A central aim of Michael Polanyi’s philosophy is to demonstrate the many ways in which human existence is meaningful to counter the nihilistic and positivistic accounts that contributed to the world wars and totalitarian governments in the twentieth century. Yet Polanyi’s references to various sorts of meaning is suggestive rather than systematic and coherent. The objective of this essay is to show the relationship between the different aspects of meaning by viewing their emergence in cosmological perspective beginning with simple forms (...) of life and culminating in the ways signals, perception, and language support human experiences of significance. Emergence, embodiment, and “from-via-to” interpretation are key ingredients in this Polanyian version of biosemiotics. (shrink)
. Michael Polanyi criticized the neo‐Darwinian synthesis on two grounds: that accidental hereditary changes bringing adaptive advantages cannot account for the rise of discontinuous new species, and that a Ideological ordering principle is needed to explain evolutionary advance. I commend the previous articles by John Apczynski and Richard Gelwick and also argue, more strongly than they, that Polanyi's critique of evolutionary theory is flawed. It relies on an inappropriate notion of progress and untenable analogies from the human process of scientific (...) discovery and the fact that in physical systems minimal potential energy is most stable. Yet within a life of commitment to transcendent values humans can directly experience purpose and meaning, and in developing this notion Polanyi makes his greatest contribution to teleology. (shrink)
Stephen Turner explores the social dimensions of practices, probing to see if the notion of a shared practice can be understood as a cause or mechanism whereby knowledge arises and is used. When he concludes that practices are not some mysterious collective object but are best explained as individual habits, he thereby rejects an attenuated notion of practice and replaces it with a needlessly atomistic notion in which habits carry the full burden of explanation. Turner makes use of aspects of (...) Polanyi’s thought, but this article suggests ways in which a fuller appropriation of Polanyian insights can salvage a social, telic notion of practices that illuminates human behavior. (shrink)
In a recent article “From Epistemology to Ontology,” Tihamer Margitay argues that Polanyi fails to establish the necessary correlation he claims between the two levels involved in tacit knowing and corresponding ontological levels. I argue that Margitay correctly shows that such a correspondence does not hold in all cases, but I also point out problems in Margitay’s interpretation of Polanyi and suggest additional bases for ontological claims that go beyond Margitay’s analysis.
In Search of Memory, Eric Kandel’s excellent account of the rise of neuroscience, in which his own research has a prominent place, is reviewed with special attention given to its relation to Michael Polanyi’s philosophy. It is found that Polanyi’s epistemological theory, although established on quite different grounds, accords well with Kandel’ s description of how the brain operates. In particular, Polanyi’s theory of tacit knowing seems to be both enriched and validated by Kandel’s account of how memory functions.
The other articles in this issue plus other recent articles on Polanyi’s ethics have helped clarify Polanyi’s distinctive contribution to ethical theory. This article seeks to integrate these insights with Polanyi’s somewhat diffuse treatment of ethics by suggesting what features would be included in a distinctively Polanyian moral point of view. Grounded in psychological satisfactions, social dynamics, and values and ideals regarded as real, Polanyian ethics incorporates features of deontological, utilitarian, and virtue ethics and would support a practice of moral (...) discovery. (shrink)
While acknowledging her appreciation of and dependence upon the philosophy of Michael Polanyi, Marjorie Grene in developing her own philosophical vision distanced herself from some aspects of Polanyi’s thought. This essay examines her critique of a) Polanyi’s incorporation of religious themes in his writing, b) the teleology present in Polanyi’s understanding of evolution, c) his alleged return to dualistic thought, and d) his confusing use of “subjectivity” in Personal Knowledge. The essay points out ways in which her remarks are sometimes (...) trenchant and sometimes miss the mark. (shrink)
This article is intended to advance a comprehensive understanding of knowing and meaning that is sensitive to biological and psychological evidence as well as to ethical and religious concerns. It proceeds by integrating Michael Polanyi’s theories of the evolutionary emergence of centered beings, tacit knowing, and the from-[via]-to structure of consciousness with a revised version of Susanne Langer’s theory of symbolization. The revision stresses the importance of signals in all human and other animal attunement to reality and argues for dividing (...) Langer’s notion of presentational symbolism into a component shared by the more developed animals and one unique to humans. It details autonomic, receptor, learned tacit, and conceptual contributions to personal meaning. (shrink)
This essay examines Michael Polanyi’s notion of tacit knowing and seeks to clarify and elaborate upon its claims. Tacit knowing, which is conscious although inarticulate, must be distinguished from tacit processes, which are largely unconscious. Schematization is explored as a primary tacit process that humans share with all animals. This tacit process organizes and secures, in long-term memory, information of interest provided by receptors and those learned skifls conducive to survival. Human empirical knowing integrates schematized subsidiaries info articulate explicitness through (...) culturally-embedded symbols evoked in terms of felt fittingness. (shrink)
Ultimately Michael Polanyi moved from theorizing about reality in terms of three overlapping frameworks of analysis (personal knowing, evolution/ecology, and tacit knowing) to a yet more comprehensive framework of interpretation: meaning construction. An analysis of the dimensions of embodied, symbol drenched meaning construction suggests that the modernist tendency to tether reality to epistemological analysis be replaced by an exploration of three interpenetrating ontological regions: experiences of existential meaning, cultural forms of meaning, and external reality. In support of this view, I (...) make reference to earlier expressions of my work, utilize illustrations from philosophical history, and address comments from my critics. (shrink)
Inappropriately reductive or deterministic appropriations of science haunt Philip Clayton’s otherwise instructive appropriation of Michael Polanyi’s thought for theological and ethical reflection. The work at hand utilizes contemporary complexity theory to augment Polanyi’s notions of emergence and hierarchy and to provide a vision within which moral responsibility and theological inquiry make sense. It sets forth types and orders of emergence that bypass untenable notions of causality, reducibility, and determinism.
This article offers an appreciative review of Milton Scarborough’s book, Comparative Theories of Nonduality: The Search for a Middle Way. The nondualistic metaphysics and epistemology Scarborough argues for integrating three major influences: the Buddhist notions of emptiness and nothingness, ancient Hebrewcovenantal theology, and the minority perspectives within Western philosophy of Polanyi and Merleau-Ponty. What results is a vision of a protean reality that is not captured adequately by fixed essences—especially dualistic alternatives— or by a drive toward some unreachable certainty in (...) knowledge. The article raises somequestions about the implications of Scarborough’s thought and how he formulates it, but as a whole praises the work as a fine example of cross-cultural philosophy. (shrink)
In what manner can philosophy best face world problems? I argue that philosophy's most important contribution to problem solving is not analysis and clarification but synoptic in nature. Relying upon the power of reflection and the scope of imagination as linked to a patient attempt to understand many disciplines, the philosopher ideally seeks to comprehend problems in their many-dimensioned complexity. The disciplines of ecology, evolution, and ethics are especially fruitful in guiding the philosopher seeking to assess the relative worth of (...) things in their emergent inter-relationships. - In the body of the paper I attempt an outline of the outstanding human caused harms, injustices, and instabilities resulting in pain and suffering today. World philosophy today seems sufficiently pluralistic, comprehensive and free of unduly constraining orthodoxies that it can again play a significant role not only in conceptualizing problems but in articulating solutions. Broad visions comparable to Plato's as set forth in the Republic can again be ventured. We need to seek out ways to place into power a council of international philosopher kings and queens offering effective solutions beyond the dictates of partisanship and ideology. I conclude by suggesting five principles that international philosopher kings and queens might be expected to rely upon to bring about a more just global society. (shrink)
Joseph Bracken proposes to modify Whitehead’s tendency to see the comprehensive entities of everyday life as but aggregations of actual occasions. While there are resources in Polanyi’s notion of an emergent cosmos to counter Whitehead’s atomism and reductionism, Bracken’s use of Polanyi’s theory of a morphogenetic field as a corrective is argued to be only partially successful. Bracken must explain how morphogenetic fields evolve and arise. This step would require (1) replacing Whiteheadian reductionism with a principle of ontological parity that (...) honors the reality of interaction between entities and the integration of their operational principles within basic ontological levels and (2) setting forth principles of emergence to explain how these levels and fields arise. (shrink)
This essay celebrates the life and achievements of Richard Gelwick, the man perhaps most responsible for not only recognizing the importance of the thought of Michael Polanyi, but also for communicating its significance and giving it institutional continuity.
In five books, Donald Crosby has sketched out in some detail how nature, both as process and structure, can junction as the ultimate religious object. He understands nature to unfold in morally ambiguous ways, but argues accepting the necessary truth of ambiguity is no obstacle to existential religious faith. Such faith is given particular content through sensuous religious symbols. He distinguishes the religious rightness of ambiguous nature from moral rightness. Although the purposes of living things establish relational values in nature, (...) moral rightness for humans must largely be established on grounds other than nature. My assessment of Crosby’s accomplishment in these books is generally appreciative, but I raise questions about his notion of religious symbols and suggest that for his Religion of Nature to become a live option, grounds of morality need to be more clearly folded into his metaphysical and religious framework. (shrink)
This essay critically discusses books not previously reviewed in Tradition and Discovery yet making significant use of Michael Polanyi’s thought. These works suggest Polanyi’s thought continues to play an importanf, if limited, role in contemporary scholarship.
Rarely have I encountered a book like All Things Shining. It bravely engages issues that are truly significant for our time, yet flaws run through it like faults in the California landscape. The book has spawned contentious critique unusual for a work by contemporary philosophers. Before I offer my own critical analysis, it is fitting first to appreciate what Dreyfus and Kelly attempt to achieve.The foremost contemporary problems the authors combat are what they term "the burden of choice" and a (...) pervasive mood of nihilistic confusion. They believe the rationalistic and existential programs that are typically advocated in our secular age fail to offer persons convincing grounds for making sustainable decisions. .. (shrink)
Recent books by Harry Collins, Neil Gascoigne and Tim Thornton, and Stephen Turner examine the nature of tacit knowledge and the role it plays in society. Their interpretations are outlined and placed in juxtaposition with the extremely broad understanding of tacit factors in knowing set forth by the originator of the term, Michael Polanyi. I argue that the naturalized version advocated by Turner can best develop the richness of Polanyi’s insights, and I sketch out what some of the aspects of (...) a full account of the tacit might look like. (shrink)
This brief essay introduces five articles that (1) explore the relationship between the philosophy of Michael Polanyi and several other philosophers and that (2) suggest ways that Polanyi’s post-critical thought might be enriched by their philosophical insights.