The desire to know in scientific research. A reflection starting from the thought of Michael Polanyi


  • Miriam Savarese



Michael Polanyi, scientific research, intellectual passions, desire to know


According to Michael Polanyi, solving a scientific problem is impossible, if the researcher does not passionately desire its solution. Recognized as a distinguished member of the postcritical and postpositivist epistemology, he is a former physical chemist. His thesis is provocative for the epistemologists who consider scientific research activity all the more objective and “perfect” the more neutral it is; in this context, neutral means impersonal and free of emotivity and passions. In the present milieu, the exclusion of these is still a risk feared by many, among which there is the sociology of science. Polanyi positively reevaluates the role of the human person in scientific knowledge: if the former is eliminated, the latter is destroyed too. In order to accomplish successfully the research — conceived as problem solving — the researcher’s intellectual passion is essential. It is always but problematically referred to truth and, in its simpler expressions, it is shared with every person. Polanyi rarely uses the classical philosophical term desire to know. Along with him, the intellectual desire postulates the existence of what can satisfy it; it is oriented towards immaterial and intellectual objects; it does not diminish their supplies but widens them and enriches the world; it has a strong relationship with beauty; it is accompanied by a sense of responsibility to quest for a still hidden truth. It is firmly related to the conviction of the existence of a still hidden reality to which science can approach itself. This is an excellent case study in order to examine the role of the passions in knowing — which nowadays is positively judged. It is also a point of reflection on the aspects of the human desire to know, that depend on human person and that, consequently, weave body and intellect, matter and immateriality, reaching the soul.





Human nature, soul and body. Convergence of perspectives