Trying to Understand Polanyi & Knowledge

So… I took this class because I love knowledge management and my boss told me this class would be better for my future than the other option I was looking at. I will totally admit that the past 3 weeks have consisted of me freaking out because of the syllabus and Polanyi. I do not understand academic speech very well, especially not when it is written. I learn and understand best through verbal instruction and conversation. After I met with Dr. Burns on Monday I feel much better about this class so I am just going to jump in. Bear with me and here we go…!

Polanyi², Polanyi, Polanyi… I finally finished the book and what I took from Polanyi about knowledge can be summed up with two quotes. The obvious:

We can know more than we can tell.² (pg. 4)

and the two types of knowing:

Such is the functional relation between the two terms [specifiably known and tacitly known] of tacit knowing: we know the first term only by relying on our awareness of it for attending to the second.² (pg. 10)

But to be honest, that’s not the part that got to me. His view of existentialism is what drew me in and made me think.

The conception of morality established by this movement [modern existentialism] eliminates the distinction between good and evil, and it is pointless therefore to express opposition to it by moral reprobation. The unprecedented critical lucidity of modern man is fused here with his equally unprecedented moral demands and produces an angry absolute individualism. But adjacent to this, the same fusion produces political teachings which sanction the total suppression of the individual.² (pg. 59)

1454720084I was discussing this quote with my platonic life partner Sarah, trying to figure out what Polanyi was trying to say. She said that modern existentialism is where “philosophy has reached a point that people don’t know what to complain about because everything is vague and they still want to complain about something”.

We talked about how our view (from an existentialist point of view) of society has changed from being a collective conscience to the fact that we are individuals. As individuals, we don’t have a purpose unless we make one for ourselves. We make our own fate. AND, if we make our own fate, what is considered good and what is evil? If we are individuals and make our own fate, then others can’t tell you that you’re a bad person because there is no good and evil.

Because society has shifted where we are so aware of everything we can and cannot make ourselves into AND at the same time society has moral demands on us, it creates an angry individual. As Sarah says, “Just look at public education and you’ll see. Standardized testing”. This is the part of Polanyi that made the most sense to me.

HOWEVER, I learned more about knowledge from the other article I read!

350px-Knowledge_spiral.svgNonaka¹ had a lot of interesting things to say and was a good first article to read (especially after the confusion that was Polanyi). I was especially drawn to the ‘conversion of knowledge’. When I think about knowledge, the different types of knowledge, and how knowledge can be converted, I think about converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. Nonaka talk about how there are 4 different types of conversion: tacit→tacit aka socialization, explicit→explicit aka combination, tacit→explicit aka internalization, and explicit→tacit aka externalization. Nonaka talks about how socialization, combination, and internalization are connected to organizational theory but externalization hasn’t been explored as much.

The ‘spiral of knowledge’ was interesting as well. Nonaka says “Organizational knowledge creation, as distinct from individual knowledge creation, takes place when all four modes of knowledge creation are ‘organizationally’ managed to form a continual cycle” (pg. 20). I really like this. To me it’s saying that an organization can’t develop and succeed (through organizational knowledge creation) unless all aspects of knowledge and knowledge creation are working together like a well oiled machine. I love how Nonaka views knowledge.

Words: 674

Words I Had to Look Up

Tacitunderstood without being openly expressed; implied (Source)

Physiognomy: the art of determining character orpersonal characteristics from the form or features of the body, especially of the face OR the outward appearance of anything, taken as offering some insight into its character (Source)

Reprobation: disapproval, condemnation, or censure (Source)

Epistemology: a term first used by the Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier to describe the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge; it is also referred to as “theory of knowledge”. Put concisely, it is the study of knowledge and justified belief. It questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired, and the extent to which knowledge pertinent to any given subject or entity can be acquired (Source).


¹ Nonaka, I. (1994). A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation.
Organization Science, 5(1):14–37.

² Polanyi, M. (1966). The Tacit Dimension. Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1