Rethinking Michael Polanyi's realism: from personal kowledge to intersubjectively viable communication

Ray, Tim (2008). Rethinking Michael Polanyi's realism: from personal kowledge to intersubjectively viable communication. Prometheus, 26(3) pp. 241–257.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/08109020802270208

Abstract

Fifty years after the publication of Michael Polanyi's magnum opus, Personal Knowledge, the fashion for Knowledge Management (KM) has helped to institutionalise a redefinition of his distinction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. But KM's redefinition of Polanyi's argument misrepresents his insights into the process of personal tacit 'knowing' and overlooks the implications of his faith in metaphysical 'being'. This paper explores the significance of Polanyi's original concept of tacit knowledge, together with the consequences of assuming a 'vertical' connection between personal knowledge and faith in an unknowable absolute truth. By using faith to protect personal knowledge from the charge of subjectivism, Polanyi precluded the possibility that different people, who interact in different contexts and believe in different things, could develop viable modes of knowing and learning. However, rethinking Polanyi's philosophy with regard to Ernst von Glasersfeld's radical constructivism, which is derived from intersubjectively viable 'horizontal' communication, allows the virtues of tacit knowledge to be separated from the complications of metaphysical realism.

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