Wednesday, 27 February 2019

New Book by Torgeir Fjeld!

rock philosophy: meditations on art and desire
Torgeir Fjeld

The theme of the book is art’s relation to philosophy and reason; it is an attempt to connect reason with desire and the arts to show how creativity can bring us closer to the truth.
The artistic quest for freedom stands in stark contrast to philosophy’s call to subordinate art to reason and tradition. The struggle between them has culminated in artistic attempts to subsume philosophical matters within the domain of art. One central question is what the consequences will be of a final dissolution of the boundary between the two domains: will all that remains of the artwork be an abstract howl of the rock – our rock, the planet – itself?
The book comes complete with a Manifesto to Rock Philosophy. That manifesto and the book’s Introduction can be downloaded for free from the publisher’s website.

Available from

If you like the book and would like to review it there is a page for it on Goodreads where any and all comments will be received with thanks. For more information see the Author’s Webpage.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Thoughts on a Polanyian Collaboration

by Phil Mullins & Struan Jacobs

The polymath Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) trained in medicine at the University of Budapest, then earned a doctorate and conducted important research in physical chemistry, studied and wrote about economics and political philosophy and made an economics education film, and spent the last thirty years of his life writing about philosophy of science, epistemology and other areas of philosophy.
Mary Jo Nye (Michael Polanyi and his Generation, 2011) has shown how Polanyi shifted the approach in philosophy of science away from the formalism associated with positivist, empiricist and falsificationist views toward a focus on scientific practice. Polanyi emphasized the growth of scientific knowledge as a communal enterprise reliant upon tradition, skill, and the personal understanding and initiative of individuals engaged in ongoing public conversation; those who have “personal knowledge”, are, of course, always shaped in a particular historical socio-political-cultural context.
Phil and Struan have written, both together and independently, about neglected aspects of Polanyi’s thought (e.g., his study of anthropology), and have analysed his relations with “significant others” including Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, T.S. Eliot, Karl Mannheim, Marjorie Grene, Eduard Shils and J.H. Oldham. Their recent joint article in Appraisal 11 (4), “Polanyi’s Early Work on Knowledge” focuses on some of the early Polanyi’s writings, published and unpublished. They point to some early nascent ideas about scientific practice and knowledge that Polanyi later develops. They also point to some of the tensions reflected in early Polanyi writing before Science, Faith and Society (1946).


Struan: Let me say a bit more about the collaboration between Phil and me, going back now about 15 years, and suggest some possible future joint work. There is probably nothing unique about our cooperation. Most of our joint essays originated as e-mail exchanges with questions or half-baked notions put forward: “look at these letters that Polanyi and Mannheim (or Polanyi and Hayek) exchanged in the mid-forties. There seems to be a story here. Can we ferret out the details?” Sometimes we have speculated about topics about which we were curious for several years before we actually sorted things out fairly clearly and began writing an essay which we then passed back and forth while criticizing, revising, and expanding it. This approach has seemed to work for us as a way together to dig into some of the things about which we originally were separately curious.
We have a few projects percolating and some of our ruminations may eventually produce an essay of general interest.
(1) We have for some years been curious about Michael Polanyi’s relationship with his Manchester colleague, the philosopher Dorothy Emmet. Polanyi and Emmet seem to have been friendly and to have cooperated sometimes. She appreciated much of Polanyi’s thought but also had some sharp criticisms. Emmet and Polanyi both were apparently excited by the inaugural lecture of the first Manchester social anthropologist, Max Gluckman, who introduced them to the work of Evans-Pritchard. They were in a reading/discussion group focusing on Evans-Pritchard and all of this plays into Polanyi’s Gifford Lectures, his writing in the early fifties and eventually into Personal Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974). Emmet was the head of the Manchester University Philosophy program in the early fifties and apparently invited Polanyi to give his Series II Gifford lectures as a class before he actually delivered them.
(2) Polanyi’s connection with Emmet and their joint interest in social anthropology is linked to our recent essay, “Anthropological Materials in the Making of Michael Polanyi’s Metascience” (Perspectives on Science. 25:2: 261-285) that focused on how Polanyi’s reading in anthropology in the late forties influenced his developing ideas in the middle period of his philosophical development. We found in the Michael Polanyi Papers (hereafter MPP) Polanyi’s notes on anthropologists he was reading in the late forties and looked at how references to this literature began to appear in mid-century essays, the Gifford Lectures and later Personal Knowledge and how all this played into Polanyi’s interaction with Karl Popper. But there is another chapter to this story yet untold. Polanyi gave three sets of Meaning Lectures in 1969, 1970 and 1971 and Harry Prosch later turned some of this material into the book Meaning. In his Meaning Lectures, Polanyi again begins to draw on anthropological literature (Lévi-Bruhl and Evans-Prichard particularly) as he discusses “truth in myth,” but his late reflection also included comments on Cassirer and Eliade. (3) Polanyi had interesting and somewhat odd things to say about “totalitarianism.” He seems to have paid some attention to thinkers like Arendt (who he apparently invited to Manchester to lecture and reviewed at least one of her books). But Polanyi put together his own account of modern totalitarianism which is tied up with his ideas about the scientific revolution and its aftermath, that is, with his more general account of modern intellectual history. He argues that totalitarianism is a peculiarly modern phenomenon. Scholars like Richard Allen have explored this topic, but Phil and I suspect there may be some things not yet fully uncovered. So, these three areas of inquiry Phil and I have been looking into and we may or may not eventually come up with essays that we believe those seriously interested in Polanyi’s thought should consider.


Phil: Struan and I have looked at Michael Polanyi examining “neglected aspects”, and some of his relations with “significant others”. Such historical work at close quarters reveals some important things shaping Polanyi’s thought. We continue to dig around in archival and other little-known Polanyi material, trying to make sense of it because we presume Polanyi was an intellectual who himself was trying to make sense of things. His framework of ideas grew as he attempted to integrate a bewildering array of personal experiences and ideas vibrant in his milieu. There are more than 50 boxes of archival materials in the MPP. Polanyi had a correspondence with many important figures in his time and the MPP includes not only letters but notes, notebooks sketching interests, incomplete abandoned manuscripts and other interesting material. Some of this material was used in our recent Appraisal essay “Polanyi’s Early Work on Knowledge.” I hope that future scholars will look at archival material more carefully as more of this material becomes available on the web and in articles and books.
There are two especially interesting areas in Polanyi scholarship which I think archival material is now beginning to illuminate.
(1) In the last few years, there has been a growing interest in Polanyi’s economic writings and particularly his economics education film. Particularly some of the research done by Eduardo Beira and Gábor Bíró is promising, but there are also others working on this. If the interesting set of materials on Polanyi’s economics (by Beira, Bíró and others, including Struan) delivered at the November 2017 MIT conference (sponsored by the Polanyi Society) is published, this should generate more interest. In my view, it is becoming clearer as to how Polanyi’s economic ideas, in the thirties and forties, are woven with his ideas about reform of political philosophy, and how all of this morphs into his broader mid-career interest in reframing the philosophical account of the epistemic roots of science and society.
 (2) In early 1965, Michael Polanyi and Marjorie Grene, with some help from others, including key figures at the Ford Foundation, applied for (in the name of the Study Group on the Foundation of Cultural Unity – the SGFCU), and received a Ford Foundation grant to sponsor an ambitious experimental project seeking to transform the mainstream intellectual ethos, using Michael Polanyi’s philosophical ideas as a catalyst. The grant proposal posited an emerging “unsuspected convergence of ideas separately developed in various fields… [by a variety of persons] who should be brought together in a meeting since they actively oppose in their work the scientism, and the related methodological and ontological over-simplifications, which in one or another form are ascendant in every field of scholarly and creative endeavour” (Appendix A, Ford Grant 6500113). This grant funded two important conferences at Bowdoin College in 1965 and 1966 that brought together an interesting set of people. There are two little known publications generated by these conferences, put together by Marjorie Grene, The Anatomy of Knowledge (1969) and the monograph in Psychological Issues (6:2, monograph 22) titled “Toward a Unity of Knowledge.” The SGFCU grant was succeeded by a much larger, five-year Ford Foundation grant to the remodelled SGFCU successor group, the Study Group on the Unity of Knowledge (SGUK) which sponsored about 20 interdisciplinary conferences on a variety of topics. The importance of the SGUK’s work (which included figures like Marjorie Grene, Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor) as a contributor to late 20th century intellectual history is a topic bigger than Polanyi; but it is a topic I hope future intellectual historians willing to dig into the more than 200 letters in the Polanyi-Grene correspondence in MPP and the abundant Ford Foundation archival records will explore. The increasingly frail Polanyi’s role in the SGUK was limited but it was important. I think that Polanyi’s work with Grene in the SGFCU and the SGUK sheds much light on the philosophical interests found at the end of Polanyi’s career. These interests are reflected in late Polanyi publications on (1) imagination, art, and the material that comes together, with the help of Harry Prosch, as Polanyi’s last book Meaning and (2) the late Polanyi publications in which he seems increasingly concerned about “moral inversion” (e.g., “Why Did We Destroy Europe”). Gus Breytspraak and I have given papers at two North American Polanyi conferences in 2016 and 2018 treating Polanyi and Grene’s work in the SGFCU and the SGUK; one of these is forthcoming in Polanyiana and we expect soon to send out a second for possible publication. What I hope is that future Polanyi scholarship will dig into Polanyi’s work with Grene on the SGFCU and the SGUK because this appears to me to be the key to the final stage of Polanyi’s work on his Meaning Lectures and the sometimes puzzling Polanyi publications from roughly 1967 to 1976.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Call For Papers: Conference at York St John University

Alone Together
An International Pandisciplinary Symposium on Solitude in Community
10th - 12th April 2019 at York St. John University

We are welcoming applications to contribute to this symposium on solitude in community. we are building on work in the arts, humanities, social sciences, health, education, and beyond.

Abstracts of 300 words, including references if appropriate, are invited for submission by Thursday 28th February to
The symposium will include work from many disciplines, as we currently have abstracts offered from education, theology, business studies, counselling, psychology, philosophy, social care, story-telling, and anthropology.  I hope you find the variety of disciplines and topics as interesting as I do.  Some of the titles already offered, from researchers in Australia, Canada, France, Poland, Romania, Sweden, the UK, the USA, are:

  • Alone together: persons in relation
  • Anthropology of upbringing: silence as a way of human development
  • Aware I am alone: intersections of solitude and mindfulness
  • Collective pictures of loneliness – case studies based on youths from China, Japan, and South Korea
  • Do therapists ever get lonely?
  • Economic loneliness of students of the Kenyan University of Pwani
  • Education to loneliness being a consequence of opposition to the purpose of the community’s activities
  • Figures on a windswept shore
  • Images of creative loneliness of inhabitants of Kenya: analysis of visual messages
  • In community, alone, in community: reflections on the Nicene Creed
  • Loneliness of family caregivers of dementia patients. educational challenges for public education and support in local communities
  • Mediating loneliness: Diaconia in the margins of civil society
  • Prisoners of care: predictors of health outcomes and caregiver burden among family caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease
  • Religious education leader connectedness: a study of the lived reality of Catholic education
  • Silence, solitude, and social cognition and solitude in adolescence
  • Solitude as an executive virtue or the value of wilderness time
  • Solitude of the island towards Europe
  • The exile’s lament: solitude and togetherness in Ovid’s later works
  • The faces of solitude in philosophy, society and politics
  • The isolation/loneliness of the parentified child in family
  • The paradigmatic conceptualizations of loneliness and communitiveness in a monoseological discourse
  • The phenomenon of solitude
  • The roles of solitude and loneliness in personality development
  • To be is to be related: aloneness, isolation, performance and narcissism

Full details of the conference, including booking information and costs, at:

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Friston and the Bayesian Man

by Denis Larrivee

The mechanical man has been with us for some time now. Julien de La Mettrie declared his existence in 1735, a claim factually confirmed before and since. In 1628 Harvey isolated his fluid mechanics, in 1783 Lavoisier identified his energy reserve, and in 1906 de Cajal his internal electronics. At the onset of the 21 century neuroscience has now confirmed that his information processor is beholden to causal closure and his behavioural output thermodynamically bound by probabilistic contingencies. Researchers at Imperial College London's mecca for brain science, among its more holistic purveyors, have recently proposed that Bayesian circuits unconsciously determine choice. Are they right, or merely accommodating a heretical path of materialist descent. A counter recently published in an article by personalist neuroscientist Denis Larrivee - no oxymoron there - proposes that such thinking may be more energetically constrained than their own behaviour which they intend to describe. Their saviour, it seems, emerged aeons earlier in evolution's upward gallop to 'right reason'. The article, here attached, invites you to judge.

To read the full article, follow the link.

DOI: 10.15761/MHAR.1000160

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Call for Proposals: Conference at University of Cambridge

Tacit Engagement in the Digital Age
June 26-28, 2019

The Polanyi Society, in collaboration with CRASSH at the University of Cambridge, UK, is pleased to solicit proposals for inclusion in the above referenced conference. CRASSH (Center for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) is one of the largest humanities institutes in the world. Its mission is to create interdisciplinary dialogue both across the University of Cambridge’s many faculties and with international scholars. It offers over 200 public events each year. The web site for CRASSH provides further information: .
Satinder Gill, author of Tacit Engagement: Beyond Interaction and a speaker at the June 2018 Nashotah Polanyi Society Conference, initiated a fall conversation with CRASSH about a Cambridge meeting cooperating with the Polanyi Society. The Polanyi Society Board of Directors at its November 2018 meeting approved support for a summer 2019 meeting.  The three-day meeting format combines features of earlier CRASSH meetings and Polanyi Society conferences.
The first two days of “Tacit Engagement in the Digital Age” have been organised largely by Satinder Gill in conversation with CRASSH. This portion of the conference focus on questions about tacit underpinnings of artificial intelligence and electronic media and related issues in our digital age as indicated by the headings of the following sessions, each lasting for a morning or an afternoon: 
  • Exploring Performance as a Paradigm of Knowledge
  • Self as Interaction in the Digital Age
  • Trust in the Shadows of Machine Thinking
  • Possible Futures: Art, Science, Technology, and Science 

In additions to two longer papers for each session, there will be panels for each of these four topics with 4 or 5 presenters giving sharply focused papers of 10 minutes each before more general conversation. A number of panellists and 20 minute paper presenters have already been identified by CRASSH, but additional proposals are sought. 
On June 28 there will be sessions on any Polanyi-related topic given in the traditional format of Polanyi Society’s annual meetings and conferences. Papers for this portion of the conference only are to be posted online ( by June 10 with provision of 30 to 45 minutes of discussion after a brief summary of the paper’s key points. 
In responding to this call for proposals, please indicate whether your proposal is for a panel or for a paper. Send proposals of roughly 150-250 words as attachments to Walter Gulick at Priority will be given to proposals received by February 15. Notice of acceptance will be communicated within a week after that date. 
Registration cost for the conference is £50 (£30 for students). A banquet for speakers will be about an additional £20. Arrangements for housing are presently being investigated. If university housing is available, it generally is less expensive; a list of nearby hotels is being put together. Further information about registration, housing, food options, and related information will be listed on the Polanyi Society web page as soon it becomes available.

New Book by Giorgio Baruchello & Garrett Barden

Why Believe? Approaches to Religion
Giorgio Baruchello and Garrett Barden
(Reykjavík, December 2018, ISBN 978-9935-437-87-7)

Arising from several years of private exchanges between the two authors, this book tackles a question that both of them regard as intellectually intriguing and personally important: how is it actually possible, that is, reasonable and good, to be religious (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.) today? In order to find their own reply to this question, the authors engage in a candid, humble, yet committed inquiry concerning the intelligibility and the value of commonplace religious issues, such as the existence of God, the roots of morality and personal immortality.

I hope you can find some way to get your local libraries, departments and/or potentially interested people to purchase copies of this book, which can be obtained from

The University of Iceland’s bookstore

(it is possible to send them an e-mail to request the book:

Sunday, 10 February 2019

New Beginnings, Old Excuses, and Abortions for All!

by Simon Smith

Re-starting this blog is becoming a habit; it’s very nearly an annual event. Apparently, we can’t get through a full 12-month round without dozing off, going on the run, emigrating, being eaten by lions, or getting distracted by shiny things. Nevertheless, it’s time to wake up, wipe the soup from our eyebrows, take the lion off our leg, and settle down to – oh look, a magpie.

Quite a lot has happened of late and, what’s more, we have quite a lot of interesting things to lay before the reader this time around. Before we get to all that, however, I should like to begin the new season by picking up on something from one of the last posts of 2018; the very last, in fact. I planned to do so at the time, but now I’m rather glad I didn’t. Since then, the thought has been percolating, which has led me to consider a possible inconsistency in my basic philosophical position.
The post is James Beauregard’s ‘Human Dignity: Recent Developments’ (12/08/18) and the something in question is Dr B’s reference to ‘Democratic politicians favouring abortion’. At the time, I was simply going to point out the very loaded nature of that phrase, the implied division between those who are for abortion and those who are against it. This, I suspect, is a common mis-characterisation.
Of course, no one, or almost no one, is actually for abortion per se. No one except me and even then, only for specific individuals and always and postnatally.
However, if our intention is to frame the whole thing in intractably antagonistic terms, then this is the way to do. Similarly, we might talk of those who are in favour of institutionalised misogyny and the socio-political oppression of women and those who aren’t. Or Catholics and normal people. In neither case will we do anything to resolve the central problem or even promote sensible, grown-up discussion. We will start a row but, just possibly, that’s the point.
As it happens, I have no real interest in rowing. My view of the whole abortion ‘debate’ – in case any one is interested – is that my half of the species has had far too much to say on the matter as it is. It doesn’t directly affect us, yet we presume to decide. I don’t say that men should be prohibited from having a view on abortion, but I do say that both the discussion and the decision should be handed over to women, for whom, very obviously, it is a more practical and potentially urgent issue. Women deal with the consequences in every possible way; their voices alone should be heard. The role of men, by contrast, is to listen quietly to all that is said, to proffer an opinion if and only if explicitly invited, and then with proper humility.
The main reason for bringing this up now is, as suggested, because it got me thinking about my own philosophical position and whether it’s as consistent and coherent as I like to think it is.
The position in question concerns what I am reasonably certain is the metaphysical bottom-line when it comes to being human; more properly, it’s about what it means to be human, what it means to be a person. That meaning lies in the fundamentally social reality of persons. Essentially, metaphysically, ontologically, logically psychologically, epistemologically, and in every other way conceivable, human beings are connatural with others. We are born into and out of concrete relations, our every conception of ourselves and one another, indeed, of selfhood or personhood at all, is learned from and within these relations. In Buberian and Macmurrian style, the basic unit of human existence is I-Thou and this is so, if I may quote The Sisters of Mercy, First and Last and Always.
Just to clarify, the social self is only metaphysical in that it is basic or primitive. It is anti-metaphysical insofar as it rebuts absolutely the inertia of traditional, solid-state metaphysics and is grounded in empirical, which is to say, experiential evidence.
A crucial element of this anti-metaphysical metaphysics is the role of the other. Others constitute the self: they teach us to be people, to act and to think in all the ways we actually do act and think. In a sense, that is, the self is the other internalised and returned, re-enacted. That’s how we learn about morality: by ‘putting ourselves in one another’s place’ and re-enacting that place, filtered or refracted through our own developing sense of self. To put it slightly differently, human beings are essentially dialectical.
One very common reaction, at this point, is to caricature the whole thing as some form of act or process reductionism: to read it as saying, we are nothing but social relations or actions or processes, or what have you; to insist, in short, that it leaves no room for the individual. That’s a very analytic reaction and, more often than not, a very American one. Friends and colleagues from the US seem particularly wary of any shift away from the primacy of the individual, which is not, perhaps, entirely surprising. It is wrong, however. Understand the logic of intentionality correctly and you will find plenty of room for the individual.
That, however, is beside the point, which for present purposes concerns the emphasis on the role of the other. And yet, when it comes abortion, I am firmly convinced that it is ultimately for the woman to choose or not to choose, thereby privileging the mother over the foetus. It doesn’t follow from this that I don’t regard the foetus as a person or as lacking in all the rights thereof. As it happens, I don’t regard the foetus as a person, at least not in the same sense as the mother, but neither do I think that this is an essential or necessary feature of the argument. Following Judith Jarvis Thomson, I think we can happily grant the foetus the full suite of human rights, without altering the requirement to recognise the mother as primary or undermining the argument in favour of heeding her choice.
And there’s the rub. In privileging the mother over the foetus, am I simply reiterating the very individualism (socio-political and metaphysical) that I’ve been trying to overcome? Does all this just boil down to the same old slogan: The Mother’s Right to Choose! To be honest, I’m not sure. If it is, then the whole debate might be completely irresolvable after all. There just doesn’t seem to be a fair way to resolve competing rights in a situation like this; ‘first come, first served’ isn’t going to cut it when we’re talking about life and death. Also, rights are a social construct, they belong to the societies which legislate to protect them. I which case, we might as well just go with who shouts loudest.
Having said as much, I will also say that I don’t think this is a capitulation to individualism and talk about rights. I think that my reason for privileging the mother over the foetus comes down to something a bit more basic: specifically, whether we treat others as people or objects.
By ignoring the mother’s choice, whether in the particular instance or the wider conversation, whether by legislation or force – and America in particular seems to be keen on using both; though they are in no way alone in this – we are treating her, not as a person in her own right, but as a thing. Or let’s say, potentially treating her as a thing. After all, we might more accurately be said to be treating her as a function of male sexuality, male desire, male understandings of reproduction. Or we might simply be infantilising her, treating her as a potential person (whatever that means) who is not – and according to our gender-definitions never will be – in a position to make her own decisions or stake any claim to self-determination, her own body, etc.. My suspicion, though, is that we’re just treating her as an object: a pot or receptacle for the life-giving baby batter (as well as a lot of emotional stuff like self-hatred, anger, fear, impotence, and so on).
In case anyone happens by who struggles to appreciate why bad things are bad unless they impact on everybody, objectifying 52% of the population really is bad for everyone, because when I objectify you, I objectify myself. If it is true that selfhood is a reflection – more accurately, a refraction – of the other, that my self is constituted by the other, then an other that is an object – even or especially if I determine them as such – can itself only constitute another it-object. To put it a little bit more simply, the projection is reflexive insofar as it reflects back upon me and so constitutes me as projecting-object. Even more simply, part of what it means to be a person is to treat other people as people; fail to do that and we undermine our own ‘personhood’. Perhaps that’s one reason why misogyny and racism are so appalling: they undermine our capacity to be human. In effect, they depopulate the world.
That, in a highly condensed nutshell is why I think my interpersonal, inter-relational, social, anti-metaphysical metaphysic of persons doesn’t simply collapse into old-fashioned and essentialist individualism at the first whiff of a real, practical problem. Still, it’s worth thinking about.

Nota bene: I should like it to be noted – and to get all possible credit for doing so -- that I restricted my choice of euphemisms for semen to ‘baby batter’ when I could, at the very least, have used ‘erectoplasm’, ‘gentleman’s relish’, ‘schnizzle drizzle’ or even ‘love custard’. You are welcome.