Michael Polanyi

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Michael Polanyi (born Polányi Mihály) (March 11, 1891February 22, 1976) was a Hungarian–British polymath whose thought and work extended across physical chemistry, economics, and philosophy. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford.


Personal Knowledge (1958)

  • Comprehension is neither an arbitrary act not a passive experience, but a responsible act claiming universal validity. Such knowing is indeed objective in the sense of establishing contact with a hidden reality; a contact that is defined as the condition for anticipating an indeterminate range of yet unknown (and perhaps yet inconceivable) true implications. It seems reasonable to describe this fusion of the personal and the objective as Personal Knowledge. Personal knowledge is an intellectual commitment, and as such inherently hazardous. Only affirmations that could be false can be said to convey objective knowledge of this kind. (vii-viii)
  • Ever since [Copernicus], writers eager to drive the lesson home have urged us [...] to abandon all sentimental egoism, and to see ourselves objectively in the true perspective of time and space. What precisely does this mean? In a full 'main feature' film, recapitulating faithfully the complete history of the universe, the rise of human beings from the first beginnings of man to the achievements of the twentiech century would flash by in a single second. Alternatively, if we decided to examine the universe objectively in the sense of paying equal attention to portions of equal mass, this would result in a lifelong preoccupation with interstellar dust, relieved only at brief intervals by a survey of incandescent masses of hydrogen - not in a thousand million lifetimes would the turn come to give man even a second's notice. It goes without saying that no one - scientists included - looks at the universe in this way, whatever lip-service is given to 'objectivity.' (3)

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