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Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy [Paperback]

by Michael Polanyi
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 15, 1974 0226672883 978-0226672885 Corr. Ed
In this work the distinguished physical chemist and philosopher, Michael Polanyi, demonstrates that the scientist's personal participation in his knowledge, in both its discovery and its validation, is an indispensable part of science itself. Even in the exact sciences, "knowing" is an art, of which the skill of the knower, guided by his personal commitment and his passionate sense of increasing contact with reality, is a logically necessary part. In the biological and social sciences this becomes even more evident.

The tendency to make knowledge impersonal in our culture has split fact from value, science from humanity. Polanyi wishes to substitute for the objective, impersonal ideal of scientific detachment an alternative ideal which gives attention to the personal involvement of the knower in all acts of understanding. His book should help to restore science to its rightful place in an integrated culture, as part of the whole person's continuing endeavor to make sense of the totality of his experience. In honor of this work and his The Study of Man Polanyi was presented with the Lecomte de Noüy Award for 1959.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 428 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Corr. Ed edition (August 15, 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226672883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226672885
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
130 of 137 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where Philosophy needs to go December 30, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I have read this book numerous times over the last ten years and I think it offers the only truly hopeful path for the current impasse that exists between philosophy/religion and the numerous popularizers of contemporary science. What Polanyi shows (himself a chemist turned philosopher) is the way that in reality scientific knowledge, like all knowledge, has an ineradicably personal element to it. That is, you learn to be a scientist not by studying test tubes but by being an apprentice to someone who already is a scientist, who teaches you, disciples you, so to speak, trains you in how to know things in a scientific way. The key element is personal trust, you must trust them, have faith in what they are teaching you, believe in them and the truth, the reality of what they're teaching. This trust aspect is the 'tacit dimension' to all scientific (and every kind of human)knowing. Not only is it interpersonal at the start, all of our knowledge also includes our involvement in a community of fellow knowers (not unlike a church!). They help to validate our knowledge, they correct us, they serve to adjudicate our discoveries. Polanyi's point is that this personal knowledge is the only kind of knowing there is, even though it is not the kind routinely set forth by scientists in their own accounts of what they're doing and what they know. The force of his description is to take away the false dichotomy between supposedly objective 'factual' knowledge and purportedly subjectively impure 'beliefs.' All knowing has a faith-based foundation to it and we're all on the same ground when it comes to arguing for coherent views of the world, of what is and what's not. It's a great book, far from easy, but as important as any book of the last century. Read it!
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83 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who should read this book? June 12, 2003
Format:Paperback
I am fairly familiar with Polanyi's work and I thought it might be helpful to suggest who could benefit from this book. I would recommend this text to scientists and students who are interested in the philosophical issues and implications of their work, epistemology enthusiasts, philosophy students, and anyone trying to grapple with why Cartesian philosophy doesn't seem to explain reality.
Personal Knowledge is a dense read and Polanyi expects the reader to be familiar with many scientific and philosophic histories. It will require several reads to begin to get a grasp on the core of the material, but even a cursory reading is enjoyable and will challenge your thinking.
If you are not hip on philosophy, but are still interested in Polanyi's view of knowing reality, there are several texts available. If you don't know what the Cartesian Enlightenment is, then Meek's text "Longing to Know" is an excellent lucid primer that a high-schooler can understand. Drucilla Scott's text, "Everyman Revived" does a good job of expositing Polanyi with some biographical data as well.
The reason I rated this text 5 stars is because it is one of the best books I have ever read. However, it is not for everyone. not even a small minority of people will truly enjoy this book. So I hope I helped you become a member of the fractional minority or vice versa.
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93 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Polanyi's brilliant attack on naive objectivism November 15, 2000
Format:Paperback
Books on epistemology tend to be dreary affairs. Epistemology, which is the branch of philosophy that studies how human beings acquire and "validate" their knowledge, tend to be largely speculative and logical. Most theories of epistemology that are inflicted upon the world are nothing more than the highly artificial constructions of some philosopher telling us all how we "ought" to attain and validate our knowledge. Any correspondence to how men really attain knowledge is usually pure coincidence. Moreover, in many instances, the epistemological philosopher has some special agenda which he is seeking to impose on his readers by confusing them with a mass of epistemological pedantry. He may be trying to prove the validity of a largely speculative form of "reason" or of definitions or of certainty or of a perfect and immaculate form of "objectivity" or of some other equally utopian and irrelevant principle.
In the light of all this philosophical pretension, it is refreshing to come across a book like Polanyi's "Personal Knowledge." Polanyi was a chemist trained in the methods of science. He understands, as few merely speculative philosophers do, the necessity of deriving theories from facts, rather than facts from theories. Yet Polanyi is more than just a scientist; he is also a very shrewd and critical thinker who does not shrink from challenging long cherished assumptions within his own discipline of science. "Personal Knowledge" is, among other things, an attack on what might be called "naive objectivism," which can be defined as the epistemological view which holds that the only valid knowledge is that which can be articulated and tested by strictly impersonal methods.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Polanyi In Context April 14, 2005
Format:Paperback
Since many of Polanyi's main ideas in the book are given in other reviews, I thought it might be helpful to mention some other figures that are often associated with Polanyi so as to provide more of a context for his thought. First, the philosopher Marjorie Green, acted as Polanyi's interpreter to the philosophical community while he was alive. Her most accessible work is called The Knower and the Known. She did think that toward the end of his life he started to change some of his ideas (for the worse according to Green) although my cursory reading of the issues surrounding this claim have led me to conclude that it is mostly philosophical hair-splitting. I consider Thomas F. Torrance, theologian and former moderator of the Church of Scotland, to be Polanyi's best living interpreter. He is particularly important to understanding trends in theology that have been influenced by Polanyi's thought. Most helpful is a long article that was published elswhere but is now found in a book called Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge. Torrance does an excellent job of comparing Polanyi to the another big name in epistemology, namely Karl Popper, arguing that Polanyi's views are more inclusive and therefore superior. Some instructive comparisons between several seemingly disparate figures such as Kierkegaard, Piaget, Einstein, and Torrance can be found in a book entitled The Knight's Move by Loder and Neidhardt. I think someone has also mentioned it but Everyman Revived really is a nice little summary of Polanyi's main ideas. If you are a philosophy student you must read Personal Knowledge as it is the magnum opus of a very influential but often little recognized figure in the history of epistemology and the interface between science and philosophy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars It is way past time to move beyond critical thinking.
All knowledge is personal and must exist in a knower. Objective knowledge is a myth used by power seekers. Studied this for forty years.
Published 2 days ago by Ernest E. Meadows
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece and Intellectual Triumph on How We Know Things
Upon reading the other reviews of this masterpiece, the curious reader could easily get the impression that "Personal Knowledge" is all about philosophy and that a... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Theodore R. Spickler
5.0 out of 5 stars A deep, thoughtful read with many rewards
In "Personal Knowledge" the late Michael Polanyi, a Nobel-prize-winning Physical Chemist - created a tour-de-force analysis that explores the tacit, subjective nature of... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sanford Forte
5.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed the book!
The book articulates many of the thoughts I had been grappling with, but was unable to organize or didn't recognize as relevant to understanding my life.
Published 7 months ago by Scott D. McKnight
5.0 out of 5 stars Tips for reading a masterpiece
I have some words of advice for a new reader of Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge. These tips will likely apply more or less to the extent by which the reader studies... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Guglielmucci
4.0 out of 5 stars Still Relevant
Polanyi crafted an amazing work here that explores the impossibility of strict objectivity in science and other fields. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Jillian Igarashi
5.0 out of 5 stars very satisfied
I placed the order and received the book, as described, in a few brief days. It arrived in strong packaging to protect it. Read more
Published 23 months ago by David S Ekman
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking Through Both Ends of the Telescope: Personal Knowledge IS...
Michael Polanyi's "Personal Knowledge" is often mistaken as some excuse for advancing a subjective epistemology. Read more
Published on April 4, 2012 by C. V. May
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth Regarding the Unambiguous Epistemic Status of the Individual
Polanyi's rational quest began with concrete science and was transformed into the pursuit of philosophy whereas it ultimately concluded with the discovery of the unambiguous... Read more
Published on April 19, 2010 by Mike Robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic
Mr. Polanyi's Personal Knowledge is among the best books I've read. As one other reviewer noted, books on epistemology are normally "dreary affairs," but PK is an exception. Read more
Published on December 10, 2009 by J. Scott Shipman
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