The following are references and questions that we may wish to discuss during this Saturday’s Zoom session.1. Do you agree with Polanyi when, on p. 2, he writes, “I do not think that the discredit which the ideal of detached scientific knowledge had cast on the grounds of moral convictions, would by itself have done much damage to them?” Is this claim consistent with Polanyi’s attack on positivism and other forms of objectivism associated with one-level detached scientific knowledge that in turn cast values and morality into the lessor category of subjective preferences and raise the issue of cultural relativism?
2. On p. 3 Polanyi speaks of the hybrid of skepticism and perfectionism in place of his usual term, “moral inversion.” Usually he suggests moral inversion is a primary cause of the 20th century’s wars, totalitarian regimes, and perhaps the depression. In this lecture he tones down large-scale implications of moral inversion and focuses its impact on persons.a) To what extent is moral inversion adequate for explaining the disasters of the century?b) Polanyi claims the nihilistic version of moral inversion finds in the world “no grounds for authority or value—and declares man’s choices unrestricted.” Do you find this claim for radical individualism is best understood as arising out of moral inversion?c) Is there a conflict in Polanyi’s claim that moral inversion produces both radical individualism and produces political teachings that suppress the individual (p.4)?
3. On p. 6 Polanyi claims that “the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the other must be predominantly tacit.” But isn’t most socialization (schooling, the media, instructions about behavior, etc.) done at an explicit level? Then in may be internalized and function in a person tacitly, but that does not seem how it is usually transmitted. Comments?4. On p. 7, after making a plea for the importance of tradition, Polanyi shies away from invoking the authority of revealed religion. On what grounds does he do this, and is it a valid move?
5. Polanyi argues that the way science operates, trusting its traditions, applying overlapping neighborhoods of knowledge, and seeking novelty, serves as a positive model for all aspects of society. Doe you agree? Is this model appropriate for religious bodies? Can it work in politics?6. Responsibility is a basic theme in Polanyi’s writings. Thus, it is a bit surprising that he offers no grounds, metaphysical or natural, for human freedom and responsibility. He claims (pp. 19-20) “Some unknown principle must enter, very different from all the is noticeable in the inanimate domain of nature, to account for sentient and responsible human behavior.” Possible problems with his use of the notion of principles were discussed in Lecture IV; can’t we do better than an “unknown principle” with respect to freedom and responsibility?
7. Do you find that the lecture adequately illuminates the role “thought in society” (the lecture’s title) plays in human existence?
For the novice Polanyi enthusiast, where is the new moral fervor coming from? Was it not present in humans before? What made it emerge during his time?
Moral passion has been present in some persons throughout history. What emerged in modern times was the fusion of moral passion with scepticism and nihilism.
“Greek skepticism” is the “source” of objectivism, “Judeo-Christian messianism” is the “source” of moral passion, but the eclipse of the “apocalyptic” dimension of the latter leads to its being immanentized.
What gets lost with skepticism and nihilism is submission to tradition.
Moral inversion sets the context where much becomes possible.. Interestingly, moral inversion is heuristic.
There’s a question of method that I’m trying to raise. What did Polanyi do to come to his assertions about “the modern mind.” I think he was concerned about Nazism and Soviet Communism, and sought explanations for the actions of states by reading texts written by intellectuals. I’m suggesting that to know what today we are more likely to call “public opinion,” it’s necessary to turn to sample survey research.
As to the causes of war, I would turn as much to his early essay on the causes of WWI as I would to his writings on moral inversion.
Radical individualism as complete autonomy? Polanyi seems to argue is unstable as a principle for society.
One of the weaknesses at least some versions of radical individualism is the assertion of individual rights without acknowledging duties.
Richard, I wonder if your question perhaps highlights the difference between the way we might characterize the foundations of social order. One might argue (and this would require elaboration) that, prior to the modern period, social and cultural order was “textually” grounded, whereas during the modern period the “closure of the book” (Mark Taylor) leads to a different ground or standard for social and cultural order.
Raine had a question to ask.
Duane - your sound gave out so we didn't understand your last comments.
Andrew, I prefer to say that it highlights the difference between the ways we come to know social order. Prior to the modern period, we simply didn’t have sample survey research.
Moral inversion is not the "best" but a helpful way of looking at authority and value and radical individualism, but other "stories" can also be helpful - eg. the story of the prodigal son where the West cashes in its tradition to head off on its own.
Fair enough! This may not, however, answer the question of whether the “proper” basis of social order is public opinion.
Charles, I don’t think that “science” can think about itself. I think it’s very important to distinguish what different scientists think and say about science from what philosophers of science think and say about it.
What about the idea that very powerful leaders suppress individuals to a greater extent that any system of thought. Powerful leaders — dictators and autocrats — use different texts to legitimate their corrupt use of power.
Good point Ellen. He also spoke of the infant’s enlarged anticipation of hidden truths which drives its learning.
A number of people talk of the "hidden curriculum" , the lessons students learn through the structure and practices of the teaching itself. Sometimes it teaches lessons to students that are not intended.
solely explicit learning reminds me of "transmissionism" where learning is regarded to be only transferred between brains (ala matrix) and pretty impersonal
Learning by imitation, especially as enhanced by the discovery of mirror neurons, can be entirely non-verbal, and tacit at least in this sense.
@matt - hidden cirrculum sounds like the "medium is the message"!
I think Richard Moody's remark is on target. Imitation is acritical.
Good point Henry. Makes me think of:
Opps, sorry: Matuschak, A. (2019, May 11). Why books don’t work. Retrieved from https://andymatuschak.org/books
yes eric! I just talked to him about this and where I got the term first! also https://numinous.productions/timeful/
I was wondering Henry. :)
X-rays: many of those clues can be made explicit and integrated into computer programs. I’ve read and heard the algorithms for reading x-rays do as good a job as do trained physicians.
I see the importance of cultural/community/tradition to enable same definitions of words (even being in this call we use common words that could be hard to grasp as an outsider until you stick around)
That’s how computers learn, Dick, but not how we learn.
Andrew, my point is that the tacit clues have to be made explicit before they can be included in the computer program. This is human learning being put into the computer program.
Arguably machine learning has its own tacit particulars since it pattern matches rather than encodes explicit models. Different than human intelligence though.
Yes, indeed; thanks for the clarification.
Shared with phil already, but made selectable transcripts (can search) for the lectures here: https://gist.github.com/hzoo/28e2ec254b215411d5a28555f11ffdf8#thought-in-society
Raine, very interesting observation regarding machine learning...Does it have it's onw tacit particulars without a sentient indwelling?
Thanks, Henry; that’s helpful.
@Eric: So interesting. I’m not sure. I could believe that it dwells in its hardware at least.
@ Raine, Ah, hadn't thought about the hardware in that regard.
Yes, Bill Poteat would frequently say that those who invent machines for human work (weaving) are in actuality relying on the skillful performances of experts. Mirror neurons: fascinating research in both humans and animals (crows that carefully watch their fellows and attempt to fool them to guard their own cache.)
@Eric: Information theorists tend to (conveniently) forget the materiality of computation, which leaks into their epistemology :).
True enough Raine. :)
> It appears then that traditionalism, which requires us to believe before we know, and in order that we may know, is based on a deeper insight into the nature of knowledge, than is a scientific rationalism, which would permit us to believe only explicit statements based on specific data and derived by a formal inference which we have previously tested.> But I am not re-asserting traditionalism here for the purpose of supporting dogmatism. I admit that my re-affirmation of traditionalism might have a bearing on religious teaching, but I want to set this aside here. For I believe that modern man's critical lucidity must be reconciled with his unlimited moral demands, first of all, on secular grounds. We should hope to derive religious enlightenment and perhaps a religious renewal from such a reconciliation, rather than try to invoke the authority of revealed religion for achieving this reconciliation.
Yes, thus far at least, computers that “play” chess serially run through all possible moves, vs. the human who relies on pattern.
From Duane's comments, is Polanyi not intentionally introducing heuristic ideas that will open up new vistas?
thinking of Polanyi's reference to "the second apple" in terms of reconciliation, looks like Jon wrote a piece on this
I want to distinguish between thinking like a scientist and thinking like a lawyer. A scientist seeks truth (ideally). A lawyer seeks victory for her clients, and looks for arguments and evidence that will result in victory.
When scientists think like lawyers, they corrupt science.
Those interested in several of the issues mentioned by Henry, Raine, etc., regarding machine learning and dilemma of explicit vs. tacit, etc., might be interested in Stanford economist Susan Athey's (an advocate of machine learning): Athey, S. (2017, Feb. 3). Beyond prediction: Using big data for policy problems. Science, 335(6324), 483–485. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6324/483
Interesting that COVID-19 has led to many organizations / institutions to try to re-imagine themselves. A hierarchical / bureaucratic structure is seen to be troublesome, but I find that people have trouble thinking in terms of dynamic order.
> The Republic of Science realises the ideal of Rousseau, of a community in which each is an equal partner in the General Will. But seen in this light, the General Will is seen to differ from any other will in that it cannot alter its purpose. The community of scientists would instantly dissolve, if its task came to an end and the members of the community had to decide on doing something else. A subjective choice can be varied at will, but a commitment rooted in tradition and bearing on reality, is dissolved by a change of direction. The difference is fundamental.
I regard “general will” as a misrepresentation of social reality analogous to the way “group mind” is a misrepresentation of social reality. That makes it hard for me to talk about “general will.”
Dick, do you think there might be some possible overlap between the concept of “general will” and that of “tradition”? Might the latter be a way of talking about the former?
Charlie, Polanyi assumes tradition. General will changes through practice, but that change can occur only through submission to the tradition. In this way it is both able to change while locked into something it cannot change.
Even the notion an individual will is a reification.
Good to be with you all again today. My gratitude to each of you for your contributions. I'll be leaving soon.
Thanks Dale! Nice to see you today
What this current argument is about is what constitutes a satisfactory explanation, rather than the better interpretation of Polanyi. Walt and Charlie are satisfied with an emergentist argument — “naturalistic” — while Richard Allen and (perhaps) Andrew find this incomplete and unsatisfactory.
Thank you all for this stimulating set of lectures and discussions.
Thanks to everyone for an excellent, relevant discussion, and especially to Walt, Gus and Phil.
Thank you again. I appreciate this community. I hope to participate in the future. Enjoy your day.
some other thinkers I've been interested in: Ivan Illich, Jane Jacobs, Elinor Ostrom