What Engineers Can Do but Physicists Can’t

Tradition and Discovery 39 (2):22-26 (2012)
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This is a comment on Tihamér Margitay’s “From Epistemology to Ontology,” where he criticizes Polanyi’s claim that there is a systematic correspondence between the levels of ontology and the levels of tacit knowing. Margitay contends that Polanyi supports this correspondence by appealing to a “purely ontological argument,” one which concludes that it is impossible to reduce machines to a singular, chemical-physical type, and criticizes this claim by pointing to industrial standards (machines that do reduce to singular physical-chemical type). I respond to Margitay’s claim by distinguishing two different “purely ontological arguments” in Polanyi’s thought (one relying on the multi-realizability of a machine in different physical-chemical types, the other pointing to the inability of a purely physical-chemical ontology to account for the artificial shaping and functioning of machines). With these two arguments clarified, Margitay’s criticism by appealing to industrial standards loses much of its initial force.



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