Confronting the Minotaur: Moral Inversion and Polanyi’s Moral Philosophy

Tradition and Discovery 29 (1):22-48 (2002)
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Abstract

Moral inversion, the fusion of skepticism and utopianism, is a preoccupying theme in Polanyi’s work from 1946 onward. In part 1, the author analyzes Polanyi’s complex account of the intellectual developments that are implicated in a cascade of inversions in which the good is lost through complicated, misguided, and unrealistic dedication to the good. Parts 2 and 3 then address two of the most basic of the objections to Polanyi’s theory voiced by Zdzislaw Najder. To Najder’s complaint that Polanyi is not clear in his use of the term “moral,” the author replies that the pivotal distinction in Polanyi’s moral theory is not the moral against the intellectual, but the passions against the appetites. In considering Najder’s complaint that Polanyi’s argument represents a naive instance of ethnocentric absolutism, the author undertakes to show Polanyi’s consistency and perspectival self-awareness by focusing on Polanyi’s account of authority and dissent within a tradition, as well as on Polanyi’s treatment of persuasion as a heuristic passion.

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