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The Logic of Tacit Inference

  • Michael Polanyi (a1)


I propose to bring fresh evidence here for my theory of knowledge and expand it in new directions. We shall arrive most swiftly at the centre of the theory, by going back to the point from which I started about twenty years ago. Upon examining the grounds on which science is pursued, I saw that its progress is determined at every stage by indefinable powers of thought. No rules can account for the way a good idea is found for starting an inquiry; and there are no firm rules either for the verification or the refutation of the proposed solution of a problem. Rules widely current may be plausible enough, but scientific enquiry often proceeds and triumphs by contradicting them. Moreover, the explicit content of a theory fails to account for the guidance it affords to future discoveries. To hold a natural law to be true, is to believe that its presence may reveal itself in yet unknown and perhaps yet unthinkable consequences; it is to believe that such laws are features of a reality which as such will continue to bear consequences inexhaustibly.



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page 1 note 1 See my Science, Faith and Society (O.U.P., 1946, and as Phoenix Book expanded, 1964), also Personal Knowledge (London and Chicago, 1958, and as Torch Book, New York, 1964).

page 2 note 1 Buytendijk, F. J. J., Mensch und Tier (Hamburg, 1958), p. 59.

page 3 note 1 Whewell, William, Philosophy of Discovery (London, 1860), p. 254.

page 4 note 1 Brentano, , Franz, , Psychologie Von Empirischem Standpunkt (1874) quoted from edition by Oskar Kraus, Leipzig, 1942.

page 5 note 1 Lazarus, R. S. and McCleary, R. A., J. Person 18 (1949), 191 and Psychol. Rev. 58 (1951), 113. These results were called in question by Eriksen, C. W., Psychol. Rev. 63 (1956), 74, and defended by Lazarus, , Psychol. Rev. 63 (1956), 343. But in a later paper surveying the whole field (Psychol. Rev. 67 (1960), 279) Eriksen confirmed the experiments of Lazarus and McCleary and accepted them as evidence of subception.

page 6 note 1 Eriksen, C. W., Pychol. Rev. 67, p. 279 (1960).

page 7 note 1 Lorenz, Konrad in General Systems, ed. von Bertalanffy, L. and Rapoport, A. (Ann Arbor 1962), p. 50.

page 8 note 1 See e.g. Quine, W. V. O. in Word and Object (New York and London, 1960) p. 221. He rejects any reference to intentions as conceived by Brentano.

page 9 note 1 Hefferline, F., Keenan, B. and Herford, A., Science 130 (1959), 1338–39.

page 9 note 2 Razran, G., Psychol. Rev. 68 (1961), 81.

page 10 note 1 This distinction is most widely developed in Merleau-Ponty, M., Phenomenology of Perception (London, 1962). Eng. Translation of Phenomenologie de la Perception (1945).

page 14 note 1 This view was expressed, e.g. by ProfessorZiff, Paul in The Feelings of Robots in Minds and Machines, ed. Anderson, A. R., Prentice-Hall Contemporary Perspectives in Philosophy Series (1964). Other authors contested it. I regard my argument in its favour as decisive.

page 16 note 1 Polanyi, Michael, Reviews of Mod. Physics, 34, 601 (1962).

page 18 note 1 Scriven, Michael, Explanation, Prediction and Laws in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. III (Minneapolis, 1962), p. 172.

page 18 note 2 Nagel, Ernest, The Structure of Science (New York, 1961), p. 417.

page 18 note 3 I have published simultaneously with this paper a more fully developed statement of my Body Mind theory in Brain under the title The Structure of Consciousness.


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