, or create their own topics for debate or reflection.

''Since 2010, the AGORA project is funded by the United States-Russia Program of FIPSE, the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education (Grant P116S100006). From 2010 to 2012 the project was part of a collaboration with Bauman Moscow State Technical University (Prof. Olga Smirnova), and since 2012 it collaborates with the Institute of Philosophy in the Russian Academy of Science (Prof. Vitaly Gorokhov). Both these collaborations focus, first, on the development of online media for engineering and engineering ethics education and, second, on the development of engineering ethics in Russia.