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31 JULY 2012

Michael Polanyi and tacit knowledge

"Central to Michael Polanyi's thinking was the belief that creative acts (especially acts of discovery) are shot–through or charged with strong personal feelings and commitments (hence the title of his most famous work Personal Knowledge). Arguing against the then dominant position that science was somehow value–free, Michael Polanyi sought to bring into creative tension a concern with reasoned and critical interrogation with other, more 'tacit', forms of knowing.

Polanyi's argument was that the informed guesses, hunches and imaginings that are part of exploratory acts are motivated by what he describes as 'passions'. They might well be aimed at discovering 'truth', but they are not necessarily in a form that can be stated in propositional or formal terms. As Michael Polanyi (1967: 4) wrote in The Tacit Dimension, we should start from the fact that 'we can know more than we can tell'. He termed this pre–logical phase of knowing as 'tacit knowledge'. Tacit knowledge comprises a range of conceptual and sensory information and images that can be brought to bear in an attempt to make sense of something (see Hodgkin 1991). Many bits of tacit knowledge can be brought together to help form a new model or theory. This inevitably led him to explore connoisseurship and the process of discovery (rather than with the validation or refutation of theories and models – in contrast with Popper, for example)."

(Mark K. Smith 2003, infed.org)

Smith, M. K. (2003) 'Michael Polanyi and tacit knowledge', the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/polanyi.htm.

Hodgkin, R. (1991) 'Michael Polanyi – Prophet of life, the universe and everything' Times Higher Educational Supplement, September 27, page 15.

Polanyi, Michael (1967) The Tacit Dimension, New York: Anchor Books. (108 + xi pages). Based on the 1962 Terry lectures (Yale) this book provides an overview of tacit knowledge. He looks at tacit knowing, emergence and the significance of a society of explorers.

TAGS

acts of discovery • connoisseurship • creative acts • critical analysisdiscovery process • exploratory acts • formal logic • hunchesimaginingsinductive reasoning • infed.org • informed guess • Karl Popperlogical-analytical paradigm • Mark Smith • Michael Polanyiobjectivity • passions • personal commitments • personal feelings • Personal Knowledge (book) • pre-logical phase of knowing • propositional logic • reasoned interrogation • reasoning • refutation • Robin Hodgkin • sensemakingtacit • tacit forms of knowing • tacit knowledge • The Tacit Dimension (book) • theories and models • theory building • theory validation • truth • value-free science • we can know more than we can te

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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