Personal Knowledge Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy
by Michael Polanyi, foreword by Mary Jo Nye
University of Chicago Press, 2015
Paper: 978-0-226-23262-1 | Electronic: 978-0-226-23276-8
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226232768.001.0001


The publication of Personal Knowledge in 1958 shook the science world, as Michael Polanyi took aim at the long-standing ideals of rigid empiricism and rule-bound logic. Today, Personal Knowledge remains one of the most significant philosophy of science books of the twentieth century, bringing the crucial concepts of “tacit knowledge” and “personal knowledge” to the forefront of inquiry.

In this remarkable treatise, Polanyi attests that our personal experiences and ways of sharing knowledge have a profound effect on scientific discovery. He argues against the idea of the wholly dispassionate researcher, pointing out that even in the strictest of sciences, knowing is still an art, and that personal commitment and passion are logically necessary parts of research. In our technological age where fact is split from value and science from humanity, Polanyi’s work continues to advocate for the innate curiosity and scientific leaps of faith that drive our most dazzling ingenuity.

For this expanded edition, Polyani scholar Mary Jo Nye set the philosopher-scientist’s work into contemporary context, offering fresh insights and providing a helpful guide to critical terms in the work. Used in fields as diverse as religious studies, chemistry, economics, and anthropology, Polanyi’s view of knowledge creation is just as relevant to intellectual endeavors today as when it first made waves more than fifty years ago.


Michael Polanyi (1891–1976) was a Hungarian-British chemist and philosopher, a fellow of the Royal Society, and a fellow of Merton College, Oxford. His many books include Science, Faith, and Society; Knowing and Being; and Meaning, all published by the University of Chicago Press. 


“Polanyi’s monumental work, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, takes the shape of an orderly rejection of the false ideal of wholly explicit and wholly impersonal, so-called objective knowledge. The human mind, for him, is not an impersonal machine engaged in the manufacture of truth. In fact, Personal Knowledge represents a compelling critique of the positivist claim for total objectivity in scientific knowledge. . . . Polanyi, the scientist-philosopher, calls forth an enormous array of examples to show that the scientist himself is engaged in acts of personal acceptance and judgment in the very doing of science.”
— Philosophy Today

“Rich in insights, groundbreaking in its interpretations, Personal Knowledge deserves to be better known.”
— Science and Education





Part One: The Art of Knowing

1. The lesson of the Copernican revolution

2. The growth of mechanism

3. Relativity

4. Objectivity and modern physics

2. Unambiguous statements

3. Probability statements

4. Probability of propositions

5. The nature of assertions

6. Maxims

7. Grading of confidence

1. Chance and order

2. Randomness and significant pattern

3. The Law of chemical proportions

4. Crystallography

1. The practice of skills

2. Destructive analysis

3. Tradition

4. Connoisseurship

5. Two kinds of awareness

6. Wholes and meanings

7. Tools and frameworks

8. Commitment

9. Unspecifiability

10. Summary

Part Two: The Tacit Component

1. Introduction

2. Inarticulate intelligence

3. Operational principles of language

4. The powers of articulate thought

5. Thought and speech. I. Text and meaning

6. Forms of tacit assent

7. Thought and speech. II. Conceptual decisions

8. The educated mind

9. The re-interpretation of language

10. Understanding logical operations

11. Introduction to problem-solving

12. Mathematical heuristics

1. Sign-posting

2. Scientific value

3. Heuristic passion

4. Elegance and beauty

5. Scientific controversy

6. The premisses of science

7. Passions, private and public

8. Science and technology

9. Mathematics

10. The affirmation of mathematics

11. Axiomatization of mathematics

12. The abstract arts

13. Dwelling in and breaking out

1. Introduction

2. Communication

3. Transmission of social lore

4. Pure conviviality

5. The organization of society

6. Two kinds of culture

7. Administration of individual culture

8. Administration of civic culture

9. Naked power

10. Power politics

11. The magic of Marxism

12. Spurious forms of moral inversion

13. The temptation of the intellectuals

14. Marxist-Leninist epistemology

15. Matters of fact

16. Post-Marxian liberalism

Part Three: The Justification of Personal Knowledge

2. The confident use of language

3. The questioning of descriptive terms

4. Precision

5. The personal mode of meaning

6. Assertions of fact

7. Towards an epistemology of Personal Knowledge

8. Inference

9. Automation in general

10. Neurology and psychology

12. The fiduciary programme

1. The doctrine of doubt

2. Equivalence of belief and doubt

3. Reasonable and unreasonable doubt

4. Scepticism within the natural sciences

5. Is doubt a heuristic principle?

6. Agnostic doubt in courts of law

7. Religious doubt

8. Implicit beliefs

9. Three aspects of stability

10. The stability of scientific beliefs

11. Universal doubt

1. Fundamental beliefs

2. The subjective, the personal and the universal

3. The coherence of commitment

4. Evasion of commitment

5. The structure of commitment: I

6. The structure of commitment: II

7. Indeterminacy and self-reliance

8. Existential aspects of commitment

9. Varieties of commitment

10. Acceptance of calling

Part Four: Knowing and Being

1. Introduction

2. Rules of Rightness

3. Causes and reasons

4. Logic and psychology

5. Originality in animals

6. Explanations of equipotentiality

7. Logical levels

1. Introduction

2. Trueness to type

3. Morphogenesis

4. Living machinery

5. Action and perception

6. Learning

7. Learning and induction

8. Human knowledge

9. Superior knowledge

10. At the point of confluence

1. Introduction

2. Is evolution an achievement?

3. Randomness, an example of emergence

4. The logic of emergence

5. Conception of a generalized field

6. The emergence of machine-like operations

7. First causes and ultimate ends