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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who should read this book?
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...
Published on June 12 2003 by Andrew M. Johnson

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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay for its time, but...
I don't think much of personological/subjective explanations of science, such as Kuhn's and Polanyi's, but I think their views should be heard and considered nevertheless. Western writers seem to have an odd fascination with this sort of approach, for reasons that are understandable historically but that I believe are still untenable, most of which is related to the...
Published on Oct. 22 2003 by Magellan


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who should read this book?, June 12 2003
By 
Andrew M. Johnson (St. Louis, MO United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In response to "Good for it's time, but...", Dec 13 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Paperback)
"Personal Knowledge" by Michael Polanyi is still a valuable contribution, even now.
"Magellan" has said that subjectivist investigations don't buy you much anymore, but consider this:
Objectivist investigations don't tell you anything about how to use your own mind- the only tool you have for understanding Science to begin with. Yes, our brain is incredibly complex- yes, it has scientifically-investigatable structures which may be responsible for our consciousness- but without the actual, unavoidably personal use of your brain, you have nowhere to begin. I have all the structures that Magellan discussed in my brain, serving me at this very moment- but their function is underneath even what Polanyi calls "subsidiary knowledge". We can be aware of how our mental processes appear to behave to our conscious mind, but we are not aware of the work and usage of our individual neurons. If Magellan can show me how to become aware of the individual structures in my brain with all their individual neurons, and consciously micro-mangage their function in a way that results in me obtaining a better understanding of the world than I have only through the subjective perspective of my conscious mind, then I will say Polanyi is useless.
Until then, exclusively Objectivist investigations of the conscious mind won't buy you much, in terms of understanding how you (necessarily working out of the perspective of your own state of consciousness) comprehend the world we live in. If you want to learn something, anything, from science-- and still retain a sense that you can legitimately use your own subjective mind (albiet carefully) as you learn-- then it is worth reading Polanyi.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hard stuff, but worth being read, Feb. 4 2001
By 
Marcus Tesch - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Paperback)
Polanyi's book is hard stuff, indeed. His arguments and examples especially from his own field, i.e. chemistry, are often not too easy to understand let alone to be verified. But the book lacks any kind of obscurantism. The difficulties might stem from the actual thesis of the book itself: Knowledge is not gained by an objective flow of events and therefore the necessary outcome of a determined scientific endeavour, but it's grounded in so human conditions as the sense of beauty and passion. There's always a foreshadowing of the kind of enterprise and even of probable results that make scientists follow some line of argument or experiment and letting the other, so Polanyi's thesis. The decision therefore is not guided by any objective and given fact, but mainly lies in the realm of the scholar's interest, which gains a sense of reality, yet. I'm not sure, whether Polanyi would be pleased by that, but certainly he stands in the tradition of Kant and Wittgenstein, who in their respective develepment of a theory of knowledge point to the fact, that it's always human condition that shapes knowledge. There's no such thing as the being itself but always being as perceived through our senses (Kant) or language (Wittgenstein). In a time, where in the so-called life- sciences the human being is in danger of being reduced to his/ her genes and by that to the raw material of any kind of possible experiments, the voice of Polanyi should be heard, because the refutation of objectivism gets into the heart of the matter.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Polanyi's brilliant attack on naive objectivism, Nov. 15 2000
By 
Greg Nyquist (Eureka, California USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (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. Polanyi demonstrates why this view of knowledge is untenable. Some of man's most important knowledge, he argues, is tacit and inarticulable, like the knowledge of how to swim or how to judge a work of art. Yet men use such knowledge and even depend on it for their survival.
Polanyi's book is rich in such insights. Anyone interested in epistemology needs to read this book. It will change one's thinking about human knowledge and give one a great appreciation of the depth and wonder of the human mind.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Where Philosophy needs to go, Dec 30 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (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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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting study of tacit knowing and Polanyi's philosophy, March 9 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Paperback)
Polanyi continues where Gestalt psychology left off, claiming, as Kant also did, that perception is an active reformer of experience (in other words, the mind actively creates meanings out of phenomena at all times). He agrees again with Kant that the mind is not a tabula rasa on which experience writes but rather it is the presupposed structures of the mind (subsidiary and focal awareness) that form our perception of the world. The author eventually leads us to the question of epistemology itself, "How do we know what we know?" Polanyi believes that via tacit thought, say knowing how to play a piece of music fluently yet not being able to adequately describe our knowledge of it, we make knowledge personal. Skills such as music can only be inarticulately known, that is, they can somehow be understood tacitly and though our cognition may understand the relation of their parts we have difficulty describing these relations through our ability to communicate, i.e. explicit language. This is only the tip of the iceberg in Polanyi's thought but I highly recommend this in-depth study of personal knowledge. If you can get through the first few chapters the book gets easier to understand. It's heavy but it's very much worth your time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting study of tacit knowing and Polanyi's philosophy, March 9 1998
This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Paperback)
Polanyi continues where Gestalt psychology left off, claiming, as Kant also did, that perception is an active reformer of experience (in other words, the mind actively creates meanings out of phenomena at all times). He agrees again with Kant that the mind is not a tabula rasa on which experience writes but rather it is the presupposed structures of the mind (subsidiary and focal awareness) that form our perception of the world. The author eventually leads us to the question of epistemology itself, "How do we know what we know?" Polanyi believes that via tacit thought, say knowing how to play a piece of music fluently yet not being able to adequately describe our knowledge of it, we make knowledge personal. Skills such as music can only be inarticulately known, that is, they can somehow be understood tacitly and though our cognition may understand the relation of their parts we have difficulty describing these relations through our ability to communicate, i.e. explicit language. This is only the tip of the iceberg in Polanyi's thought but I highly recommend this in-depth study of personal knowledge. If you can get through the first few chapters the book gets easier to understand. It's heavy but it's very much worth your time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Expands true knowledge..., March 29 2002
This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Paperback)
The naturalist, materialist, and empiricist will cringe at Polanyi's book. True knowledge for Polanyi is derived as the mind becomes an active contributor to knowledge and appropriates knowledge through reason. In this regard he is similar to Kant.
Dogmatic and exclusive science is thereby dethroned and caste not lower than other forms of knowledge, but along side them. Knowledge based on authority and experience is shown to be interpersonal and relational. As a result, knowledge truly is personal and is not abstract. Therefore, knowledge derived via philosophy, religion, or authority can be just as valid as that which is derived from the chemistry set. This is a difficult task, but Polanyi works hard and ends with a compelling accomplishment.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, new viewpoints on science and humanities, Feb. 4 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Paperback)
I regard Polányi's book as the pattern that analitical philosophy can be interesting (not only a difficult reading) although it is clear that the author gives his special viewpoints to the issue. What interests me the best - at the moment - is the problem of "tacit knowledge" that is explained very exactly in the book. I appreciate its/his ethical viewpoints as well
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good as far as it goes, Sept. 20 2000
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This review is from: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Paperback)
I don't think much of personological/subjective explanations of science, such as Kuhn's and Polanyi's, but I think their views should be heard and considered nevertheless. Western writers seem to have an odd fascination with this sort of approach, for reasons that are understandable historically but that I believe are still untenable, most of which is related to the west's obsession with the individual ego and individual consciousness and with the phenomenological and existential approaches to reality that grew out of that.
While I respect Polanyi as a scientist (he was a noted physical chemist), unfortunately I think he's sort of gone off the deep end in terms of his subjectivistic interpretation of scientific method and of the work of the scientist, which amounts to an extreme form of neo-Kantianism.
The first problem I have with this is that by making the human mind the final arbiter of all knowledge and sense data, a systematic ghost of an illusion pervades all Kantian threories, because there is no strong connection to external reality anymore. While I would agree with Polyani in regard to Kant's basic thesis, that the mind is actively involved in organizing the data of the senses, and that ideas about the external world could not exist unless there were corresponding mental capabilities and constucts to match, this idea, although fine for its day, really doesn't buy you much anymore in my opinion. This is for two reasons, which is the problem of illusionism which I just mentioned, and the second is the approach that has now emerged from the last 75 years of work in neurobiology and the brain sciences, of which these writers seem blissfully unaware.
Although we still have a lot to learn, the picture that has emerged so far is both fascinating and impressive. For example, there are 60 trillion cells in a human brain organized into 14,000 major and minor brain centers, and they are all networked together. Each individual neuron has between 3,000 and 100,000 connections with other neurons, producing a neural web of unbelievable complexity. Most sensory neurons are devoted to using feature-detecting algorithms that require advanced calculus to understand, as David Marr has shown, such as the DOG (difference of two Gaussians) function pre-filter for optimization of spatial frequency versus bandwidth that the retina scans by means of a two-dimentional convolution integral to analyze the initial light distribution, and which is followed up with a Laplacian of the Gaussian or second directional derivative for detecting line segments, borders, and other visual "primitives."
At least at the level of basic sensory processing of visual images, the level of mathematical sophistication as well as just brute computational power and that is being devoted to the process is beyond anything we could have imagined. There is very little reason anymore to insist on its fundamental subjectivity in the Kantian sense. It is true that there are visual illusions at the higher levels of sensory perception, but those are now regarded as special cases, and they are being shown to be explainable in terms of mathematical visual field-distortion theories of these mechanisms that can be quantified just like the basic sensory processes.
Another reason neo-Kantian theories don't buy you much is to consider the work of cognitive psychologists and psychometricians like J.P. Guilford. Guilford has evidence for 120 different, discrete mental abilities. We have only just started to find out how all these areas and abilities actually work, but the resulting theories will far surpass in detail and complexity the simplistic philosophical generalizations of previous centuries about how knowledge is acquired and ideas are formed.
The bottom line at this point is that classical ideas like Kant's really aren't wrong, but they are like what classical Newtonian physics was after Einstein, when it became a piece of a much more profound, bigger picture. And the rest of that picture will be filled in by work in neurobiology and cognitive psychology, not by further vague philosophical speculation, which can only propose the most general explanations about these epistemological questions, rather than demostrate in detail how the mind and the brain actually perceive and extract information from reality and then use the information from sense data to generate ideas about the real world.
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Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy by Michael Polanyi (Paperback - Aug. 15 1974)
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