Academic journal article et Cetera

Michael Polanyi and Carl Rogers: A Dialogue

Academic journal article et Cetera

Michael Polanyi and Carl Rogers: A Dialogue

Article excerpt


This article first appeared in Volume Twenty Five, Number One of ETC., Spring 1968.


On March 5, 1966, D. Michael Polanyi and Dr. Carl Rogers appeared before the cameras of PROFILE, in the campus studios of San Diego State College. Their conversation turned upon the depersonalization of the individual, scientific systems as impositions on man, the place and value of intuition, responsibility to one's existence, ethical and moral judgments as necessities o f science, and the changing course in philosophy.

This paper is the transcript of that televised dialogue. Michael Polanyi is a scientist, teacher, humanitarian, and author of a number of books, among them The Logic of Liberty, The Modern Mind, Its Structure and Prospect; and Personal Knowledge. Educated in Germany, Dr. Polanyi resigned his membership in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut fur Physikalishe Chemie in 1933 and accepted a professorship at the University of Manchester in England. There he remained until 1958, initially teaching physical chemistry, in which he had taken his degrees, but later teaching economic and social theory. From 1959 through 1961 he was Senior Research Fellow at Merton College, Oxford, where he taught philosophy. Dr. Polanyi is Professor Emeritus at Oxford and is now in residence at the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut.

Carl Rogers, currently a resident fellow of the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute, La Jolla, California, is past president of the American Psychological Association, pioneer in the development of counseling centers, 1964 recipient of the American Humanist of the Year award, and author of numerous articles and books on psychology and human behavior. On Becoming a Person is his latest and most popular book. The most recent of his many contributions to ETC. was Freedom and Commitment, which appeared in the June 1965 issue. In this transcript, a few passages have been reworded slightly to achieve greater clarity and to restore the fluency of the impromptu utterances. The intent of the original statements has, however, been retained in every instance.

-Robert Lee, San Diego State College, 1968

CARL ROGERS: The social sciences today can do things for people, but they also do things to people, in a way. Take, as a simple example, studies of delinquency. We could say with some assurance that a boy who comes from a broken home, who lives in a slum area, who's been rejected by his parents, and so on-that that boy has a high probability of becoming a delinquent. Now, we tend to think about that almost as though the boy were an object. In much the same fashion we would say a steel ball rolling down a slope will proceed at a certain speed and at a certain acceleration. I've engaged in research of that sort myself. I feel it has real usefulness.

Yet it troubles me deeply that we leave out the boy; we leave out the person. The rolling of the ball down the slope is perhaps inevitable, but whether the boy becomes a delinquent - that's not inevitable. There's something in his subjective state-apart from these various external circumstances - that has to do with the question. In other words, I'm concerned that the behavioral sciences are tending to depersonalize the individual and often tending to cause people to feel they are themselves robots, rather than individuals with spontaneity and possibility of responsible action and so on. And I wonder, what's the answer to that dilemma? I certainly would be interested in your reaction to that aspect of what science seems to be doing to people.

MICHAEL POLANYI: Well, this is of course a most exciting question. I don't think we can elucidate it in this conversation, but at least I can bring in something that is burning in me at this moment which has a bearing on it-and also the seriousness of it. I have just written an introduction to a book which will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, and I realized, when I tried to describe what happened, how little is known of the actual starting point. …

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