Michael Polanyi: the anthropology of intellectual history

Scientific and political developments of the early twentieth century led Michael Polanyi to study the role of the scientist in research and the interaction between the individual scholar and the surrounding conditions in community and society. In his concept of "personal knowledge" he gave the theory and history of science an anthropological turn. In many instances of the history of sciences, research is driven by a commitment to beliefs and values. Society plays the role of authority and communicative backdrop that presupposes individual liberty. As a system of beliefs science is rooted in community and also in history. However, as soon as fellow humans become the objects of research, their appeal transcends the researcher. Consequently, the history of human endeavor reveals a "firmament" of standards and obligations which represent an ontological reality, for which Polanyi invokes Teilhard de Chardin's notion of noosphere.