Stefania Ruzsits Jha


(Chapter 5 of a thesis presented to the faculty of the graduate school of education,
Harvard University, in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Education, 1995)


Integrative philosophy - an evaluation

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5.3.3.B Justification of knowledge

For the justification of knowledge, it is important in science that there is a test of its validity, and the test is not circular.[66] We need to examine how Grünbaum and Polanyi approach this point.

Grünbaum's second charge against Polanyi's new epistemology is stated this way:

According to Polanyi, fallibility is mitigated by several aspects of his theory of tacit knowing. The scientist starts from a foundation of scientific knowledge shared by the scientific community. As he emphasized:

Based on this same interpretive framework, current science validates or rejects theories: judgement of plausibility is the guide both for the theorist and for peer review, according to our conception of the nature of things. Scientific discovery is grounded in the tradition of science and stands before the scientific community for a validation of its universal claim. Polanyi's Personal Knowledge grows out of these beliefs. From the start of an inquiry the scientist "must assume that there is something to be discovered, ... and what is discovered is real,"[69] and "for a claim to have made contact with reality, [the claim must be made] with universal intent."[70]These are the measures, according to Polanyi, to differentiate abortive from valid theories. As noted in the previous chapter, these measures can be challenged. Polanyi offers as safeguards against error a probability theory of truth, reliance on the `tradition' of science and reliance on peer `authority.'

That the initial insight, the aesthetic response, may be fallible, is a risk a scientist takes whenever he reaches out into unknown territory.[71] He makes his `best guess' based on his training and what Pantin called `honesty,' and what Polanyi, modifying Kant, called universal intent.

Polanyi's claim of the unspecifiability of clues on which the theory relies, Grünbaum insists, does not "illuminate the epistemological (methodological) attributes of a bona fide scientific discovery ..."[72] Grünbaum alludes to Polanyi's unspecifiabilities (sometimes Polanyi calls these indeterminacies) which include the following: (a) the indefinable character of the signs by which we recognize reality in nature (this is the unspecifiability to which Grünbaum mostly refers); (b) affirmations of reality in nature always have a widely indeterminate content; (c) indeterminacy in the process of integration; (d) we may not know on what grounds we hold our (empirical) knowledge to be true;[73] (e) the indeterminacy due to the impossibility of giving a precise rule for establishing true coherence in nature;[74] (f) positive considerations: `seeing beyond the established facts.'[75] For Grünbaum these unspecifiabilities, but especially Polanyi's notion of the fallibility of clues,[76] seem to be an `asylum ignorantiae"[77] when challenged to a differentiation between abortive and actual discoveries.

Fallibility, for Polanyi ranges from `error' to `uncertainty,' and is an inherent aspect of the scientific discovery process. He insists, we need to admit to the existence of this aspect of science. Fallibility can be the result of misplaced confidence in the affirmation of belief in our comprehension of a situation.[78]

To obtain a perspective in this debate on the issue of fallibility of clues in scientific investigations, we may note that Scheffler said: Error and certainty, like truth and falsehood, are purported characteristics of descriptions, not in general of things described."[79] This is also partly Polanyi's point. Scheffler goes on to say:

In Polanyi's terms, there are two layers of uncertainty here --- observation supplies us with clues, but clues derive their meaning from concepts of the theoretical framework; this is the part-whole relation of his Gestalt-perception model, and the unspecifiability (indeterminacy) (c) and (e) on Polanyi's list above.

The other layer uncovers what Polanyi claims to be a fact, that is that clues cannot be precisely defined or described {indeterminacies (a), (b), and (d)}, an explicit report of observations cannot carry the fullness of tacit knowledge therefore clues are unspecifiable in reports of observations. This is an important point Polanyi makes on the `fallibility of clues,' and the claim which prompts Grünbaum to charge that Polanyi's theory has no warrant for the justification of knowledge.

Tacit knowledge as the foundation of all scientific knowledge is the point of contention between Grünbaum and Polanyi. According to Polanyi, a clue may not be specifiable because we may not be fully conscious of it, even though it operates in our assessment of an `object'; a clue may be unspecifiable because a definition or even a description can never fully capture what we recognize as a clue (note Pantin's notion of `residue' after key features have been specified), that is the multitudes of connections as they operate in the whole may not be definable. Undefinability is a characteristic of a non-deterministic, non-mechanistic universe which Polanyi espouses. He sees Grünbaum's theory-construction as a call for a predictable way to show the creative process.

Grünbaum does not find Polanyi's theory of tacit knowing plausible, because an epistemology acceptable to him is methodological, not descriptive or interpretive; a methodical reconstruction makes an idea (the object of this discussion: the discovery) accessible so it can be what Scheffler called above a `systematic public enterprise.' This demand makes the scientific enterprise deterministic (Laplacean[81] in Polanyi's terms), that is,

On the issue of unspecifiability of clues, Grünbaum takes the view, that "Polanyi's remarks ... pertain not, as he believes, to scientific discovery; instead, they apply after all only to the psychology of the propounding of scientific speculations."[83] He was correct in recognizing that Polanyi imported psychological considerations into epistemology, but incorrect in asserting that the logic of discovery is independent of its psychological foundations. Polanyi insisted that his `informal logic' built on psychological considerations is the logic of discovery.[84]

Grünbaum's evaluation of Polanyi's theory of scientific discovery discounts the `logical structure of tacit knowing' Polanyi worked out. Grünbaum's positivistic position is closed to suggestions of Polanyi's alternative ideal of `personal knowledge' as a way of scientific knowing; he does not understand, and consequently rejects all aspects of Polanyi's interpretation of the process of scientific discovery as unsound. He demands that Polanyi's statement --- that a true discovery claims contact with reality --- should mean verifiable facts. He does not accept Polanyi's formulation which openly states that at the stage of the initial insight (the hunch or discovery) only an assumed contact with reality can be expected (since a hunch is `fore-knowledge'). Grünbaum also does not accept that Polanyi's safeguards for the truth of a discovery are provided by `tradition,' `authority' and probabilistic judgement as already discussed.

Unfortunately, Polanyi's rejoinder to Grünbaum does not perform the `persuasive function' I discussed in the last chapter --- Grünbaum cannot be persuaded to `believe before full proof is given' of Polanyi's theory. One obvious reason may be Polanyi's language which he did not vary to make his thought more accessible to Grünbaum; another reason may be, that Grünbaum expected a theory of discovery to be definable. Instead, Polanyi offered an overwhelmingly complex corpus of interpretation and description.[85] Polanyi attempted to break down fences around progressively more narrowly circumscribed territories labeled `philosophy of science' in the past few hundred years, to show what has been eliminated from consideration for the sake of precision.

Polanyi's investigations and theory of tacit knowing speaks extensively to the problem-posing process, and sparingly of the verification process. The problem-posing aspect is what Polanyi addressed in the disputed passage from Einstein's Autobiographical notes.

According to what I presented before, in terms of Integrative Philosophy, Polanyi would hold that Einstein's initial insight at age sixteen was a Gestalt-Perception of his hypothesis, more specifically, a hunch, a coherence --- an aesthetic recognition of a network of relations seen as a whole. "[It was] of a type of empirical discovery that is achieved without any process of induction ... [but] found by pure speculation guided by criteria of internal rationality [judgement of coherence]."[86] It was propelled, as good problems are, by a passionate intimation of a hidden truth and the anticipatory power in its verification and implications [the plausibility that it corresponds to reality].[87] This is the notion of the heuristic function of Intellectual Passion. The heuristics of Intellectual Passion is the vector to this truth. It is this meaning of objectivity and truth on which Integrative Philosophy rests. According to my interpretation, Polanyi's warrant to say that a theory is true rests on three sources for evidence: tradition, authority and the probability concept of truth.

In this debate, as I have tried to show, Grünbaum demands definability of and a method for a discovery process, by rules applied to the elements utilized in that process. This is strict objectivism with no indeterminacy allowed. Polanyi offers the opposite, in a new language uninterpreted by him in the debate. But what Polanyi wants to say is, that his Theory of Tacit Knowing most simply formulated means that a whole, be it a performance, a theory or a perceived object, is logically unspecifiable, because specifying the parts, the elements or clues would logically contradict what is implied in the whole --- specifying the parts would destroy the achieved integration, thereby reducing the whole to meaningless fragments. A discovery cannot be recreated by sequentially focusing on its elements. A discovery is an insight.

The two sides of this debate show the following: on one side, Grünbaum held to the idea that

His project, by his admission, was to use Einstein's case as introductory instruction into the subject of scientific discovery. He claimed to perform this teaching function by attempting to trace Einstein's reasoning employing the H-D system. As Hanson said, H-D system is an explanation of what the theory entails, not how someone came by the theory in the first place.

On the other side, Polanyi insisted that "if science is a generalized form of perception, Einstein's story of his intuition is clear enough."[89] Einstein came by his idea in the first place by a `generalized form of perception.'

An appeal to the physicist Gerald Holton as arbitrator uncovers Einstein's original letter on this topic in German, in which the debated Michelson-Morley experiment is called `famous' (berühmt), not `crucial' as in the previously quoted letter's English version. According to Holton's corrected translation from the German, Einstein's letter reads, in part:

It bears nothing, that the last sentence describes an act Polanyi called heuristic striving.

In the same investigation of the records Holton adds that Einstein's forthright comments are consistent with the self-appraisal of an original scientist and contrary to "current myths which present scientific work as the inexorable pursuit of logically sound conclusions from experimentally indubitable premises. Systematizers, ... may yearn for linearized sequences both in scientific work itself and in accounts of it; the truth, alas, is different."[91]

In this debate, the warrant for the truth of a theory seems widely divergent for Grünbaum and for Polanyi. What is not stated by them in this debate, is that Grünbaum employs a correspondence theory of truth, while Polanyi employs his hybrid version of coherence theory of truth. To persuade the audience, Grünbaum employs a methodological demonstration. He demonstrates the truth of the theory (the attributes of a `bona fide scientific discovery') by following what he assumes must have been the logical process of the theory building: building up the theory from such parts as the reasoned setting forth of facts, experimental observational results from accredited sources, and known mathematical tools. Polanyi's account, on the other hand, describes and interprets the process of theory generation `pulled by the goal,' in anticipated success of the theory based on clues which he shows to be grounded in the premises of science, selected by an intrinsic value of beauty, and drawn to a solution by heuristic striving. Polanyi did not employ a methodological demonstration, rather, he emphasized the non-explicit aspects of discovery. This caused Grünbaum's objection.

Einstein's Autobiography gives ample material for Polanyi to make his claims.[92] Einstein speaks of the element of beauty in the sense of `inner perfection' of a theory,[93] an element of striving ("After ten years of reflection such principles resulted from the paradox upon which I had already hit at the age of sixteen ...")[94] and the element of judgement of plausibility ("...One sees that in this paradox the germ of the special relativity theory is contained ...").[95]

Grünbaum cannot be persuaded of the merit of Polanyi's theory of scientific insight, unitl he will allow that the element of freedom - in the forms of judgement of plausibility, and the heuristic vector combined with aesthetic perception, elements of Intellectual Passions - must be accounted for in epistemology.

On the other hand, Polanyi's deemphasis of verification of a theory (verification as a non-circular test for its validity) seems to be a barrier to seeing the merit of this theory of scientific insight. He insists that "no rule of scientific procedure is certain of finding the truth and avoiding error ..."[96]

Polanyi makes two distinctions which bear on this discussion, one with regard to verification, the other with regard to definitions.

Making a distinction with regard to verification he says: "It is justifiable ... to speak of the verification of science by experience in a sense which would not apply to other articulate systems [these other articulate systems are validated]. Our personal participation is in general greater in a validation than in a verification."[97] Perhaps this could be taken as an admission of a greater degree of `objectivity' (the external pole) in science than in articulate systems in general.

Making a distinction with regard to definitions of verification we note the following: (a) Polanyi gives a seemingly `circular' definition of the `coherence theory' kind: "Within the framework ... to say that a sentence is true is to authorize its assertion ... the verification of a statement is transposed into giving reasons for deciding to accept it ...;"[98] and (b) the previously quoted `definition' which seems to admit `correspondence to reality': "... the unasserted sentence is [belief] ... confronted with experience [fact] ...,"[99] a definition of the non-circular kind.

Polanyi's works and his rebuttal at the above debate emphasized `personal participation' (the personal pole of personal knowledge), which led to misunderstanding him as denying objectivity.

5.4 Evaluation of Polanyi's Integrative Philosophy: Conclusions

How far did the rebuttal to Grünbaum's charges contribute to the assessment of viability of Polanyi's Integrative Philosophy? Did the test case yield criteria by which we may judge the merit of `personal knowledge'?

The test case showed that Grünbaum meant by `the genesis of a theory' mainly deduction from a hypothesis, while Polanyi meant by `the genesis of a theory' process beginning from hypothesis generation onward. The test case showed that the insight process is not deliberately reproducible, yet we do have a warrant for judging the truth of theories. More broadly, the test case gives an entry to Polanyi's framework, Integrative Philosophy, showing the nature and justification of reasoned knowing in general. These two aspects are fundamental to an epistemology.

Is Polanyi justified in claiming that he designed a new philosophy of science? Although he claimed that his philosophical project was to amend a lack, Dilthey's neglect of science,[100] Polanyi's new epistemology points to a treatment of science better characterized as philosophy on science --- investigation of not only the fundamental notions of science but also the foundations of knowing in science, treating science as continuous with other areas of knowing in culture.

An obvious result of the test case was, that Polanyi's epistemology cannot be judged by the criteria developed for the `standard view,' because his theoretical framework seems incommensurable with such a view. The seeming incommensurability will be broached, perhaps even resolved, if we can grant Polanyi that tacit knowing underpins explicit knowing, and both play a role in scientific knowing. This would allow Polanyi to claim that his theory of tacit knowing subsumes theories of explicit knowing, i.e. explicit knowing is a special limiting case of tacit knowing. Granting the claim depends on whether we grant `tacit knowing' the status of `rational knowing,' a status as the subject of epistemological investigation. This is the status Polanyi claimed by working out the structure of the logic of tacit knowing, summarized in the Semiotic Model as the Tacit Triad, as presented earlier.

The key to giving Polanyi's theory a chance of proving its merit, is to show that the `standard view' is untenable as a complete view. This is so because it does not agree with the actual process of scientific knowing: data are by the nature of the enterprise, `theory-laden' (`meaning of the parts depends on the whole,' a coherence); and what is even more important, `data' is what we believe to be true of something observed (clues reveal reality when the heuristic effort is made with universal intent, that is correspondence is based on our belief in a particular fact).[101] It is also the case that contrary evidence does not necessarily result in abandoning a theory --- such evidence may be `accommodated.'

Polanyi's strongest claim for a criteria of viability of his theory is that it is in accordance with scientific practice.

However, Polanyi believed, that an epistemology can not sustain itself --- it must be supported by an ontology. Polanyi's `ontological equation'[102] is stated as: the structure of knowing is the same as the structure of that which is known --- they are both hierarchical. He means, that both knowing and being (`entities') are stratified, the lower levels integrated into the higher, the higher emergent from the lower. He attempted to show that knowing and being are linked together by the vector of the personal element --- in knowing by the `moral' element of universal intent and in being by the `moral' element emergent from the nature of the ontological hierarchy. Thus the `moral' element integrates epistemology and ontology.

Whether he had justification for such an architectonic, his triad magnified into a structure of an entire philosophical system (epistemology-ethics-metaphysics), is beyond the scope of this study --- it is a controversial, involved and difficult point to be approached in the hermeneutic spirit. I will only draw the inference that projecting the smaller logical tacit triad upward, ontology became the meaning of the architectonic.[103]

If we evaluate Polanyi by his own criteria as set out in his book on epistemology, that is presenting an alternative ideal of knowing based on the way scientific knowing is in fact practised, we may admit he succeeded, provided his alternative ideal is interpreted in an accessible form.

If the criteria are advancement of knowledge, justified true belief, this study attempted to show that Polanyi's examination of non-explicit ways of knowing illuminated connections by offering a theoretical structure serving as scaffolding to reach into previously difficult-to-access aspects of thought.

If the criteria are a clear definition of tacit knowledge showing causal connections and providing an algorithm for predictions of specific outcomes, Polanyi does not meet this criterion. In his estimation this is a criterion for a rule-following mechanistic conception of scientific investigation, not a philosophical enterprise such as his inquiry.


66. Israel Scheffler, private communication.

67. Grünbaum, `Philosophical Problems of Space and Time' p. 378.

68. ibid. p. 54.

69. KB, p. 172.

70. ibid. p. 133. On the issue of how working scientists generate plausible hypotheses and how they can identify a successful discovery, see the balanced and clear discussion in P. B. Medawar, `Mainly About Intuition', Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought. (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1969).

71. Hanson, quoting Peirce, draws on the third type of logic for reaching toward the unknown: "Deduction proves that something must be; Induction shows that something actually is operative; Abduction [retroduction] merely suggests that something may be." (N.R. Hanson, Patterns of Discovery p. 85, citing C.S. Peirce, Collected Papers, Vol. 5., p. 174.) It is abduction to which Polanyi's judgement of plausibility is akin. Hanson cites Peirce: "What can our first acquaintance with an inference, when it is not yet adopted, be but perception of the world of ideas?" (Peirce, op. cit. Vol. 5., p. 194.) But "... abduction, although it is very little hampered by logical rules, nevertheless is logical inference, asserting its conclusion only problematically, or conjecturally, it is true, but nevertheless having a perfectly definite logical form." (ibid. p. 188.) Reality for Peirce "consists in regularity" (ibid. p. 121.), and the "conception essentially involves the notion of a community" (ibid. p. 311.), that is informed reasoning independent of personal vagaries. - Hanson's name for `abduction' is `pattern statement' type of explanation. (Hanson 1970. p. 628.)

72. Grünbaum, Philosophical Problems of Space and Time p. 378.

73. Ontological assumptions may not be acknowledged.

74. A problem Nagel pointed out in his criticism of Blanshard, above.

75. Polanyi, `Logic and Psychology', American Psychologist. 23 (1968) pp. 28-30. Also see Polanyi, `The Creative Imagination', Triquarterly 8 (Winter 1967) pp. 111-123, esp. 123.

76. Grünbaum does not define in this context what he means by `fallibility.'

77. Grünbaum, ibid. p. 379.

78. PK, p. 250.

79. Israel Scheffler, `Observation and Objectivity', Science and Subjectivity, Second ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publ. Co. 1982) p. 34.

80. ibid. p. 36.

81. A detailed and illuminating discussion of Laplacean determinism to which Polanyi refers, is found in Ernst Nagel, The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1961) especially on pages 281-290.

82. Michael Radner, `Popper and Laplace', in Michael Radner and Stephen Winokur (eds.), Analyses of the Theories and Methods of Physics and Psychology, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. IV. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1970) p. 419.

83. Grünbaum, op. cit. p. 385.

84. Polanyi, `Logic and Psychology' p. 27.

85. In a letter responding to Grünbaum on the charge of arbitrariness and `gratuitous fulmination,' Polanyi says: "Is is precisely because one cannot answer these questions in brief that I have written a book of 400 pages to do so. Of this you seem to have used so far only a very small part. The distinction between psychology and logic is to be seen within the framework of the `Logic of Achievement' which forms Chapter 11 of Personal Knowledge." Page 3 of letter to Adolf Grünbaum, Philosophy of Science Program, Univ. of Pittsburgh. 26 July, 1961. Polanyi Papers (6:1).

86. Polanyi, "Intellectual Passions" 167. Neither here, nor in his reply to Grünbaum's "Genesis of STR" in the same volume, p. 53-55, does Polanyi state his response to `postulation and elaboration of hypothetico-deductive theories' specifically.

87. The STR was decisively confirmed by experiments in 1914-16. See I. Bernard Cohen, Revolution in Science (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1985) p. 409.

88. Grünbaum, `Genesis of the STR' p. 44.

89. Polanyi, `The Creative Imagination: Discussion', Toward a Unity of Science, ed. by Marjorie Grene (New York: International University Press, Inc. 1969) p. 59.

90. Einstein's letter to the Cleveland Physics Society, 19th December 1952. Quoted in Gerald Holton, `Einstein, Michelson, and the `Crucial' Experiment', Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein, rev. ed. (1973, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988) p. 303.

91. ibid. p. 304. For additional records of Einstein's assessment of his process of discovery, see Jacques Hadamard, `A Testimonial From Professor Einstein', Appendix II, An Essay on The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field (Princeton: Princeton Unviersity Press, 1945; republished by Dover Publ., 1954), pp. 142-143.

92. Einstein, Autobiography pp. 21, 23, 25, 33, 49, 63, 81, and 89, in addition to page 53, which both Grünbaum and Polanyi cite.

93. ibid. p. 23.

94. ibid. p. 53.

95. ibid. p. 53.

96. Polanyi, `Intellectual Passions' p. 173.

97. ibid. p. 202.

98. PK, p. 320.

99. PK, p. 254.

100. Polanyi, `The Logic of Tacit Inference', Knowing and Being , p. 156.

101. See Polanyi's discussion on Bertrand Russell's correspondence theory of truth above and in Personal Knowledge pages 118 and 304.

102. Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension p. 55.

103. Polanyi's life-long friend Gyula Hollo M.D. remarked on reading The Tacit Dimension: "It is through the powers of tacit knowing which the positivists have rejected, that you hope to achieve your purpose. ... you have produced ... highly original thoughts ... But now you endeavor to marshall all these thoughts of yours into a single battle line, to put them in an irresistible logical order, and, by doing so to solve finally the jig-saw puzzle of your, and perhaps also of our life. ... You end up with a new kind a pantheism. ... This irreducible, uncaused force, this spontaneous emergence you identify with tacit knowledge, which becomes herewith the spiritus rector of the universe (ourselves included). ... All this might be acceptable ... as the expression of a spiritual attitude, e.g. reverence, ... [To] accept it, ... can only be achieved by artistic means, ... to carry us in the right direction. But isn't there an internal contradiction in the attempt to translate into logical propositions, into a long logical sequence of elaborate conclusions, the lessons that only tacit knowledge can (and does) teach us? ... So it must be probably true, that I do not fully understand your book, since I can neither repeat its arguments not translate it into a simpler, more familiar language. ... [Only] by the long and arduous process of slowly deciphering it, do we get into a real possession of its content." Letter from Gyula Hollo, Dec. 5th, 1966. Polanyi Papers (6:8).

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Polanyiana Volume 5, Number 2, 1996, pp. 36-65