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Michael Polanyi, tacit cognitive relativist

Jacobs, Struan 2001, Michael Polanyi, tacit cognitive relativist, Heythrop journal, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 463-479, doi: 10.1111/1468-2265.00174.

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Title Michael Polanyi, tacit cognitive relativist
Author(s) Jacobs, Struan
Journal name Heythrop journal
Volume number 42
Issue number 4
Start page 463
End page 479
Publisher Blackwell Publishers
Place of publication Oxford, England
Publication date 2001-12-16
ISSN 0018-1196
Summary Celebrated as a theorist of science, and a source of stimulating ideas for theologians and philosophers of religion, Michael Polanyi explicitly denied cognitive relativism. Yet cognitive relativism, this paper suggests, is implied by Polanyi's account of conceptual frameworks and intellectual controversies.

In 'The Stability of Beliefs' (1952) Polanyi understands conceptual frameworks (science, psychoanalysis, Azande witchcraft, Marxism) as embedded in, and as expressed in the use of, their own languages. The language-with-theory limits the range of discussable subjects, interprets relevant facts in its own terms, permits only certain questions to be asked, with answers to these questions serving to confirm the framework.

In Polanyi's masterwork, Personal Knowledge (1958), these ideas inform his discussion of controversies over scientific frameworks and frameworks vying to become part of science. In each controversy, frameworks are logically disconnected, Polanyi foreshadowing the incommensurability thesis

I argue that Polanyi's ideas satisfy recognised criteria of cognitive relativism. Perception is undetermined by objects and conditioned by language. Empirical propositions, in Polanyi's view, are accepted as true only within a conceptual framework. Polanyi regards supporters of logically disconnected frameworks as thinking differently, living in different worlds, speaking different languages and as experiencing communication failure. There is no framework-independent argument or evidence to distinguish any framework as the best available approximation to the truth. Frameworks are logically disconnected and incommensurable.
Language eng
DOI 10.1111/1468-2265.00174
Field of Research 220299 History and Philosophy of Specific Fields not elsewhere classified
HERDC Research category C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
Copyright notice ┬ęThe Editor/Blackwell Publishers Ltd
Persistent URL http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30001040

Document type: Journal Article
Collection: School of Social Inquiry
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