The History of Economic Thought
Online ISSN : 1884-7358
Print ISSN : 1880-3164
ISSN-L : 1880-3164
Polanyi on Liberty
Moral Beliefs, Spontaneous Order, and Professionalism
Yasuhito Imaike
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2020 Volume 62 Issue 1 Pages 1-25


This paper examines Michael Polanyi’s views on liberty. Polanyi was a scholar with expertise in several fields of study. He began his academic career as a physical chemist and later became a philosopher. He then studied economics, liberalism, and philosophy. Many researchers have shown interest in his arguments on religion and knowledge. However, an inquiry into his views on liberty is seemingly lacking. Polanyi distinguished between personal (including that classified as negative) and public liberty (including that classified as positive) and believed that we should protect public liberty. His theory comprises three elements. First, Polanyi emphasized moral belief among people living in a free society. He focused on British traditions and suggested that morality is also influenced by British tradition. Second, Polanyi clarified the role played by spontaneous order in society. He placed particular emphasis on an intellectual order (law, science, and so on). In a free society, people’s actions yield better results because their behaviors are mutually adjusted as a function of the spontaneous order. The third premise in Polanyi’s theory asserted that a free society requires that its leaders be professionals, which I call “professionalism.” After writing The Logic of Liberty, Polanyi moved on to other fields of research, such as knowledge, religion, and so on. Here, it should be mentioned that all of Polanyi’s research across various fields is related to his study on liberty. JEL classification numbers: A12, B31.

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