Tag Archives: epistemology

Happy Birthday, Michael Polanyi

Today is Michael Polanyi‘s birthday. Polanyi (1891-1976) was a scientist-turned-philosopher, and fathered a “post-critical” point of view through books such as Personal Knowledge: Toward a Post-Critical Philosophy and The Tacit Dimension. Please see my review of Michael Polanyi: The Art of Knowing by Mark T. Mitchell, and for a more in-depth, academic approach to Polanyi and his ideas, visit the website of the Society for Post-Critical and Personalist Studies and read its publication, Appraisal.

How beauty and relationships point toward the truth, especially in parish life

G.K. Chesterton explained the value of beauty and relationships — and much more of life — in his book Orthodoxy:

If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason than an intelligent agnostic disbelieves Christianity.” I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration, it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. In fact the secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books than from one book, one battle, one landscape and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion. (emphasis added)

Chesterton’s view seems to fit with something Czeslaw Milosz said in my last post: “stronger than thought is an image.”

Philosopher Linda Zagzebski also seemed to think, like Chesterton, that one’s surroundings — and one’s engagement with parish life — can become influential and even spiritually significant in someone’s life:

The natural order of religious belief is not usually to form propositional beliefs first and only later to engage in the faith life of a community. If we disengaged ourselves from the practice of faith in order to “find out” if it is justified, there is very little chance that we will ever find out. (from her chapter in the book Philosophers Who Believe):

After quoting the above passage by Chesterton, Zagzebski continued:

As I see it, a person who knows how to put together the evidence of a book, a battle, a landscape and a friend has learned something that it is too easy to forget in our intellectually fragmented world. Yes, even philosophers are moved by landscapes and friends. (I’m not so sure about battles.) It takes insight, though, to see these things as evidence.

An awareness of truly good things can hint that there is a good, true, and beautiful Creator. After all:

Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, RSV)


Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phillipians 4:8, RSV).

Chesterton and Zagzebski (and maybe Milosz) seem to think that those true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and praiseworthy things have evangelistic value.