Leander Harding's Use of Michael Polanyi
You might not be familiar already with Michael Polanyi, a scientist with broad interests encompassing the philosophy of science; in philosophy circles he is probably best known for his '52 Gifford lectures (a very prestigious lecture series) which became the book, Personal Knowledge. But he has alot of other stuff: Science, Faith, and Philosophy, Meaning, Tacit Dimension, and Knowing and Being are all ready to hand. He is associated with Hayek's effort to mount a defense of the free market, and that would seem to mark him as a classical liberal. Yet he influenced Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, an ur-text for all manner of radical projects decidedly anti-individualist. You might ask, how much distance is there really between Polanyi and, say, late Wittgenstein or Lyotard? Here is a short article setting out how Polanyi's fundamental concept, "tacit knowledge," has been developed in contemporary circles.
Much of the gist of Polanyi's work is consistent with the theology of TEC worked out by Westerhoff and Holmes in Christian Believing and Griffiss in The Anglican Vision. Both works presume an obligation among Christians to epistemic humility, implying that some of our convictions cannot be formulated in propositions that in turn might be proven or disproven. We have, as Polanyi would put it, a tacit knowledge embodied or incarnate in our practices as a community. This practice is what Griffiss et al would have called primary theology: the worship of the church. Propositional formulation can always only be secondary and dependent on worship. Indeed, no final articulation in propositions can exhaust the primary practice: in principle, all confessional covenants consisting of propostions can only defectively state the articles of Christian faith. Prima facie, someone should quickly pack up collections of Polanyi's collected works and send them off to Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Lagos and Lambeth Palace.
Dr. Leander Harding, however, uses Polanyi to infer, presumably with TEC in mind--though I am only guessing:
(1) ...the churches of the established Christian homelands have deeply accommodated themselves to the world view of what Polanyi calls Objectivism and that a profound skepticism about tradition has infected the churches of the West with a loss of confidence in their own truths as anything but private beliefs and values; and so [t]he task of evangelizing post-Enlightenment culture cannot go forward as long as the churches’ guiding theologies are so deeply compromised by this syncretism with the epistemological pessimism of Objectivism.
and (2) The second implication is that this combination of moral passion and skepticism about traditional morality and teaching helps to explain the current interior dynamics of the churches.
Inference (1) is false: TEC's epistemic humility does not proceed from methodological doubt or any skepticism proceeding from an expectation that all knowledge conform to canons of Objectivism. TEC's never been positivist; indeed, that can hardly be pegged as an Anglican vice given the priority of worship-in-community among our churches.
(2) is false as well. It is not skepticism about traditional morality that drove GC2003 and GC2006, et al, but moral conviction proceeding from the practice of worship, worship centered around the Baptismal Covenant. For instance, no prominent TEC theologian I know of promotes emotivism or non-cognitivism as the only way to handle moral claims.
But there is some good news here. Common ground is not far off; if Harding has mis-diagnosed TEC's condition, nevertheless he seems to share some of its primary aims. As Harding says, The idea that there is no dependable truth leads only to the destruction of our inheritance and the loss of our humanity. It is the discovery of the truth that sets us free and indeed guarantees our freedom and humanity. I think most Episcopalians in favor of GC2003 would agree that there is dependable truth, of course: Christ the Lord who is the Truth and the Way. Moreover, they would agree with the connection between that Truth and liberation, being set free as Harding has it. In fact they might proclaim that GC2003 was just such an instance of coming into the liberating presence of Truth. Thus one should agree with an "Amen" when he says The thirst for truth must be reawakened by a renewed confidence in the possibility of truth and this will be as much by the witness of living as by argument. I would assure him that thirst was alive at GC2003 and 2006 in the witness of living.
Interesting: there is a real foundation for unity here. Properly viewed, TEC has been living into a version of Polanyi's religiosity for some time. It seems there is significant, very significant common ground between Harding advocating Polanyi and the mainstream of TEC. Let it be so.