“Polanyi’s Influence on Poteat’s Conceptualization of Modernity’s ‘Insanity’ and Its Cure

Tradition and Discovery 35 (2):23-30 (2008)
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My intent is to paint in rather broad strokes Bill Poteat’s intellectual agenda, as I came to understand it, and how Michael Polanyi fit into that agenda for Poteat alongside other major intellectual mentors. Bill’s agenda was to expose critically and, so far as possible, to counter the fateful consequences of what he called the “prepossessions of the European Enlightenment” regarding human knowing, human doing, and human being. Although his work involved conceptual analysis, the nature of this conceptual-archaeology was far more profound than what usually goes by the name “conceptual analysis” or “cultural conceptual analysis.” In effect it sought first to bring to light how the conceptual resources by which modern intellectuals reflectively consider anything, fatefully result in a state of self-abstractedness – indeed, a kind of culturally constituted insanity – that loses touch with the actual, concrete object of one’s concern, with one’s actual concrete self, and with the wellsprings of one’s intellectual passion and creativity. Second, Bill sought to cure this cultural insanity, person by person, by ushering his students and readers into re-placement of themselves into themselves, in possession of themselves, within the concrete context of their embodied personhood. Poteat called attention to the way that our powers of reflection quite systematically forget their contextual rootedness in this cultural matrix and, beneath that, in our lived bodies – ultimately in our personhood. Polanyi served to assist Poteat in this endeavor, I believe, as much as, or more than, did any other of Poteat’s several intellectual mentors.



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