Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers

By Stuart Brown; Diané Collinson et al. | Go to book overview

Main publications:
(1912) Kennisleer contra materie-realisme [Theory of Knowledge Against Matter-realism], Amsterdam: Versluys.
(1915) Oorlogsfilosofie [Philosophy of War], Amsterdam: Versluys.
(1921) De zin der ver gelding I [The Sense of Retribution I], Amsterdam: Emmering (dissertation).
(1931) Le sens de la mort, Paris: PUF.
(1936) Sexuele ethiek [Sexual Ethics], Amsterdam: Kosmos.
(1947) De zin der vergelding II [The Sense of Retribution II], Amsterdam: Van Oirschot (posthumous).
(1947) Verspreide geschriften [Collected Papers] 2 vols, Amsterdam: Van Oirschot.

Secondary literature:
Spigt, P. (ed.) (1946) Leo Polak, Amsterdam.

Polak considered philosophy first of all as the science of the unity of our knowledge. It is necessary and also possible to solve philosophical problems in a rational and objective way. The ratio is the common instrument of all men, situated on a higher level than all kinds of beliefs that contradict each other. The foundation of philosophy is laid by the pure subject; nature is the product of this subject. Polak's critical philosophy thus opposes all 'dogmatism' that is founded on nature.

In ethics and in philosophy of law the mind is the source of objective and unchangeable rules and norms. This autonomous position is in agreement with the Stoa and with Spinoza, leading to the sentence that 'virtue is its own reward'. Within the same tradition Polak states that freedom is causality descending from the strength of our own will, and coercion is causality in spite of our own will. The real foundation of the free personality is called 'character'. Personal death means no more than the end of subjective life; whatever is done in an objective way will remain. The meaning of death is the call to moral behaviour during lifetime.

The moral good originates from the principle of objectivity: the categorical imperative commands: 'you have to will objectively', without regarding your own subjective and personal feelings and emotions; you must act as if you were an objective person. The moral bad originates from subjective desire and leads to conflicts with other subjects and with society as a whole. The greatest evil of our time is making war. No objective argument can be found to justify it and therefore all preparation for war is criminal and moral duty is to be an anti-militarist. In his great work on criminal law Polak expounds the theory of retaliation: the only meaning of punishment can be found within the sphere of retributive justice. Punishment has no sense in the context of reconciliation or of compensation, because the only effect of punishment has to be to restore the violated (objective) order. The criminal sought pleasure in badness, and the balance has to be recovered by inflicting sorrow.

WIM VAN DOOREN


Polanyi, Michael

Hungarian-British, b: 12 March 1891, Budapest, Hungary. d: 22 February 1976. Cat: Philosopher-scientist. Ints: Philosophy of science; social philosophy; philosophy of religion. Educ: Medicine, Universty of Budapest; Physical Chemistry, Karlsruhe; PhD in Chemistry, Budapest. Infls: Bredig (in physical chemistry) and Einstein. Appts: Karlsruhe, Berlin Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Fibre Chemistry, 1920 (Professor 1926); Manchester (Physical Chemistry 1933, Social Studies 1948); Merton College, Oxford, 1959-61.


Main publications:
(Omitting the scientific work.)
(1940) The Contempt of Freedom: The Russian Experiment and After, London: Watts.
(1946) Science, Faith and Society, London: Oxford University Press.
(1951) The Logic of Liberty: Reflections and Rejoinders, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
(1958) Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-critical Philosophy.
(1959) The Science of Man, London: Routledge.
(1967) The Tacit Dimension, London: Routledge.
(1969) Knowing and Being, ed. Grene, London: Routledge.

Secondary literature:
Brennan, J. (1977) 'Polanyi's transcendence of the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity, especially as applied to the philosophy of science', Journal of the British Phenomenological Society 8: 141-52.
Gelwick, R. (1977) The Way of Discovery: An Introduction to the Thought of Michael Polanyi, New York: Oxford University Press.
Langford, T.A. and Poteat, W.H. (1968) Intellect and Hope: Essays in the Thought of Michael Polanyi, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

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