The Open Universe and the Free Society


Thomas F. Torrance, "The Open Universe and the Free Society," Ethics in Science and Medicine 6 (1979): 145-153; #1979-362


Torrance, Thomas F. "The Open Universe and the Free Society." Ethics in Science and Medicine 6, no. 3 (1979): 145-153; #1979-362

Publication life cycle / General notes

Delivered at the University of Manchester, November 11, 1978. Later published in Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge, #1984-433f.


At the root of all Polanyi's thought lies the conviction that the independence of thought and obligation to a transcendent reality go inseparably together. The interrelation of freedom and order is thus a persistent theme in his writings. Order without freedom is the destruction of order and freedom without order is the destruction of freedom. This insight derived from Polanyi's basic training as a physician and medical chemist, e.g. in his functional approach to order in seeking to understand how chemical and organismic relations cohere in a 'biological mechanism.' Polanyi applied these notions to the symbiosis between science and society and showed how we are concerned with a spontaneous form of order of a polycentric kind, which is destroyed by central planning and control. The lecture develops the parallel between the open structures of recent scientific advance and the emergence of a free society. But this does not imply the rejection of the old dualisms which split culture, and replaced integrative by distorting abstractive and analytical procedures which gave rise to the determinist basis both of Newtonian science and Marxist political philosophy. The lecture concludes by showing how Polanyi's concepts of spontaneous order anticipated and are confirmed by recent advances in two areas of science, cosmology and thermodynamics, which bring to the fore in a new and massive way the contingent nature of the universe, and the dynamic order that arises in non-equilibrium systems.

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