Michael Polanyi on art and religion: Some critical reflections on meaning

Zygon 17 (1):9-18 (1982)
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Abstract

This paper is a critique of the theory of meaning in art and religion that Michael Polanyi developed in his last work entitled Meaning. After giving a brief summary of Polanyi’s theory of art, I raise two serious difficulties, not with the theory itself, but with the claims Polanyi makes about the relation of meaning in art to science and religion. Regarding the first difficulty, I argue that Polanyi betrays an earlier insight when in Meaning he attempts to dissociate meaning in art from meaning in science; instead I argue that both science and art are aesthetic enterprises. Regarding the second, I argue that Polanyi’s account of religion is an aesthetic reduction, that meaning in religion, at least in the Western tradition, is not so much an aesthetic as it is an existential matter

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