Personal Knowledge Essay - Critical Context

Michael Polanyi

Critical Context

In Personal Knowledge Michael Polanyi criticized important modern ideas and attitudes, and these criticisms called for responses from many philosophers, who, unfortunately, never made them. From the time of the book’s appearance until Polanyi’s death in 1976, he worked in the University of Oxford, but even there his philosophical writings were either neglected or received with suspicion. Polanyi had spent a significant portion of his life as a physical chemist, and it was natural for philosophers to look upon him as an outsider. Indeed, his relative ignorance of the field is a good example of his own thesis that any discipline contains much that is acquired tacitly, through acculturation. Despite this realization, Polanyi thought, toward the end of his life, that his work had been a failure. His purpose had been to convince intellectuals that the modern mind was in trouble and that he had a solution in his new epistemology. To be sure, he won some converts, but most Western intellectuals either ignored or failed to be persuaded by his work.

Polanyi should not have been surprised by this. England, during his time there, was dominated by analytic philosophy, and these philosophers, both logical positivists and language analysts, were unable to take him seriously. Logical positivists, who wanted to maintain the distinction between science and nonscience, saw his action of putting them on the same continuum as muddying the waters of science. Furthermore, Polanyi’s treatment of personal knowledge put him, according to analytic...

(The entire section is 633 words.)