To strive for meaning is perhaps inevitable for normal human beings as symbol-using social animals. The problem most thoughtful persons face, however, is to discover how to understand our faculties for grasping meaning and how responsibly to accredit the diverse domains of meaning open to our appreciation.
Polanyi: The Man and His Philosophy
Michael Polanyi was a scientist and philosopher whose life and thought were centrally occupied with these problems. He saw the twentieth century as an era immersed in a crisis of meaning. It was to him a time when the developing course of the philosophical tradition had born nihilistic and violent fruit; it was a time, he believed, when misplaced ideals in his own beloved science were at work undercutting the traditional bases of both scientific endeavor and the cultural traditions of the West.¹. …
¹ These views are argued in several publications but are perhaps most succinctly put in Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch, Meaning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975).
Phil Mullins is assistant professor of humanities at Missouri Western State College, Saint Joseph, Missouri 64507 and was the convener of the Consultation on the Thought of Michael Polanyi at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Dallas, Texas, November 9, 1980.
Michael Polanyi on Art and Religion: Some Critical Reflections on Meaning by Ronald L. Hall
This paper is a critique of the theory of meaning in art and religion that Michael Polanyi developed in his last work entitled Meaning. After giving a brief summary of Polanyis theory of art, I raise two serious difficulties, not with the theory itself, but with the claims Polanyi makes about the relation of meaning in art to science and religion. Regarding the first difficulty, I argue that Polanyi betrays an earlier insight when in Meaning he attempts to dissociate meaning in art from meaning in science; instead I argue that both science and art are aesthetic enterprises. Regarding the second, I argue that Polanyis account of religion is an aesthetic reduction, that meaning in religion, at least in the Western tradition, is not so much an aesthetic as it is an existential matter.
Ronald L. Hall is associate professor of philosophy and religion at Francis Marion College, Florence, South Carolina 29501.
Questioning Polanyis Meaning: A Response to Ronald Hall by Bruce Haddox
Michael Polanyis distinction between the indicative meaning of scientific statements and the symbolic and metaphorical meaning of art and religion, presented in Meaning, is based on an abstraction from concrete experience and betrays an inadequate understanding of religious discourse, particularly the discourse of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In fact, Polanyis vision in Personal Knowledge, which analyses the priority of personal action to all achievements of explication, seems either to be denied or forgotten by the positions taken in Meaning. Hence, the argument here is that Meaning is a deviation from Personal Knowledge and a step away from the resources necessary to grasp adequately the logic of religious discourse.
Bruce Haddox is associate professor of philosophy and religion at Simpson College, Indianola, Iowa 50125.
Science and Reality, Religion and God: A Reply to Harry Prosch by Richard Gelwick
Michael Polanyi saw his epistemology as restoring the capacity of a scientific age to believe again in the reality of God known through religion. This central feature of Polanyis thought, discussed in my book The Way of Discovery, is disputed by Harry Prosch, co-author with Polanyi of Meaning. Proschs argument is that while in Polanyis view science deals with an independent reality, religion and theology do not and are only works of our imagination. This article answers Prosch with a review of Polanyis Christian affiliations, his conceptions of the common ground of science and religion, the levels of reality to which both science and religion provide access, and his expressed aim to liberate faith from scientific dogmatism.
Richard Gelwick is general coordinator of the Polanyi Society and head of the religion and philosophy department at Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri 65201.
Polanyis View of Religion in Personal Knowledge: A Response to Richard Gelwick by Harry Prosch
This paper shows from a close textual study that, although Michael Polanyi used the term reality in a generically similar way for what provided the external pole in the natural sciences, mathematics, art, and religion, he consistently made, in Personal Knowledge as well as in later published and unpublished works, a distinction between realities existing independently of our articulate systems in the natural sciences and those existing only in the articulate systems of mathematics, art, and religion. This difference is shown to be the basis for a controversy as to whether or not he should be regarded as a Christian.
Harry Prosch is professor of philosophy and acting chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York 12866.
Truth in Religion: A Polanyian Appraisal of Wolfhart Pannenbergs Theological Program by John V. Apczynski
This essay attempts to explore the senses in which religious meanings may be understood to be grounded ontologically and in which they may be validly accepted as true. It begins by outlining Wolfhart Pannenbergs proposal for conceiving the scientific status of theology and his formulation of the question of theological truth. Then certain epistemological presuppositions are challenged in light of Michael Polanyis theory of knowledge. Finally a revised understanding is proposed in Polanyian terms. Here in their primordial sense religious meanings are based in the act of breaking out toward the ground of our tacit foreknowledge. In their primary sense religious symbolizations are accepted as human creations and judged to be valid insofar as they integrate meaningfully all the disparate elements of our experience.
John V. Apczynski is associate professor of theology at Saint Bonaventure University, Saint Bonaventure, New York 14778.
Pannenbergs Polanyianism: A Response to John V. Apczynski by Durwood Foster
John V. Apczynski, while presenting a helpful analysis of Wolfhart Pannenberg and Michael Polanyi, does not succeed in showing that Pannenbergs theology is incoherent. Contrary to Apczynski, I hold that Pannenbergs concern for theoretic assertions is not extrinsic but intrinsic and central to his program. Moreover, this concern does not rest directly upon the cultural dominance of impersonal knowing but is a countering of the theological overreaction against it. Polanyi has pioneered the critique of impersonal knowledge, but in Pannenbergs judgment much theology tends to espouse too cheaply the Polanyian elevation of faith as ground of knowing. Pannenberg, while appreciating the relative justification of Polanyis work, is attempting to thematize afresh—in interesting contrast to Polanyi and, for instance, Paul Tillich—the public, rational structure of faith.
Durwood Foster is professor of Christian theology at Pacific School of Religion, 1798 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley, California 94709.
The Question of a Religious Reality: Commentary on the Polanyi Papers by William T. Scott
Two aspects of the problem of interpreting Michael Polanyis outlook on religion are discussed. First, various ways of relating to reality beyond the objective perception of factuality must be considered, including the shift from I-It to I-Thou relations, and the self-giving mode of surrender to a symbolized reality. Second, the active use of the imagination in perception involves a commitment that the image is of something real, transcending the person. I believe that Polanyi understands both religious rituals and works of art to point to realities that can be met again in new ways. After this discussion reasons for Polanyis reticence to speak about his own religion are suggested and, finally, some known facts about his personal religion are given.
William T. Scott is professor emeritus of physics at University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada 89557.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order by David Bohm, reviewed by Dean R. Fowler