Michael Polanyi and the roles of emotion in natural science

Richard Allen


Michael Polanyi, using his experience as an internationally recognised scientist, showed that emotion has necessary and constructive roles in the life of scientific research, and thus, a fortiori, in all cognitive activities. He distinguished three functions of emotion in science: (1) the selective of what is of value to science; (2) the heuristic which sustains the effort of discovery; (3) the persuasive for gaining the agreement of one’s colleagues. Implied is (4), that of satisfaction with positive results and dissatisfaction with negative ones; and explicitly but separate is (6) the valuing of science by society at large. These fit into, and add to, Stefan Strasser’s scheme of the indispensable roles of emotion in all human activity. Like all the important domains of human culture, natural science seeks to inculcate certain emotions in its practitioners, for, as elsewhere, only the lowest and routine processes with them can be performed with almost no emotional engagement. Far from emotions inevitably disrupting cognition and rationality, they are essential to them.


Emotion; Michael Polanyi; Science

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