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Showing 1-4 of 4 reviews(5 star). Show all reviews
on June 12, 2003
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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on November 15, 2000
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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on December 30, 1999
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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on February 4, 1999
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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