All Knowing is Personal
In his book Science, Faith and Society
(1946), Polanyi set out his opposition to a positivist
account of science, noting that it ignores the role which personal commitments play in the practice of science. Polanyi was invited to give the prestigious Gifford Lectures
in 1951-2 at Aberdeen. A revised version of his lectures were later published as Personal Knowledge
(1958). In this book Polanyi claims that all knowledge claims (including those which are derived from rules) rely on personal judgements. He denies that a scientific method
can yield truth mechanically. All knowing, no matter how formalised, relies upon commitments. Polanyi argued that the assumptions which underlie critical philosophy
are not only false, they undermine the commitments which motivate our highest achievements. He advocates a fiduciary post-critical approach, in which we recognise that we believe more than we can prove, and know more than we can say.
A knower does not stand apart from the universe, but participates personally within it. Our intellectual skills are driven by passionate commitments which motivate discovery and validation. His writings on the practice of science influenced Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. According to Polanyi a great scientist not only identifies patterns, they choose significant questions which are likely to lead to a successful resolution. Innovators risk their reputation
by committing to a hypothesis
. He gives the example of Copernicus
, who declared that the Earth revolves around the Sun. He claims that Copernicus arrived at the Earth's true relation to the Sun not as a consequence of following a method, but via "the greater intellectual satisfaction he derived from the celestial panorama as seen from the Sun instead of the Earth."
Polanyi rejected the claim by British Empiricists
that experience can be reduced into sense data, and rejects the notion that "indwelling" within (sometimes incompatible) interpretative frameworks traps us within them. Our tacit awareness connects us, albeit it fallibly, with reality. It supplies us with the context within which our articulations have meaning. Contrary to the views of his colleague and friend Alan Turing
, whose work at The University of Manchester
prepared the way for the first modern computer, he denied that minds are reducible to collections of rules. His work influenced the critique by Hubert Dreyfus
of "First Generation" Artificial Intelligence
It was while writing Personal Knowledge
that he identified what he calls the "structure of tacit knowing". He viewed it as his most important discovery. He claimed that we experience the world by integrating our subsidiary awareness into a focal awareness. In his later work, for example his Terry Lectures
, later published as "The Tacit Dimension
" (1966) he distinguishes between the phenomenological
, and ontological
aspects of tacit knowing, as discussed (but not necessarily identified as such) in his previous writing.