Polanyi Biographies

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Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) was a Hungarian from a non-observant Jewish family; his mother was called "Aunt of the Hungarian Revolution." He was baptized as a Catholic in 1919, but apparently only as a matter of convenience--he wanted to live and work in Germany, and it was better to have a Christian identity on one's passport rather than Jewish. Later in life, he associated most closely with the Protestant point of view. In his professional career, he began as a medical doctor, because that was the only scientific degree he could take in Budapest, but shortly switched to studying physical chemistry. He specialized in the adsorption of gases, X-ray crystallography, and reaction kinetics.

In 1947, Polanyi gave up his scientific research and was granted a chair in the humanities. He concerned himself mainly with the philosophy of science, economics, and sociology. In 1986, his son, John, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for carrying on the kind of work his father had begun in reaction kinetics.

In 1958, Polanyi published Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. In it he outlined the structure of an epistemology based upon tacit knowledge--those things we know that cannot be completely communicated by words. He claims that "all knowledge is tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge." If faith is a way of knowing, and if what Polanyi says is true, then faith must be "tacit or rooted in tacit knoweldge."

Michael Polanyi: Scientist and Philosopher

This biography was begun by Bill Scott in 1977. He worked on the research and writing for seventeen years with his wife, Ann, and his assistant, Monika Tobin. By 1994, he had a complete manuscript in 26 chapters that ran to 293,000 words and filled roughly 1200 pages in typescript.

Many members of the Polanyi Society read this manuscript and returned ...

019517433X, hardback, 368 pages.

  • Scott-Moleski
  • Nye
  • Mid-Century Authors
  • Hodgkin