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Tradition and Discovery: The Polanyi Society Periodical

Volume 39, Issue 3, 2012/2013

Richard W. Moodey
Pages 5-28

Why Shils and Polanyi Abandoned the Action Frame of Reference

Michael Polanyi began thinking and writing about tradition long before he met Edward Shils in 1946. Polanyi’s religious experience in 1913 became part of the background for his thinking about tradition, and tradition entered into his thinking about spontaneous order and moral inversion. Polanyi and Shils both knew Karl Mannheim before they met one another, and had similar criticisms of Mannheim’s sociology. Soon after they met, both Polanyi and Shils were briefly enthusiastic about the Action Frame of Reference, which Shils helped create. Neither of them used the Action Frame of Reference in their later work. One of the reasons was its neglect of tradition, and another was that is was simply too complex to be a useful conceptual tool. Polanyi’s thinking about tradition did not change much after Personal Knowledge, but Shils continued to modify his thinking about tradition until the final years of his life.

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