Topic for #50: Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

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[Note: This article has been updated post-discussion; I didn't want to create a new post when we've had all this great discussion on this one that I want people to continue. The episode itself should be up w/in the next day or two.]

Mark, Seth, Dylan, and guest David Buchanan have recorded a conversation on Robert M. Pirsig’sZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,a book that’s not about Zen and only a little bit about motorcycle maintenance.

It’s an autobiographical novel describing (in part) Pirsig’s encounters with the idea of “Quality.” In trying to teach this to freshman composition students, he decided that it’s a fundamental, immediate, and undefinable part of our experience. We don’t, on his account, first consciously analyze things, and then decide based on that analysis what’s better than what. Quality (or more precisely, “dynamic quality,” a term he comes up with in his 1991 book Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals)phenomenologically primary: even distinguishing a foreground object from the background, i.e. perception itself, relies on a quality judgment, namely that this aspect of the perceptual field is of interest. Once we establish habits like this (e.g. object recognition, which can be generalized into a metaphysics of objects in space), they get ossified, codified, and passed on, so they seem natural, but we can’t forget that all the systems of classification, of conceptualization, of making sense of things at all are human inventions. This should sound very much like William James’s pragmatism.

Pirsig thinks that we’ve forgotten this lesson: that we receive so much from our culture that we’re alienated from it, we’ve forgotten why the patterns of thought we’ve received are the way they are, that we are in fact the sources of value. In an age of technology, things invented by others can seem daunting and ugly to us, and insofar as something has been marketed to us with an idea of simply making money rather than with craftsmanship, i.e. having the beauty of the thing in mind, then it probably is ugly. He uses the example of a motorcycle as something that we can be in tune with: we can understand it from the inside out and be sensitive to when something is going wrong with it, and have the patient, quality-mindedness to maintain it with care. This can be generalized to a whole outlook on life, that has some connection with Zen, but this is not expounded on in the book.

But does Pirsig as narrator apply this lesson to his life as depicted? His connections with other people are tenuous; he’s certainly not “in tune” with those around him. Through the course of the book, it’s clear that the narrator has suffered a major bout of disassociation with his own past self, though I don’t think the resolution of this issue fits quite as neatly in with the philosophical picture of disassociation with the culture of cold reason as the book implies.

As someone who shuns “philosophology,” i.e. studying the history of philosophy as opposed to actually doing philosophy, Pirsig’s work is inspiring to those who don’t want to bother to read more than one or two philosophy books, but of course these are many parallels between Pirsig’s phenomenological picture of the role of quality in experience and other philosophers’ work. Feel free to jump in and add to the plentiful comments already on this post.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Comments

  1. Daniel Horne

    January 6, 2012

    As best I can figure, Pirsig describes “quality” as a third factor of human experience, distinct from “subjectivity” and “objectivity”, and distinct from “yes-ness” and “no-ness”.

    This feels to me a lot like Schleiermacher’s third realm from On Religion, into which he wanted to describe a sensation separate from knowledge or embodied action. (More simply put, Schleiermacher wanted to place religion as a kind of “feeling” that resulted from the merger of object and subject.) Do you guys find any meaningful similarities between the way Schleiermacher wanted to describe religious feeling, and the way Pirsig wants to treat Quality? Or am I just getting hung up on “thirdness,” in a way that is perhaps not particularly insightful? (Not a loaded question, by the way, I’m really not sure.) Both Pirsig and Schleiermacher seemed to be rejecting dualism in their own way, but maybe that’s only trivially true, as perhaps everyone’s been combatting dualism since Plato.

    I’m thinking of these quotes in particular from ZAMM:

    Phaedrus, following a path that to his knowledge had never been taken before in the history of human thought, went straight to the horns of the subjectivity-objectivity dilemma and said Quality is neither a part of mind, nor is it a part of matter. It is a third entity which is independent of the two.

    Also…

    Because we’re unaccustomed to it, we don’t usually see that there’s a third possible logical term equal to yes and no which is capable of expanding our understanding in an unrecognized direction. We don’t even have a term for it, so I’ll have to use the Japanese mu.

    Mu means “no thing.” Like “Quality” it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, “No class; not one, not zero, not yes, not no.” It states that the context of the question is such that a yes or no answer is in error and should not be given.

    • David Buchanan

      January 13, 2012

      I can’t speak to the Schleiermacher questions but I’d like to talk about what it means for Quality to be “outside the process of dualistic discrimination”.

      Being outside of this dualism is another way of saying that it is neither subjective nor objective – precisely because subjects and objects are products of the discrimination process. This is going to seem like a very strange claim. And it is intended to be a pretty radical move. Here’s how Pirsig describes this key move in James’s radical empiricism:

      “”By this he (james) meant that subjects and objects are not the starting points of reality. Subjects and objects are secondary. They are concepts derived from something more fundamental which he (james) described as ‘the immediate flux of life which furnishes the material to our later reflection with its conceptual categories’. In this basic flux of experience, the distinctions of reflective thought, such as those between consciousness and content, subject and object, mind and matter, have not yet emerged in the forms which we make them. Pure experience cannot be called either physical or psychical: it logically precedes this distinction.” (Pirsig in Lila, near the end of chapter 29.)

      Here we see that James’s terms (“Pure experience” and the “immediate flux of life”) are roughly equivalent to Pirsig’s “Quality”, cutting edge of experience is said to outside the discrimination process because it’s prior in the temporal sense and more basic in the cognitive sense. In fact, Pirsig also refers to this as “pre-intellectual experience” and that’s what the term “undifferentiated” is getting at too. (As in Northrop’s “undifferentiated aesthetic continuum”.) It is the intellect, the reflective mind that differentiates and discriminates and otherwise sorts experience into the various conceptual categories we habitually and automatically use. (All day long.)

      To be a bit too pithy, the idea here is that Quality is the primary empirical reality. And reality is just what you experience before you have a chance to think about it.

      I sincerely hope that helps.

      • James

        January 31, 2012

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but can your comment “experience before you have a chance to think about it” be understood as partially explaining the Zen aspect of the title?

        • David Buchanan

          January 31, 2012

          Yes, James. In his second book, Pirsig says that philosophical mystics “share a common belief that the fundamental nature of reality is outside language; that language splits things up into parts while the true nature of realty is undivided. Zen, which is a mystic religion, argues that the illusion of dividedness can be overcome by meditation.” In the first book he says, “to fully realize this lack of division is to become enlightened”. I guess you’d say that Zen does enlightenment without the fireworks, without smells and bells and choirs of angles. You know, chop wood, carry water, fix your bike. No big deal.

  2. pirsigfan

    January 6, 2012

    Hello. First time poster here.

    I have always been intrigued by ZAMM. A few years ago, some Pirsigian followers had an active website (MoQ.org) where they discussed his second work, ‘Lila’ as a metaphysics of process exactly like Alfred Whitehead. They observed that the role of Quality in ZAMM and Lila is exactly the same as the metaphysically ultimate for Whitehead – creativity. For W, Creativity comes before God, who is a governing power to rein in possible chaos of unfettered creativity. Pirsig’s Quality is self-governing.

    I would love to see a comparison of these two thinkers on this matter.

    • Chris Mullen

      January 7, 2012

      pirsigfan, here is a page you might find of interest: http://robertpirsig.org/SneddonPartTwo.htm

      I also find your question interesting since i just started reading Process and Reality. I am only 30 some pages in but i am enjoying the read.

      • pirsigfan

        January 8, 2012

        Thnx for the webpage ChrisM, it looks rich. I remember those Alfred Whitehead comparisons at the MoQ discussion forums making some good points comparing W and Pirsig. I remember how many P fans refused to look into other philosophies much like a sectarian Christian stays in her/his comfort zone. I am never sure if this is prejudice, intellectual shallowness, or simply laziness.

        What struck me hardest was the place where in ZAMM, P says something like “so is Quality just anything you like?” He answers by deleting ‘just’ and affirms “Quality is anything you like.”

        This seems to say the ultimate in reality is the desire for experiencing adversive rather than aversive feelings. Compare to W with his big concern over the feelings present in experience – which he termed prehensions.

        So, as I recall it, both these thinkers seem to be saying feelings are far more primary than rationality, so in a way, they both seem to want to upset the philosopher’s apple cart.

  3. dmf

    January 6, 2012

    does the zen/pragmatist turn in the text suggest that armchair/academic philosophy is better left behind for a kind of “flow” approach like that suggested by Dreyfus in his M-Ponty inspired work on moral-maturity/ethical-expertise.
    http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~hdreyfus/html/papers.html

  4. Chris Buckner

    January 7, 2012

    This book holds a particular place in my heart as it was a gift from my dad, and was the text that made me first interested in philosophy. I haven’t reread it since gaining formal philosophy education on the path to my undergrad, but I was particularly moved at Pirsig’s ability to light a fire under my layman’s perspective. I greatly look forward to hearing you guys’ interpretations and feelings on this book.

  5. Gary Chapin

    January 7, 2012

    Very pleased you’re doing this one. ZAMM was probably the first book I read that got me to get really excited about metaphysics, for a while at least. Still not my favorite area of philosophy, but it is one of my favorite books. Something the book brings up that you guys hardly ever look at is the way that the philosophy is delivered.

    This is a novel, it has an affective dimension that is separate from the content of the philosophy. Whatever you think of the philosophy, it’s a gripping book. The story of our hero and Phaedrus and Chris is genuinely moving, especially given the afterward and knowing about Chris’ death later on. Is this only incidental to the philosophy? I don’t see how it can be.

    It was an issue I wish you had tackled with Sartre. I’m bummed you didn’t choose “Nausea” to discuss, but you also touched it with Camus. The existentialists seemed to think philosophy could be communicated in ways other than tortured, pathologically hyper-specific, declarative language. Coming in the wake of Husserl, do you blame them?

    This is especially interesting given Pirsig’s forward to the 25th anniversary edition in which he stated (I paraphrase) that everyone had gotten it wrong in seeing Phaedrus as the villain, and that the book was a classic example of “the unreliable narrator.” Well, if the narrator was a biased, unreliable reporter on the story, how reliable was he on the philosophy??? And does it matter? (An interesting question in a philosophy context!)

    Thanks, guys, love the show.

  6. Bruce Adam

    January 7, 2012

    Hi, I’m rapt you’re doing this. Can I ask you to take a brief look at LILA the sequel to ZAMM, and comment on the idea of Dynamic Quality as contrasted to Quality.

    • Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

      Mark Linsenmayer

      January 7, 2012

      I have the book in hand but doubt I’ll get through enough to really engage it. We’ll see.

  7. Ross Carruthers

    January 7, 2012

    My question would be how can we apply the concepts raised in his writing to the current world wide economic debt crisis?

  8. Ross carruthers

    January 9, 2012

    To elaborate my point, the quality of money, the quality of debt, in particular re hypothecation which is making money by using interest from debt on debt collateral from an underlying debt. Seems pretty zen to me. The zen of re hypothecation.

  9. Tuukka Virtaperko

    January 10, 2012

    I don’t know what to ask from someone who reads the book in a weekend, having put six years on that and related subjects myself! But any publicity is good publicity.

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      Seth Paskin

      January 10, 2012

      I read the book last year. It took more than a week. We have a guest who is well steeped in the material and has met and discussed the work with Pirsig and others.

      Be constructive and give us some suggestions of topics or how to steer the conversation.

  10. pirsigfan

    January 10, 2012

    Tuukka Virtaperko :
    I don’t know what to ask from someone who reads the book in a weekend, having put six years on that and related subjects myself! But any publicity is good publicity.

    good point.

  11. David Buchanan

    January 10, 2012

    There are some very good questions and suggestions here. The one about our global debt crisis would stump me but Gary’s point about the unreliable narrator seems pretty important and Daniel’s question about the relation between Quality and subject-object dualism raises the key issues.

    But I’d also like to reiterate Seth’s sentiment. People who know Pirsig’s work very well should be able to come up with the most constructive suggestions and the most thought-provoking questions. Tick, tock.

  12. pirsigfan

    January 10, 2012

    David Buchanan :
    There are some very good questions and suggestions here. The one about our global debt crisis would stump me but Gary’s point about the unreliable narrator seems pretty important and Daniel’s question about the relation between

    Are you all just cherry picking those questions that interest you and conform to your own biased interpretations of P’s work, or will ALL points raised here be addressed.

    This is very relevant to Tuukka’s point.

    • David Buchanan

      January 10, 2012

      I think constructive suggestions are very different from rude comments and a provocative question is much better than even the best of insults.

      • Daniel Horne

        January 10, 2012

        I dunno…what if it’s a reeeallly good insult?

  13. pirsigfan

    January 11, 2012

    David Buchanan :
    I think constructive suggestions are very different from rude comments and a provocative question is much better than even the best of insults.

    Two questioners here have shown interest in the emergent process aspects and the primacy of affect in Pirsig as well as the obvious overlapping with Alfred Whitehead. Yet you insist on completely ignoring this.

    I join Tuukka in seeking a more rigorous look at P than that of personal opinion of ZAMM.

  14. pirsigfan

    January 11, 2012

    Daniel Horne

    The best way to see Quality might be (in the case of animals), pre-conscious activity, which is linked with all reality as F C S Northrup (P references him) describes to be the ‘undifferentiated continuum’.

    For P, like Husserl and Whitehead, conscious experience is relational, an experience of otherness. Pirsig’s ‘caring’ is a folksy way of describing this. To say preintellectual reality creates the subject and the object in the act of caring (adversion to a given circumstance/umvelt).

    On Alfred Whitehead’s similar notion, within the ‘undifferentiated continuum,’ an occasion of experiences arises as prehensions of the umvelt cause deeper scrutiny of the experient and its surroundings to the point that the experience nay reach consciousness and perhaps intense consciousness (this is P’s notion of ‘caring’).

  15. Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

    Mark Linsenmayer

    January 11, 2012

    OK, it’s now recorded, with a lot of disconcerting technical issues bogging us down (which you will not notice when the edit is posted). Thanks largely to our guest Dave Buchanan, we gave a decent overall introduction to the book, and we tried to figure out what P’s contribution was over and beyond what we already covered in the William James episodes and how the apprehension of pre-intellectual Quality is different from what we’ve already seen in Heidegger and other folks.

    The metaphysics, which isn’t really the focus of ZAMM (it’s more in Lila) got introduced but not really threshed out. We’ll have to follow up on some threads in future planned episodes in panpsychism (Chalmers), process philosophy (Whitehead), and emergence (not sure what we’ll read for that; Dylan did a paper on it not long ago). We likely won’t get to these things before summer given our more immediate plans for a bit more continental, political, and phil of language material.

  16. pirsigfan

    January 11, 2012

    Just what I was afraid might happen yet again w/ a Pirsig discussion.

    The focus was very much misdirected if it went to William James rather than a far more relevant W, or even one of the New Age physicists involved in ‘What the Bleep Do I Know’. James’s work on experience was far more fleshed out in W’s works.

    I was drawn here by a ZAMM seatch, and after some pod listening, hoped for something deeper.
    $&!%, low Quality. (I’m sorry, but P is too near and dear to accept this without aversive reaction.)

    • Daniel Horne

      January 11, 2012

      Dude, you can always, like, not listen to the episode. It’s all gonna be OK, really.

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      Mark Linsenmayer

      January 11, 2012

      Oh, Burl, you’re not fooling anyone by using an alternate handle. :)

      Maybe you can listen to the discussion before dismissing it, but yes, like many of our episodes, this is our introduction to the material, and we do our best to dig into the important points, but likely not to the depth that an advanced student like yourself would find particularly new or enlightening.

      We didn’t go on and on about James, but David did raise the idea that all supposedly a priori concepts were social inventions, which is an idea we discussed in our James episode, which then raises the question of how Pirsig’s focus on Quality as the uberforce adds at all to this picture. I don’t think we came to any substantive conclusion, so I’m glad to have us go into it here: it seemed like there was no advantage to using “Quality” here over “utility” as James does. Both are anthropomorphic terms, as is Schopenhauer’s notion of Will, for that matter, which serves the same purpose, which is to give us a way of using teleological talk to describe virtually any change in nature from a simple matter of cause and effect (which in Pirsig’s language is the effect “valuing the precondition” of the cause) to evolution over time (which has the weird Platonic effect of causing intellectual ideas to have greater value over people (on the grounds that intellectual items are farther along the path of evolution and its emergent structures than mere biological organisms), or rather, people are more valuable than ideas only insofar as they are flexibly capable of continually creating ideas, i.e. high-level quality judgments).

      I personally don’t like any of these anthropomorphic ways of talking about this stuff; I find even talk of memes a la Dennett more helpful than this. I also don’t like Pirsig’s (and presumably Whitehead’s, and arguably Hegel’s) attempt to analogize phenomena at different levels, which in Pirsig’s case means using the same language to describe the structures of motivation and the human level and causality at the brute physical level. I appreciate the attempt to draw a continuum from conscious, thinking beings down to the inanimate, but I tend to think this obscures more than it illuminates. Pirsig (even in Lila, so far as I got through it) doesn’t chase this issue far enough, so far as I can tell, to convince me otherwise. I gather that Whitehead, with his much wider range of concerns, does, and I look forward to reading him on that. (I’m also brought to mind here of the book that introduced this parallel-structures-across-all-levels-of-reality concept to my mind, “Structuralism,” by Piaget, which I’m also going to recommend we do an episode on w/in the next year.)

      I’ll attempt to blog on the link Chris pointed to above about Whitehead in this respect; if you have anything alternate/additional to point to, I can try to do that.

    • Ryan

      January 11, 2012

      William James rather than a far more relevant W, or even one of the New Age physicists involved in ‘What the Bleep Do I Know’.

      Not having heard the Pirsig podcast yet, can I just say how excited I’ll be when none of these people ever get mention on any episode, while exceedingly relevant people like James (and also hopefully Whitehead who obviously does not supersede him) continue to be brought up whenever necessary.

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        Mark Linsenmayer

        January 12, 2012

        If the issue is getting at the RIGHT account of what happens on the cutting edge of experience, then all these guys are clearly relevant, and the fact that they didn’t talk to/about each other is all the more reason to connect the dots to get a good understanding of the phenomenology and how to describe it.

        A point I don’t think I was quite able to make on the recording itself, so I’ll gladly make it here: This purposeful conflation of different levels of phenomena, i.e. those actually experienced (what phenomenologists call “phenomena”) and basic metaphysical happenings (e.g. “facts” in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus) is exactly where Pirsig seems to go wrong to me. Assuming his account of experience is correct, it strikes me as just an unsupported hypothesis or perhaps an artistic analogy to apply this same quality-as-primary structure to every interaction between everything. All we know about are interactions between things and US; we don’t know how it works with dogs, or amoebas, or rocks, or subatomic particles.

        I’m reading some more of Lila and will try to blog about it when the episode comes up.

      • David Buchanan

        January 12, 2012

        The connection to James is pretty interesting. Pirsig doesn’t even mention James or pragmatism or radical empiricism is his first book and he had basically dismissed James as a theist who was trying to sneak God in through the back door. But a reviewer from Harvard thought ZAMM was a very Jamesian book. Other reviewers saw similarities to Aristotle and Hegel but these other suggestion seemed a lot less plausible and so Pirsig decided to take another look at James and he was astonished at the similarities. Pirsig tells this story in Lila and at the end of chapter 29 he explicitly identifies his own view with James’s radical empiricism and identifies his Metaphysics of Quality as a form of mainstream American pragmatism. I mean, we really don’t have to guess about the validity of comparing Pirsig with James.

        Interestingly, I think, Pirsig denies that his Quality is any kind of Hegelian Absolute in the same breath. He had denied that in ZAMM too, warning us off the idea even before any reviewer suggested it.

        This is one of many things I wish I’d said during the conversation, which is one very good reason to have a forum like this.

        • pirsigfan

          January 13, 2012

          I was aware of the James connection w/ P.

          AFAIK, P never responded to the Lila Squad when they saw (like the Harvard reviewer on James) that the process metaphysics in Lila was Whiteheadian, and the 1st PhD awarded to a student of P has a website that Chris Mullen linked to above giving a Masters thesis laying out the connection of MoQ and Whitehead.

          • pirsigfan

            January 13, 2012

            I wish you would have brought this up in the podcast.

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          Mark Linsenmayer

          January 13, 2012

          I think P’s comments about Hegel reflect the way Hegel was taught at the time he was in school, i.e. the pretty shallow British (e.g. Russell) take on him.

          P wants to differentiate himself from Hegel, much as from Plato, because he perceives that these figures have a “static” conception of the ultimate good at which things aim, whereas P’s Quality is supposed to be Dynamic and unpredictable. Also, both Hegel and Plato see Reason as the key in making progress towards this goal, whereas Quality is more instinctual for Pirsig.

          In practice, though, I think the similarities to Pirsig are more significant than he thinks. The picture of progress we get in Hegel’s Phenomenology is not predictable in advance, and each step, I think, appears as a Quality-driven move forward. Hegel and Pirsig also share that similar-patterns-across-different-emergent-levels thing that I’ve been objecting to here. Insofar as Pirsig is talking about individual experience, i.e. doing phenomenology (as opposed to Hegel’s dialectical thing that he calls phenomenology), I think Pirsig’s approach an improvement, but then again I think Heidegger and his followers did this more consciously and systematically (James too… I think it clear that the phenomenologists read James, or at least they read Bergson who read James… I’m not totally clear on that.)

          This is just to say that I think Pirsig’s thought (even, clearly, at the time of Lila) could have benefited from further seasoning by his immersion in the works of some of these other thinkers (Whitehead included). His version of “the partially examined life,” i.e. the lesson not to spend all of your mental energy on philosophy, is that you shouldn’t let your thought get too diluted by academia: that you should give your energy to cultivating your own ideas, and only engage other philosophers insofar as you need them to evolve your own ideas. So he’ll read enough James (I’m speculating here, of course) to see the similarities, but he’s not going to then start just using James’s language, just like he’s not going to start talking about “prehension,” and would likely see Whitehead’s jargon as just as toxic as Hegel’s or Heidegger’s. Plato he’ll spend time with, because Plato is poetic, and James is accessible for that same reason, but it’s certainly not insane to be averse to spending your life plunging yourself into all the jargon of all the big baddies the way we try to do in service to this podcast.

          Interestingly, I don’t see a strong pattern in followers of Pirsig to develop their own individual style in the way he did; they seem to just take up Pirsig’s style (thus his reputation as a cult leader, much to his chagrin). This is different, I think, than followers of Nietzsche, who by necessity can’t really use Nietzsche’s style, because that would just be f’ing insane (People dumb enough to try don’t tend to actually understand Nietzsche). I make this comparison in particular because I think the practical upshot of Pirsig’s directive to live by Quality and Nietzsche’s directive to live artistically amount to much the same thing, though in P’s case there’s more of the Zen calm and for N there’s more advocacy of romantic extremism.

          • pirsigfan

            January 13, 2012

            Mark

            This is a very well stated point.

            One thing I wonder w/r PEL is why you seem to prefer studying the philosopher’s original text rather than a respected synthesis. You could cover more ground this way if, indeed, you do not wish to get bogged down in odd-verbiage.

            Just a thought.

          • David Buchanan

            January 13, 2012

            I tend to think about these various philosophers as belonging to two basic camps; the rationalists and the empiricists. It’s quite telling, I think, that Nietzsche, James, Bergson and Pirsig all spend quite a lot of energy attacking the rationalists for their “vicious abstractionism” or “vicious intellectualism”. This is what they all dislike about guys like Plato and Hegel. James, in fact, spent most of his philosophical life doing battle with the “Absolute”. He said he wanted “the scalp” of the Absolute and debated Bradley and Royce for decades. (He thought Russell was dumber than a bag of rocks.) I think it would even be safe to say that James invented radical empiricism in order to rule out “metaphysical fictions” like the Absolute.

            “In his last unfinished work, Some Problems in Philosophy, James had condensed this description to a single sentence,” Pirsig says in Lila. “‘There must always be a discrepancy between concepts and reality, because the former are static and discontinuous while the latter is dynamic and flowing’. Here James had chosen exactly the same words Phaedrus had used for the basic subdivision of the Metaphysics of Quality.” (Pirsig, Lila, near the end of chapter 29)

            That is the basis of their stance against the rationalist camp. As Pirsig puts it elsewhere in Lila, while addressing the mystic’s objection to metaphysical system building, the fundamental nature of reality is outside of language because language chops and divides and sorts experience. James and Bergson both repeatedly emphasized the continuity of experience and opposed it to the “logic chopping” tendencies of their rationalist opponents. This is a different kind of empiricism but the main thrust is to assert the primacy of the immediate flux of experience before it is intellectually sorted and divided.

            It’s also worth noting that Nietzsche, James, Bergson and Pirsig all present their thought in an almost literary fashion. (Bergson’s philosophy earned a Noble Prize in literature and people used to joke that William was more literary than his brother Henry, the novelist.) This fact about their style sits in striking contrast to the fact that Plato would have banned the artists from his utopia.

            One more point. I’m not sure what you mean by saying Pirsig and Hegel share a view of similar patterns across different emergent levels so my reply might not be entirely relevant to you objection. As you’re just about to see in Pirsig’s second book, the MOQ divides things into four distinct levels and these form an evolutionary hierarchy. He asserts that these levels even oppose each other in some ways, that they represent very different sets of values and they sometimes come into conflict with each other. They are different sets of morals, if you will. The laws of physics, the law of the jungle, the laws of society, and the laws of logic each emerge from the previously evolved level but they each take a different evolutionary turn away from their parent level, so to speak. The forces that hold a rock together differ from the forces that hold an organism together and a nation is held together by something that is beyond both the physical and the biological. The distinction between civilized values or social values and intellectual values is basically the same as the old distinction between mythos and logos. That line is not original to Pirsig but he is a bit unusual in saying that the latter is not simply a grown up version of the former. They are distinct and sometimes even opposed, he says, and he makes an historical case for this conflict.

            Apologies for the length…

          • David Buchanan

            January 22, 2012

            Responding to your final paragraph, Mark.

            I’ve spent way too much time with “followers” of Pirsig, virtually speaking. Sadly, very few have any background in philosophy. And for fairly obvious reasons, Pirisg attracts more than his fair share of cranks and nuts. Apparently, this is what happens when an “insane” man is cast as the hero of a book – a book that sells in the millions. I’m talking about people who genuinely feel persecuted unless you accept their incoherent drivel as philosophical gold.

            Fortunately, there are also a few sane, competent scholars. Ron DiSanto is the co-author of a “Guidebook to ZAMM” (1990). (DiSanto was on my thesis committee.) Anthony McWatt was the first to get write a dissertation on Pirsig’s work (2005) and David Granger’s dissertation was published as “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” (2006). Would it be excessively generous to accept these guys as examples of what a Pirsigian looks like, rather than the unschooled fans? I think it would only be fair.

  17. pirsigfan

    January 11, 2012

    Daniel Horne :
    Dude, you can always, like, not listen to the episode. It’s all gonna be OK, really.

    I know low Quality when it’s being dispensed. In the light of keeping things in order, it is customary to comment when someone attempts, as I have, to respond to your query.

    Did my explanation of Quality help your opening questions?

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      Daniel Horne

      January 11, 2012

      I appreciate your interpretation on the nature of Quality. However, your explanation didn’t really get to the gist of my question. My question was whether any meaningful commonalities can be found between Schleiermacher’s description of religious feeling as described in On Religion, and Pirsig’s description of Quality. I’m not sure there are, but I’d be keen to get opinions from those who have read both works.

      • Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

        Mark Linsenmayer

        January 11, 2012

        I’m doubting that many folks here read the Schleiermacher, so I’ll try: Yes, Pirsig’s philosophy, by his own admission, lines up with those apophatic ones (not his word) where there’s some absolute in experience that we can’t say anything about (e.g. the Tao). Schleiermacher is in this tradition too, yet he thinks we’re driven to try to spread this experience to others and so can legitimately join in a religious tradition based on such experience of the absolute. For Pirsig, the pre-intellectual has an affective tone, so we can say that much about it (it’s a “yes” or a “no,” at least: Dave thought it had other “qualia” features that, I guess, can’t be described in words except by analogy). It’s also (as for Merleau-Ponty, who is totally relevant here, and I think unlike Scheiermacher) the source of all further conceptualization: it is (using James’s term) the “blooming-buzzing confusion”… Dave brought that term in, though to me, it doesn’t square away with it having an affective tone; confusion hasn’t been processed enough to give us something to be affected by): it’s the raw experience that we then break down into subject and object. Schleiermacher thinks that the pre-intellectual is the world in its totality, which is by definition (think Spinoza’s definition) God. This to me is different than the whole, uninterpreted field of a particular experience: Schleiermacher qua mystic thinks we actually get the whole, not just what’s in front of us, whereas for James, it’s definitely the latter. Pirsig sometimes talks like it’s the former (comparing Quality to Tao), but given that he thinks we get a specific affect from it that will be different depending on what we’re experiencing, pretty obviously has to be committed to the latter.

        • pirsigfan

          January 11, 2012

          ***I’m doubting that many folks here read the Schleiermacher, so I’ll try: Yes, Pirsig’s philosophy, by his own admission, lines up with those apophatic ones (not his word) where there’s some absolute in experience that we can’t say anything about (e.g. the Tao). Schleiermacher is in this tradition too, yet he thinks we’re driven to try to spread this experience to others and so can legitimately join in a religious tradition based on such experience of the absolute.***

          For Whitehead, there are no absolutes other than the ‘advance into novelty’ that results from the metafizzikle ultimate – creativity. [P gave this role to Quality in ZAMM, and later in Lila, carved the role out and renamed it Dynamic Quality – the continuing stimulus our environment places on us to create the world around us.]

          Creativity for W is primary, but not as much an absolute as a flux of affect. Even God is not absolute, but always changing with the world, always luring it to make the best of what is now antecedent. God valuates the novelty offered in each possible creative advance. [This is more like the Tao aspect P sees in Q – God luring all to ther better = the Way of Tao.]

          *** For Pirsig, the pre-intellectual has an affective tone, so we can say that much about it (it’s a “yes” or a “no,” at least: Dave thought it had other “qualia” features that, I guess, can’t be described in words except by analogy). It’s also (as for Merleau-Ponty, who is totally relevant here, and I think unlike Scheiermacher) the source of all further conceptualization: it is (using James’s term) the “blooming-buzzing confusion”… Dave brought that term in, though to me, it doesn’t square away with it having an affective tone; confusion hasn’t been processed enough to give us something to be affected by): it’s the raw experience that we then break down into subject and object. ***

          W once said that he sees the world as like when one just awakens into initial confusion and clouded nuances of coalescing activities snd image snippets before coming to any semi lucid mode of perception; whereas he says his friend Bertrand Russell saw it as being as clear and definite as high noon on a sunny day. W was not fond of the analytics of the logical positivists.

          ***Schleiermacher thinks that the pre-intellectual is the world in its totality, which is by definition (think Spinoza’s definition) God. This to me is different than the whole, uninterpreted field of a particular experience: Schleiermacher qua mystic thinks we actually get the whole, not just what’s in front of us, whereas for James, it’s definitely the latter. Pirsig sometimes talks like it’s the former (comparing Quality to Tao), but given that he thinks we get a specific affect from it that will be different depending on what we’re experiencing, pretty obviously has to be committed to the latter.***

          W says a subject prehends the entirety of the objective, now-past world in each moment and everything is interrelated (though little appears as presently relevant: don’t forget quantum entanglement). These objectified brute facts contain all the affective tones that were affective experiences in a once present self-determining subjective experient.

  18. pirsigfan

    January 11, 2012

    Daniel

    I am not up on S at all.

    Mark

    I cannot think of a a single W-authored, brief piece that would summarize W’s work in metafizziks. of dmf’s recommended Shaviro papers, the Chapter 6 Conclusion/Consequences of his draft Whitebook was very good stuff relating W to continentals and artists, as well.

    IMO, P likely studied W’s metafizziks at some point in his early days and forgot, or hated it so much that he refuses to give credit. Northrup’s merging of east-west philosophy follows on his being a student of W and is actually a more likely source of P’s Whiteheadian process ideas as P may have read him and (I am not for sure) been a student of Northrup.

    On B valuing A as opposed to A causes B, this is pure Whitehead as in ‘perception in the mode of causal efficacy’. Here, the brute antecedent facts of a becoming subjective experient are felt (prehended) – thus, the present experience self-determines as adversion/aversion to selected past objective fact. The subsequent subjective experient B values the antecedent objectified A. just as P says also.

    • Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

      Mark Linsenmayer

      January 11, 2012

      Well, then the causality thing sounds like a great part of the Whitehead discussion, as opposed to the Pirsig discussion, which had plenty to fill it with the fine lessons of ZAMM without requiring all of the participants to read the entirety of Lila as well.

      I notice that P quoted Whitehead a couple times, I think in both books. It may have just been the famous quotes, though, like the “all philosophy is footnotes to Plato,” which doesn’t require reading Whitehead.

  19. pirsigfan

    January 12, 2012

    A thought arises concerning Daniel’s question of dualism – is it subjectivity or objectivity? Pirsig’s invoking ‘mu’ to signify that neither provides enough insight and you need to re-ask the question. For instance, ‘is the moving yo-yo up or down?’ Both and neither – mu.

    Such is the case for Whitehead’s take on subject-object duslism (which he dors not hold). Objrctivity is all past experiences of all entities now actualized as prehendable brute fact. Subjectivity is all contemporaneous occasions of experience of entities self- actualizing (becoming) by prehending what is objectively present and deciding how novelly it feels like advancing.

    What is reality, subject or object in Whitehead’s scheme? Like for the yo-yo, mu. Reality is a manifold plurality of individual entities, each involved in a pulsation of many objective facts being subjectively prehended and fashioned into a novel new fact, whereupon it becomes one more of the many brute objective facts.

    Reality is a process of subjective becoming, or self-actualizatizing, thru a synthesis of affective valuation – adversion/aversion – of all prehended facts and their offered possibilities. Once a satisfaction of synthesis matches the subjective desire, a decision is made and (S)ubjective possibility becomes (O)bjective actuality.

    Only question is, is the process S-O-S-O…or, O-S-O-S? Mu.

  20. pirsigfan

    January 12, 2012

    Mark

    What you say here is a very good point

    “…where Pirsig seems to go wrong to me. Assuming his account of experience is correct, it strikes me as just an unsupported hypothesis or perhaps an artistic analogy to apply this same quality-as-primary structure to every interaction between everything. All we know about are interactions between things and US; we don’t know how it works with dogs, or amoebas, or rocks, or subatomic particles.”

    P and W both make apologetic gestures for doing a metaphysics of this type, a metaphysical theory of everything, MTOE. But it can be justified, and I know philosophers who feel threatened by science often argue that ‘science needs philosophy to give it direction and/or keep its theories from going off-course.’ So metaphysics of all processes of nature can be justified.

    I know many scientists from cosmology and quantuum much, to psychology and affective neuroscience DO find value (in W’s work, anyhow). For instance, gravity is a form of prehension, where affect is now mass-energy.

    And, just as dualism or trinities are ontologys to be done awat with if at all possible, isn’t Occam;s razor pointing just to a MTOE that has a primary ‘uberforce,’ as you’ve called it?

  21. Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

    Mark Linsenmayer

    January 13, 2012

    David Buchanan :

    I tend to think about these various philosophers as belonging to two basic camps; the rationalists and the empiricists.

    …And the Kantian project is to synthesize the two, yet Kant retains the objectionable (to James) part of the rationalist strain, but each post-Kantian gets closer to getting it right, to the point that I think Sartre and M-P’s epistemologies are extremely similar to James’s. There is SOMETHING to the notion of the a priori and essences, which even Pirsig in effect admits by admitting Quality, which we do not get through induction: it’s a fundamental structure (essence) of experience (his train analogy is the overly simplistic analogue of Husserl’s analysis of the layers of meaning in experience). James and Pirsig can claim that all further distinctions (e.g. causality) are just a matter of social convention, but I don’t see how we can possibly tell that, unless we find a culture where people don’t have the notion of causality.

    I’m not sure what you mean by saying Pirsig and Hegel share a view of similar patterns across different emergent levels so my reply might not be entirely relevant to you objection. As you’re just about to see in Pirsig’s second book, the MOQ divides things into four distinct levels and these form an evolutionary hierarchy. He asserts that these levels even oppose each other in some ways, that they represent very different sets of values and they sometimes come into conflict with each other. They are different sets of morals, if you will. The laws of physics, the law of the jungle, the laws of society, and the laws of logic each emerge from the previously evolved level but they each take a different evolutionary turn away from their parent level, so to speak. The forces that hold a rock together differ from the forces that hold an organism together and a nation is held together by something that is beyond both the physical and the biological. The distinction between civilized values or social values and intellectual values is basically the same as the old distinction between mythos and logos. That line is not original to Pirsig but he is a bit unusual in saying that the latter is not simply a grown up version of the former. They are distinct and sometimes even opposed, he says, and he makes an historical case for this conflict.

    Yes, this is the part of Pirsig I was talking about. It’s quite similar to the conflicts in Hegel’s Phenomenology, except that Hegel goes into excruciating and often nearly impenetrable detail… but in doing so gives a much more developed and precise account than Pirsig. The layers are in conflict, just as for Pirsig; structures in each push forward from their own internal logic; there’s a pattern of emergence of new layers. Still, Pirsig wants to characterize all of these layers as non-blind evolution, not pointing toward a particular determinate goal, but motivated by Quality… one principle ultimately serving as an explanation for all movement. This is the part that’s non-empirical and hence objectionable on Pirsig’s own usual method. I don’t think you see anything like that in William James.

    • David Buchanan

      January 16, 2012

      One principle for all movement? A non-empirical and hence objectionable explanation for all movement? I think this is a tempting conclusion and that’s very likely why Pirsig goes out of his way to deny it. I also think this is a very crucial point.

      “Quality was the source and substance of everything. ..Hegel had talked like this, with his Absolute Mind. Absolute Mind was independent too, both of objectivity and subjectivity. However, Hegel said the Absolute Mind was the source and substance of everything, but then excluded romantic experience from the ‘everything’ it was the source of. Hegel’s Absolute was completely classical, completely rational and completely orderly,” Pirsig writes. And then the next sentence gets its own paragraph.

      “Quality was not like that.”

      At this point Pirsig wonders out loud about the differences between various kinds of monisms; mystical or metaphysical, Hindu, Taoist, or Buddhist and then he breaks out his copy of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and finds he can successfully replace “the Tao” with “Quality” as he reads through the ancient text. He concludes the chapter (20) saying Quality is “the great central generating force of all religions”. (That would be a claim about Quality’s relation to the perennial philosophy and in Lila he’ll call Quality “the mystic reality”.)

      He works this out more explicitly in his second book. In ZAMM, Pirsig gives us a metaphysics that consists of just one undefined word and that just won’t do. So in Lila we get a more nuts and bolts treatment. He still refuses to define Quality, which comes to be called Dynamic Quality, but he builds a rationally intelligible explanation around that central undefined term.

      “The central reality of mysticism, the reality that Phaedrus had called ‘Quality’ in his first, is not a metaphysical chess piece. …Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions. Quality is indivisible, undefinable and unknowable in the sense that there is a knower and a known, but a metaphysics can be none of these things. A metaphysics must be divisible, definable, and knowable, or there isn’t any metaphysics. Since a metaphysics is essentially a kind of dialectical definition and since Quality is essentially outside definition, this means that a ‘Metaphysics of Quality’ is essentially a contradiction in terms, a logical absurdity.”

      As mentioned, by the time we get near the end of Lila Pirsig is equating DQ (the primary empirical reality) with William James’s terms; namely “the immediate flux of life” and “pure experience”. It’s true that Pirsig calls himself a pragmatist but at this point he is hitching his wagon to James’s radical empiricism. (Think of pragmatism as the most important chapter within a radically empirical book.) My point here is simply to deny the idea that Quality or DQ is some kind of non-empirical principle. Pirsig wants to say instead, in James’s words, that “experience and reality amount to the same thing”.

      This emphasis on the empirical over the intellectual is illustrated early in Lila (chapter 5) with a very ordinary example and although he does not mention Hegel by name, I suspect he is one of the targets in mind. The emphasis is Pirsig’s in the original…

      “Any person of any philosophic persuasion who sits on a hot stove will verify without any intellectual argument whatsoever that he is in an undeniably low-quality situation: that the VALUE of his predicament is negative. This low quality is not just a vague, woolly-heaed, crypto-religious, metaphysical abstraction [like Hegel's?!]. It is an EXPERIENCE. It is not a judgement about an experience. It is not a description of an experience. The value itself is an experience. ..Without the primary low valuation, the secondary oaths [judgements and descriptions] will not follow.”

      This becomes the first and most important distinction within Pirsig’s MOQ. Dynamic Quality is primary experience itself and static quality (concepts, principles, abstractions and definitions) is always secondary. Pirsig hits Hegel once again just as he is claiming that the MOQ is a form of mainstream American philosophy…

      “The MOQ is a continuation of the mainstream of 20th century American philosophy. It is a form of pragmatism, of instrumentalism, which says the test of the true is the good. It adds that this good is not a social code or some intellectualized Hegelian Absolute. It is direct everyday experience.” (Lila, last page of chapter 29.)

      It might be helpful to think about our two radical empiricists by contrasting them to Kant. Pirsig and James, like other neo-Kantians, I suppose, would say that the categories of the mind are not innate. Instead, our conceptual categories are invented, evolved and inherited. James and Pirsig both say that the ontological categories known as subjects and objects aren’t really ontological but are among the invented and inherited thought categories. As a result, these guys can’t go along with the claim that things-in-themselves are starting points of reality. Instead of being the causes or conditions of our experience, these guys say that such things are the products of experience, are concepts derived from experience. In this picture experience IS reality and there is no appearance/reality distinction in that sense.

  22. Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

    Mark Linsenmayer

    January 13, 2012

    pirsigfan :
    P and W both make apologetic gestures for doing a metaphysics of this type, a metaphysical theory of everything, MTOE. But it can be justified, and I know philosophers who feel threatened by science often argue that ‘science needs philosophy to give it direction and/or keep its theories from going off-course.’ So metaphysics of all processes of nature can be justified.

    I don’t get your logic here. Do you have a philosopher in mind? Fears of scientism are telling scientists to keep their conclusions conservative, right; the philosophers who want to “keep theories from going off-course” that first come to mind to me are theists, but I don’t think this is your point.

    And, just as dualism or trinities are ontologys to be done awat with if at all possible, isn’t Occam;s razor pointing just to a MTOE that has a primary ‘uberforce,’ as you’ve called it?

    If the theory gets TOO simple, then it’s not explaining anything; it’s just mysticism. You might as well just say “God” and be done with it if you’re going down that road.

  23. Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

    Mark Linsenmayer

    January 13, 2012

    Alright, I’m going to need to slack off on this discussion now to focus on other things at least until the ep comes out… but it is good to finally know what you guys are talking about re. some of this stuff.

  24. Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer

    Mark Linsenmayer

    January 13, 2012

    pirsigfan :

    One thing I wonder w/r PEL is why you seem to prefer studying the philosopher’s original text rather than a respected synthesis. You could cover more ground this way if, indeed, you do not wish to get bogged down in odd-verbiage.

    Stubborn bravado.

  25. Chris Mullen

    January 18, 2012

    I just came across an article, which i have not read yet, that might be of interest to you folk called Pirsig, Schleiermacher, Mysticism and the MoQ. I was wondering if someone wanted to give it a read and tell me what they thought.

    • Daniel Horne

      January 18, 2012

      Holy cow, thanks, dude!

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      Mark Linsenmayer

      January 18, 2012

      Yep, that sure is on the money. I’m going to have to think on this and address the points via a blog post (after the Pirsig episode goes up). Other people should feel free to pursue it here, though, and save me the trouble of researching the points raised myself!

    • David Buchanan

      January 18, 2012

      In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this article is a friend of mine, sort of. We used to debate all kinds of religious and mystical issues and sometimes it was a bit over-heated. As an Anglican priest, Sam was always interested in disputing my portrait of Pirsig’s MOQ as a kind of non-theistic, philosophical mysticism.

      It was a kick in the head to see Sam’s essay again after all these years. (Between now and the last time I saw that article, I met Pirsig, went back to school, and wrote a Masters thesis comparing James and Pirsig.) A couple of comments that I might not have been able to make back then…

      The assertion that James was heavily depending on Schleiermacher’s formulations of mysticism in “the Varieties of Religious Experience” is extremely dubious, at best. His own father was a Swedenbourgian mystic and Emerson was a family friend who often dined with the James family. Also, James’s intention in “The Varieties” was to present a survey of first-person reports, which constitutes about 90% of the book. He intentionally makes observations and draws conclusions based on these personal reports rather than any kind of theoretical starting point. As James see it (and as Pirsig sees it), all the theologies, rituals, dogmas and traditions are secondary formations whereas religious experience is the genuine article.

      James didn’t even set up any prior standards as to what constitutes a “religious” experience, except that the one doing the reporting considered it to be so. He observed that, in many cases, people who reported these experiences were never the same afterward, that it changed the trajectory of their lives. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration, by the way, to say that James’s book practically founded the sub-field known as the psychology of religion.

      Also, by tying James and Pirsig to Schleiermacher, he saddles our pragmatists with the Kantian problematic and thereby misconstrues the notion of “pure experience” as crossing an uncrossable epistemic gap such that we have direct access to the world of things-in-themselves. Anything outside of experience, they both say, can only ever be a secondary concept, a working hypothesis, a metaphysical fiction – so I’m fairly certain that neither James nor Pirsig could ever make any claim about how “to experience the ‘noumena’,” as Sam puts it.

      I suspect he has updated his views since 2004 and he might even like to get involved in this discussion.

      Thanks, Chris.

      • Chris Mullen

        January 24, 2012

        Your welcome.

  26. pirsigfan

    January 19, 2012

    david

    it seems a bit presumptuous to assert sam’s need to alter his views, coming, as it does, from a person whose scholarship proudly condones the practice of ignoring relevant scholarship simply because it is harder to study

    i mean this constructively…ln the spirit of good research, you will need to study whitehead on pure experience if yo go on for a dissertation

    • David Buchanan

      January 19, 2012

      Presumptuous? As I see it, anyone who hasn’t updated their views since 2004 probably has a fossilized mind so I was merely giving Sam the benefit of the doubt.

      Also, Burl, your insulting attitude strikes me as wildly unfair. Nobody would proudly condone scholarly ignorance, obviously. But when we set the number of things to be read against the number of our days, it’s pretty clear that we all have to make some choices. I mean, it’s not exactly crazy to be pursuing my own scholarly interests instead of pursuing yours and having to set priorities is hardly the same thing as willful ignorance.

      It’s true that Whitehead is nowhere near the top of my reading list. I’m pretty sure that his Platonism and Theism would be incompatible with Pirsig, James, and Dewey in some fairly important ways. I’m not saying that Whitehead’s thought is totally irrelevant – Pirsig quotes him and there is a Masters Thesis on the two – but it’s not as relevant or as interesting or as compatible as the Philosophers and schools of philosophy with which Pirsig explicitly identifies. (Northrop, James, pragmatism, radical empiricism, philosophical mysticism, the ancient Sophists.) A person could write a dissertation or spend an entire lifetime following any one of those obvious choices.

      Maybe you’d like to try to persuade me that Whitehead should be moved to the top of this list. You’re a big fan. Okay, I can understand that. But who is going to be moved by anything less than lots of good reasons and evidence? C’mon Burl. Mere bullying is unbecoming and ineffective.

  27. FZ

    January 19, 2012

    I have two questions:

    1. Was his son really murdered?
    2. I read the book many many years ago, however why did he chose the word “Zen”?

    • David Buchanan

      January 19, 2012

      1. Sadly, yes. It was just outside some kind of Zen monastery in San Francisco. Chris resisted some muggers, basically. They wanted the six-pack he was carrying, or something like that.

      2. The title of Pirsig’s book is a reference or allusion to Eugen Herrigel’s “Zen in the Art of Archery”. Pirsig, in the author’s note, tells us from the very start that his book is not about the Japanese discipline known as Zen but If Dr. Anthony McWatt is right, the MOQ is an American form of Buddhism. Pirsig was one of the founders of the Zen Center in Minneapolis. Maybe the title was also intended to speak to the times. You know, the Beatles went to India, Alan Watts was selling big in the bookstores on Haight. Etc..

  28. dmf

    January 19, 2012

    not really a fan of Whitehead but for the same reasons that Dewey is preferable to James (see Rorty’s lecture on James) but if you prefer James than Whitehead is the heir apparent:
    http://lnx.journalofpragmatism.eu/?p=446

    • David Buchanan

      January 20, 2012

      Thanks for the link, dmf. The Stenner paper speaks my language, which is delicious, but so far it only confirms my suspicious hunches about Whitehead. More later.

  29. pirsigfan

    January 20, 2012

    DMF

    CAN YOU GIVE MORE INFO ON THE ‘HEIR APPARENT’ REMARK? I CANNOT SEE ANYTHING IN THE HTTP LINK YOU GIVE.

    THANKS

      • dmf

        January 20, 2012

        yes and Dennis Soelch’s but those are just some examples that I had at hand the trend is pretty widespread and as Isabelle Stengers’ influence grows we are likely to see more of it.
        here is Rorty on James:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akz0S7eyQKU

        • David Buchanan

          January 21, 2012

          Thanks again, dmf. I’ve seen that lecture before but it’s been a while and it was good to see it again.
          As I see it, Rorty differs from Pirsig and James about as much as Whitehead, but he differs in the opposite direction. Instead of getting too theistic and Platonic, Rorty scrubs away every speck of religion or metaphysics. Not that this is a game of Goldilocks.
          At the end Rorty says he finds no value at all in James’s Radical Empiricism and he wishes James had just stayed true to his own pragmatism. (Pirsig equates his own central terms with the central term in James’s Radical Empiricism, so we can take this as a rejection of Pirsig by proxy.) But I dare say that James’s pragmatism is not just about the utility of an idea, as Rorty claimed, but about “agreement with experience”. (Not to be confused with the correspondence theory of truth.) As originally construed, James’s pragmatism is very, very empirical. As mentioned previously, pragmatism fits into the book of radical empiricism like a special chapter on truth.

          It’s not apparent in ZAMM, but in Pirsig’s second book (Lila) and in subsequent commentary it becomes clear that his MOQ isn’t compatible with theism. Watch out, most of it is just “low-grade yelping about God”. At one point he says that if you’re a mystic you can equate Quality and God, otherwise don’t even try. In some respects, he says, the MOQ is downright anti-theistic. James was similarly subtle and complicated on these issues and I think Rorty has a bit of tin ear in this area. I think Pirsig and James wanted to extend empiricism so as to include all experience and especially the deeply felt and personally meaningful experiences. Their radical empiricism does that without resorting to anything supernatural or positing any metaphysical entities. I mean, you don’t have to believe in magic to believe that people have transformative experiences or that mystical experiences have been reported by people from every time and place. (Including Pirsig, James and Dewey.) Some people might mention this fact to support the claims of theologians but I’m not one of them. I’m just saying the radical empiricist won’t exclude experience because of its rarity or weirdness. As Dewey points out, even a hallucination is “real” in the sense that you really did suffer (or enjoy) it.

          Not too hot, not too cold.

          As I understand it, Pirsig’s brand of philosophical mysticism does not claim that mystic enjoy contact with God himself nor would it dismiss such experience as the result of a serotonin surplus or the like. It’s something in the middle, a human experience with human import. That’s “spiritual” enough, you know?

  30. dmf

    January 21, 2012

    no one is denying the reality (in the phenomenological 1st person sense) of such experiences but there is no reason to construct a metaphysics based on them, no need to see affect and or semiotics at work in the non-biological, and certainly no need after Darwin to project any sense of telos into evolutionary processes.
    One can have perfectly good sociological accounts of human affairs that don’t deny the physical but also aren’t reductive to simple mechanics. Is that “spiritual” enough for most folks, not likely, but maybe it will suffice for those of us not seeking a Nobodaddy or any other transitional Object-ive source of Author-ity/Quality.
    you may enjoy:
    http://www.janushead.org/8-2/lingis.pdf

  31. pirsigfan

    January 21, 2012

    dmf

    i cannot thank you enough for pointing to the stenner paper on j and w – simply fantastic (half through, now)

    over the months since mark lured me to pel from the stanford podcast where i requested whitehead talk, i have tried – to the best of my engineer-shaped mind – to post here on pel what i have taught myself on w. i see from this paper that my thoughts are pretty accurate w/r to the w project.

    i hope we can build on the content of this paper, and i plan to read the second paper on your link as well.

    thanx sooo much

  32. pirsigfan

    January 22, 2012

    the soelch paper makes a strong case for granting w credit for taking j’s pragmatism and giving it a sounder footing for perpetuation in phil circles. soelch points out that w is the forgotten pragmatist who links the likes of qine, rorty,putnam, etc to james’ ‘weak’ prag.

  33. pirsigfan

    January 24, 2012

    David Buchanan :
    Responding to your final paragraph, Mark.
    I’ve spent way too much time with “followers” of Pirsig, virtually speaking. Sadly, very few have any background in philosophy. And for fairly obvious reasons, Pirisg attracts more than his fair share of cranks and nuts. Apparently, this is what happens when an “insane” man is cast as the hero of a book – a book that sells in the millions. I’m talking about people who genuinely feel persecuted unless you accept their incoherent drivel as philosophical gold.
    Fortunately, there are also a few sane, competent scholars. Ron DiSanto is the co-author of a “Guidebook to ZAMM” (1990). (DiSanto was on my thesis committee.) Anthony McWatt was the first to get write a dissertation on Pirsig’s work (2005) and David Granger’s dissertation was published as “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” (2006). Would it be excessively generous to accept these guys as examples of what a Pirsigian looks like, rather than the unschooled fans? I think it would only be fair.

    David

    Think about what you’re saying, here.

    Is it really the case that one brandish ‘philosophicological’ (Pirsig’s derogatory term) credentials or to pigeonhole his writings as necessarily Jamesian, Whiteheadian, or whatever, in order to properly ‘get’ Pirsig’s common-sense take on how a worldview involving a value/affect driven process can bring calm to one’s constant ‘seeking mentality’ by redirecting it to ‘feeling the good.’

    Come on, man, don’t take yourself too seriously.

    • David Buchanan

      January 24, 2012

      That’s not what I’m saying, Burl, and your characterization is an unfair distortion at best.

      It would be silly to define a nut or a crank as anyone who lacks academic credentials. I’m talking about people who’ve spent time in psychiatric hospitals and then find comfort in Pirsig’s story. I’m saying it would be unfair to judge Pirsig’s work on the basis of these kinds of followers.

      If distinguishing the fans from the philosophers makes me look like a pretentious snob, then I’ll just have to figure out a way to live with that.

  34. pirsigfan

    January 24, 2012

    Sorry, David…I did misunderstand your point, here. I know you spent lots of time posting on the MoQ forums, and you must have gotten to know some folks of whom I am not familiar (I could not follow the forum structure and so never got very involved, except for it lrading me to Matt Kundert and his pirsigaffliction blog).

    I hardly ever found anyone with whom I could discuss P – people say they read it and enjoyed the travelogue…they glossed over those stray diversions into Quality.

    I lent (and never got back) my highlighted copy of ZAMM to the president of a small engineering college. He was always harping on how the college was to be the best engineering teaching school in the country. I thought the classic/romantic split and the descriptions of the role of Quality in the book would shed light on his goals in some way. When I asked him what he thought of it, he said it was a good story about a motorcycle ride!

    Romantic pearls before classic swine, I figured. I think that is when I quit trying to discuss the work.

  35. Todd Costa

    January 27, 2012

    What is Pirsig’s point in exploring the distinctions and relationships between inanimate objects and animate ones? Are we able to make such a distinction in the truest manner according to Pirsig? What is the point of the distinction he makes between Art and Prints of Art?

    • David Buchanan

      January 31, 2012

      Todd, I guess you’re asking about a distinction that Pirsig makes use of in his second book. The line between physics and biology isn’t original, of course, but Pirsig wants to say we should also draw lines between biology and society, as well as a line between society and intellect. The idea here is that evolution produces distinctly different “levels” of reality. As James might put it, health is a biological level good, wealth is a social level good and truth is an intellectual species of the good.

      These evolutionary levels are then used to create a kind of moral hierarchy wherein truth is better than wealth and health is more basic than wealth, wherein death is a matter of degenerating from biological back down to the inorganic level. None of these lines are original to Pirsig but what’s different is this notion that the various levels are so different from each other that they even sometimes come into conflict. This moral hierarchy doesn’t provide specific norms or rules so much as it just tells you which way is north.

      The difference between an original, unique work of art and a printed copy of that work is usually hundreds or thousands of dollars.

  36. Todd Costa

    January 28, 2012

    What is the significance of bringing up Hume and Kant’s within the context of ZAMM? Is it only to show first inclinations toward philosophy or does it have greater meaning within ZAMM itself?

    • David Buchanan

      January 31, 2012

      If memory serves, Pirsig says that Hume and Kant are discussed briefly just to raise some basic philosophical issues. He’s preparing the reader for the journey into “the high country of the mind” by asking some basic epistemological and ontological questions. What’s true and what’s real? More specifically, I think he’s raising these questions so that the reader might better appreciate what’s at stake when he gets that killer question about Quality. Is it objectively real or is it just in the eye of the beholder? This is the question that sends him to grad school in Chicago.

      Check out the first few pages of chapter 18 of Zen and the Art. In terms of Pirsig’s inclinations toward philosophy, it’s a very telling section wherein he heaps abuse upon the whole field of aesthetics. He says he “recoiled violently” at that entire branch of philosophy back in his student days. The notion of undefined Quality that he worked out in Bozeman, so many years later, thrilled him “like a cancer cure” because he felt he’d found a way to crush them all. Kant was one of these aestheticians, I suppose.

    • Daniel Horne

      January 31, 2012

      Good looking out, rinky, thanks!

  37. pirsigfan

    January 31, 2012

    David Buchanan :
    Todd, I guess you’re asking about a distinction that Pirsig makes use of in his second book. The line between physics and biology isn’t original, of course, but Pirsig wants to say we should also draw lines between biology and society, as well as a line between society and intellect. The idea here is that evolution produces distinctly different “levels” of reality. As James might put it, health is a biological level good, wealth is a social level good and truth is an intellectual species of the good.
    These evolutionary levels are then used to create a kind of moral hierarchy wherein truth is better than wealth and health is more basic than wealth, wherein death is a matter of degenerating from biological back down to the inorganic level. None of these lines are original to Pirsig but what’s different is this notion that the various levels are so different from each other that they even sometimes come into conflict. This moral hierarchy doesn’t provide specific norms or rules so much as it just tells you which way is north.

    David, this is written very well and helps illuminate my Lila understanding.

    David Buchanan :
    The difference between an original, unique work of art and a printed copy of that work is usually hundreds or thousands of dollars.

    LOL!

  38. Butters Stotch

    February 3, 2012

    [quote]

    I’ve spent way too much time with “followers” of Pirsig, virtually speaking. Sadly, very few have any background in philosophy. And for fairly obvious reasons, Pirisg attracts more than his fair share of cranks and nuts. Apparently, this is what happens when an “insane” man is cast as the hero of a book – a book that sells in the millions. I’m talking about people who genuinely feel persecuted unless you accept their incoherent drivel as philosophical gold.

    [/quote]

    Are you describing Pirsig’s followers or are you describing the followers of Ayn Rand? Rand shamelessly cribbed the concepts of established philosophers, but she and her followers describe their creation as essentially Thus Spake Zarathustra moments of divine inspiration, which is odd since she was an atheist.

    If I have an adequate understanding of the Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ), then I must conclude that it is ultimately nonsensical. If Quality is something that cannot be defined but can be observed by everyone, then it becomes simultaneously everything and nothing.

    Continuing to the motorcycle analogy. Everyone, trained or untrained, can tell when a two-stroke motorcycle engine is not performing correctly. Two-stroke gasoline engines, especially high performance engines, are designed to operate with a certain rhythm and timing that humans can automatically relate to the rhythms of their own body. No undefinable metaphysical concept like MOQ is needed to understand why this is so.

  39. Butters Stotch

    February 3, 2012


    I’ve spent way too much time with “followers” of Pirsig, virtually speaking. Sadly, very few have any background in philosophy. And for fairly obvious reasons, Pirisg attracts more than his fair share of cranks and nuts. Apparently, this is what happens when an “insane” man is cast as the hero of a book – a book that sells in the millions. I’m talking about people who genuinely feel persecuted unless you accept their incoherent drivel as philosophical gold.

    So, this is how the quotation scheme works on this web site.

  40. Bruce Adam

    February 4, 2012

    Thanks again to David for your insightful , well expressed responses made in this thread. I’ve lived with these books for over thirty five years, and….. yes..I’m an old hippie, and have no philosophical background.
    You’ve no idea how good it is to hear and read your remarks.
    In many ways I’ve lived the last thirty-odd years heavily under Pirsig’s influence, and I realise now that my critiques of other philosophies in other podcasts all come from an MOQ standpoint. Your remarks on the podcast and in this thread have only added to my conviction.
    It was also good to hear and read several references to the Perennial Philosophy. A podcast on this would be very welcome, PEL guys.!

    • dmf

      February 4, 2012

      once we put everything into motion isn’t there some tension between concerns about reification (misplaced concreteness) and the possibility/desirability of a “perennial” philosophy, or is Quality talk akin to neo-platonism?
      I would say this is a world better left behind.

      • Bruce Adam

        February 4, 2012

        Fair point, dmf, yet several times David Buchanan has, said in so many words,that MOQ and Philosophia Perennis are much the same. I would love to hear this notion developed. This thread is a bit spooky for me in as much as the philosophy I have lived by was shaped by Pirsig’s MOQ , Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy and James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. All three central to this thread. They all sit comfortably within me ….It’d be great to explore whether or not that’s due to my lack of understanding.

        • dmf

          February 4, 2012

          yes the point was DB’s, I think that this is a tension within James and in Pirsig but not a tension between them, is it just me or is there a good deal of Alan Watts in the background of ZAMM?
          If you have managed to incorporate aspects of these writers into your life there is no need for possible tensions in their works to be tensions in your life, our lives don’t have to make sense (add up) in that way, not sure what this says about philosophy except that the idea of a life-philosophy is more poetic than many might think.

          • David Buchanan

            February 4, 2012

            Tension? What they all have in common is an emphasis on first-hand experience, as opposed an adherence to some particular view, doctrine or dogma. In all cases, the basic message isn’t a message at all. Go see for yourself, they all say. Also from the Copleston commentary…

            “The MOQ takes takes the Oriental line, that it is a falling away of static patterns achievable by meditation or other disciplines. The Buddha also does not tell us precisely in what this transformation consists. He simply says “See for yourself.”” ..and…”The MOQ does not rest on faith. In the MOQ faith is very low quality stuff, a willingness to believe falsehoods.”

        • David Buchanan

          February 4, 2012

          In his commentary on Frederick Copleston’s ‘History of Philosophy’, (which you can see at http://robertpirsig.org/Copleston.htm ) Pirsig explicitly and approvingly refers to the perennial philosophy.

          “It has really been a shock to see how close Bradley is to the MOQ. Both he and the MOQ are expressing what Aldous Huxley called “The Perennial Philosophy,” which is perennial, I believe, because it happens to be true.”

          It’s worth mentioning that Pirsig is referring to F.H. Bradley, the Oxford Hegelian who battled with William James for many years. James’ bulldog at Oxford (Schiller) used to ridicule Bradley without mercy, even publishing mock essays by “F.H. Badley”. James disagreed with Bradley every bit as much but was more of a gentleman about it and he repeatedly had to tell Schiller to cool his jets. If you look at Pirsig’s comments, you’ll notice he’s somewhere in between the two. It’s fun to watch him get increasingly irritated with Bradley’s positions. Check it out.

          • Bruce Adam

            February 5, 2012

            That’s the most satisfying response I could have hoped for. Thanks David for joining these dots for me. You’ve improved my understanding again . Thanks.

          • dmf

            February 5, 2012

            the tension is between a post-darwinian understanding of evolutionary processes and the limits of human-being and the idea of perennial truths, which is why Dewey moved away from the neo-hegelians and Heidegger worked against ontotheology.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perennial_philosophy

  41. pirsigfan

    February 5, 2012

    Whitehead expressly synthesizes Bradley (the emergentist) and James (the psychologist), along with many others, esp. Leibniz.

    Pirsig is not coming clean on his knowledge of Alfie. I feel it in my bones that he is more connected to Whitehead than merely a passive ‘aesthetic continuum’ (if you will) via the Whitehead scholar that Pirsig worships, F S C Northrop.

    And due to my laziness and upset over the disjointed coverage Pirsig is getting on these unconnected PEL threads, I will make the point here for the ‘pirsigfan’ lawyer who posted elsewhere that Pirsig’s father was dean of the U of Minnesota law school.

    Mark…relative to something you said in the podcast, my dogs have every bit a ‘real’ experience as you or I – lose the anthropocentric bias and do some serious thinking.

    • Ryan

      February 5, 2012

      That’s weird, here I was of the opinion that for better or worse man had realized nuclear power, while dogs are stuck waiting for me to pour some food in to their bowl. If that’s every bit as real an experience, no wonder most of the people on earth suffer miserably churning out fresh cogs twelve hours a day with never any affect from intentionality or pragmatic open-mindedness whatsoever.

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