Lila in Dialogue – Part 3


I found myself thinking about other philosophers and what they had to say about everything Robert Pirsig was claiming in Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals. It’s funny how Pirsig recommends doing your own creative thinking first before consulting the philosophers and seeing who agrees with that point of view. In my mind, there were a number of thinkers who stood out to converse with Pirsig over the centuries – and there will likely be many more to come.

Madness & Civilization

I’ve read the first couple chapters of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization. I feel like his findings might throw some light on Pirsig’s musings about the concepts of sanity and insanity.

Pirsig struggled with mental illness and ideas about insanity in the book. For him, the Metaphysics of Quality allowed him to come to grips with that dark period of his life. He noted insanity is culturally defined – what is considered an insane act in one culture may not be considered the same in another.

Pirsig notes: “Anthropologists found that schizophrenia is strongest among those whose ties with the cultural traditions are weakest” (p.381). This sort of explains why most inventors, scientists, philosophers, writers, artists, etc. with that genius strain typically stroll the line of sanity and insanity. They are pushing the boundaries of reality, spinning the world view around in multiple Copernican revolutions. When you destroy your static cultural values with statements like “God is Dead” and “Quality precedes Subject and Object”, it’s very easy to lapse into depression because no one else knows what you know. When you rip out of the foundations of your knowledge and reality, you are left with nothing until you can re-create the world with your enlightened facts (values). Insanity is for those who lost their way to that new foundational reality. I suppose this is why Pirsig hates the anti-foundationalist and cultural relativism schools of post-modern thought.

Human Action

It is also important to note that my musings are coloured by my readings of Human Action by Ludwig Von Mises, since I was reading bits and pieces of the book at the same time.

Mises also found it necessary to deal with metaphysics before proceeding with the study of human action and economic activity in the first chapter of his book. Given that metaphysical disputes can be interminable, he adopts a dualist approach to the study of human action out of “pragmatism”. He utterly rejects the positivist school because human action is motivated by values. You cannot study economics without understanding the fundamental fact that humans attach value to goods and services – and it is not governments or societies or gods who (should) attach value to such things.

Further to my earliest writings on Pirsig’s perception of education and my own interpretation, I found this pertinent quote while reading Mises: “Education, whatever benefits it may confer, is transmission of traditional doctrines and valuations; it is by necessity conservative. It produces imitation and routine, not improvement and progress” (p. 311). It echoes Pirsig’s sentiments about philosophology versus philosophy.

Nicomachean Ethics

Pirsig ends his book that morality is simply the Good, a noun rather than an adjective. While he is a fierce critic of Aristotle, I found myself thinking about Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics where he characterizes the Good in terms of virtue – striving towards the virtuous life. Aristotle thought it was important for a person to become good through a life’s work of striving towards excellence versus knowing the good. However, excellence through habits, decisions and actions can be misunderstood as static moral values.

Aristotle also speaks of virtue in terms of learning moderation – but I wonder if he was grasping more at the Dynamic good and static good conundrum. Aristotle also believed that complete virtue involved intellectual virtue in addition to social virtue, which seems to echo Pirsig’s sentiments about the intellectual and social moral orders.

Concluding thoughts

All this time, I felt myself searching for the Truth – singular, fixed and unchanging. After reading these two books, I find myself at the end of one long road and beginning a new one. Pirsig’s philosophy contains everything I hoped for in terms of finding “Truth” now known as “Quality”. Enlightened by the Metaphysics of Quality, I am inclined to plow ahead and see this new world. After all, the Metaphysics of Quality is only the tip of the iceberg. What new and strange things will we find with this new conception of our reality?

Applications of Lila – Part 2


Throughout Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals, Robert Pirsig finds concrete examples to showcase how his Metaphysics of Quality can provide a foundation for other fields of study. Given my profession and background, I was predominantly fascinated by what he had to say about the social sciences & humanities. Here are some of my observations and thoughts. 


I found myself thinking about the questions “Does capitalism have Quality? Does socialism have Quality?” He places political organization under the intellectual moral order and I believe economics would fall under the social moral order since it is not a philosophy, but a realm of human action. However, the science and philosophy concerning economics is primarily political, and therefore, intellectual. It is an important distinction to make that Pirsig does not seem to make. He would probably have termed the two: economics and economology.

Pirsig answers the original questions by saying that “from a static point of view socialism is more moral than capitalism” (p.253) since it proposes a way for intellectual morals to guide society. However, capitalism includes the free market, “a Dynamic institution”, since it allows people to attach value to what they buy and sell. Socialism closes the door on Dynamic Quality, while capitalism effectively responds to Dynamic Quality.

What I believe Pirsig takes issue with in the capitalist system is when the rich appropriate the language of the free market to suit their own interests and contrive to manipulate the market towards artificial (read static) ends (i.e. mercantilism, crony capitalism). As soon as the market ceases to be organic and complex in its parallel patterns of value, it can no longer be labeled as “free”. I think this sufficiently addresses Pirsig’s concerns, since a truly free market disperses benefits to both the poor and the rich. 


Pirsig posits that the ultimate goal for the intellectual order is “to obtain static and Dynamic Quality simultaneously”. As a concrete example, we can see why modern day democracies are the best examples of both at work: a constitution or monarch to preserve static Quality; and a parliament or congress to act as a Dynamic force – both as a creator of Dynamic Quality and destroyer of static Quality in the making of laws – what Pirsig calls a “Dynamic eraser”. According to Pirsig, such a system prohibits degeneracy from destroying the evolutionary gains made by a Dynamic institution or law or force of progress.


Instead of blaming capitalism for the evils of colonialism, Pirsig blames the static set of value patterns perpetuated by the Victorian social order. As such, “inferior societies” were a threat to such patterns. Justification for the slaughter and exploitation of aboriginal peoples was made on moral grounds, not necessarily on economic ones. Under the social moral order, one society can find justification for destroying or exploiting another to preserve itself. 

The free market is also part of the social moral order, but arguably stands on a higher moral ground than the morals espoused by colonialism. The free market seeks to benefit both sides because both sides attach value to the seller & the buyer, what is bought and what is sold – and therefore there is mutual respect between the two parties for the preservation of exchange to achieve mutual benefits. Where unfair trades are made, the free market ceases to exist because both parties have engaged in an unfair exchange and the reason for the breakage can be attributed to inferior social moral values (i.e. imperialism; racism; sexism). Voluntary labour is higher on the scale of the social moral order than slavery because the individual freely chooses and finds dignity in work, whereas slavery strips the individual of the dignity and benefits of work. 

What of the exchange of European alcohol for aboriginal goods? Was this capitalist enterprise not harmful to aboriginal societies? Again, this is a conflict between the social and the intellectual moral orders. The aboriginals only attached value to mass amounts of alcohol because they were losing everything in the inferior social order of colonialism, the subjugation of one society to another. Such subjugation would have happened with or without alcohol, but alcohol certainly made the subjugation of aboriginal groups easier. The intellectual moral order condemns subjugation, but can make no comment on the sale of alcohol – only the social moral can and in its eyes, the act of the sale of alcohol is not morally wrong in and of itself. It is more pertinent to examine the reasons why aboriginal groups felt the need to turn to drink. To ask any question about the capitalist enterprise misses the fundamental point of examining the inferior set of social morals that is imperialism.

There are whole lists of moral dilemmas that can be questioned here, but one has only to think of them in the context of Pirsig’s hierarchy of moral orders to make sense of them. It is sufficient to say that the colonialist enterprise was not guided by intellectual patterns of value and required Dynamic Quality to overthrow its static social patterns of value.


Pirsig makes an important distinct between philosophy, the act of thinking, and “philosophology”, the study of philosophers. According to him, the “best way to examine the contents of various [philosophers] is first to figure out what you believe and then see what philosophers agree with you (p. 372). In this way, you’ve already done your creative thinking and are not limited by any “dead-ends” in the philosopher’s thought. You are able to critically assess what the value of the philosopher’s words means to you and your world view.

He goes on to add that “real science and real philosophy are not guided by preconceptions of what subjects are important to consider” (p.375). As humans, we each attach value to the study of different subjects and objects as we please. When you think about it, it’s the only way that the study has any meaning and why progress in all fields is driven forward by individuals passionate about the subject, no matter how objective they say they are. We study philosophers because we care about philosophy, we care about having correct (for lack of a better word) perceptions of knowledge, reality and morality. We philosophize because we care about getting this body of knowledge straight before pursuing all the other forms of thought and fields of study.

That is perhaps the fundamental thing left out of education, after years of seeing fellow students not care about reading Plato or Aristotle or Machiavelli or Hobbes. Students have failed to find their world view in these particular philosophers. I have read these philosophers because I care about being cultured, about expanding my mind with their ideas and perhaps to find the perfect system of socio-political organization for the human race. Where other people may find him tiresome, I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s books because I see a reflection of what the world could be like, irrespective of the physical differences between my world and Middle Earth. If you do not attach care to what you are learning, how can you be expected to learn anything at all? How can you expect to be enlightened?

Western society is so hell-bent on making sure our students are creative independent thinkers. Yet the education system, so static and cumbersome, does anything but foster that creativity. We are shown how to copy equations and they say we are “doing arithmetic”, we are told to copy chemical experiments and they tell us we are “scientists”, we are told what books to read and then told we are “cultured” and “literate”. What absurdity!

However, I do think there is one limitation on Pirsig’s view because sometimes you need to teach someone the basics before they can start delving into the complexities of quantum physics or what have you. But I do understand how you can pursue “education” so far and then get mired into the same dead-ends as your predecessors and get nowhere with the theories and problems of the day.

Masters of Destiny, Pawns of Fate

The utilitarian economist…does not ask a man to renounce his well-being for the benefit of society. He advises him to recognize what his rightly understood interests are. In his eyes, God’s magnificence does not manifest itself in busy interference with sundry affairs of princes and politicians, but in endowing his creatures with reason and the urge toward the pursuit of happiness.

Ludwig von Mises brings up an excellent point in Human Action.  The Marxists argue that everything is subjective, that there is no such thing as the pursuit of truth for its own sake. There are always interests behind the motives of progress or human actions.

This ties in with the Hegelian notion that the world turns and progresses independent of human will and action. Progress creates itself independent of human beings. Human beings are  merely vessels to be used by the Weltgeist.  Marx goes further with this idea and posits that class wars are inevitable and inexorable.

Yet Mises points out the absurdity of such claims with a simple anecdote. The Marxists would say that all scientific and technological advances were driven by the desire for profits. Bacteriological research created by demand from the agricultural and food service industry to improve the quality of cheeses and wines, etc. The research was not driven by a desire to improve the medical sciences and cure people of diseases.

Mises argues that human action cannot be so narrow in its motive nor in its goals. History teaches us that many useful inventions were discovered by accident.  We may have designed a particular technology with one goal in mind but have it applied to whole other fields of utility. Likewise, we cannot know the benefits or harms of an invention until it is created.

Invisible Hand, Invisible Consequences


On minimum wage:

You cannot make a man worth a given amount by making it illegal to offer him anything less. You merely deprive him of the right to earn the amount that his abilities and situations would permit him to earn, while you deprive the community even of the moderate services that he is capable of rendering. -Henry Hazlitt

As you can tell, I have finished reading Economics in One Lesson. While a purposefully simplistic work, it evoked two questions in my mind concerning the betterment of humankind through free market economics. To take a lesson from Mises (who I am also perusing) and Fukuyama, the answer to these questions lies in the praxeology (human action) and thymos.

1. Is it possible for taxes to be lowered after a war, particularly in the case whether either the reparations costs are so high or the debt has increased exponentially due to war manufacturing?

There has been a case before where taxes were lowered in the United States post-World War II and revenues increased to make up the difference. There were concerns of unemployment as male soldiers sought to gain back their jobs from the female workers who had replaced them. However, unemployment was short-term because humans are, by nature, productive beings. The US experienced a golden age of commerce.

Well, you might say, the United States was not bludgeoned half to death as Europe in terms of reconstruction. Fine, let’s take West Germany, where Berlin alone was bombed multiple times by Churchill’s Air Force. Chancellor Adenaur and his Minister of Economics Erhard cut taxes down to 18% and introduced currency reform. What followed was the Wirtschaftswunder –  the rapid reconstruction and development of West Germany.

But the skeptic might claim that these are both useless examples because both of these countries had skilled workers in developed economies. Recuperation was inevitable!

One final example: South Korea. While the recovery was delayed by some five years and tariff barriers were raised in the 1960s, the Park government gave tax breaks to businesses and brought up interest rates to bring up savings, leading to an ample supply of credit and capital. At the same time, South Korea began to develop its labour force, responding to global manufacturing demand for its exports. Money and manufacturing led to the further specialization of South Korea into the ICT industry, where it continues to be a leader to this day. So it is possible to have tax cuts and higher revenues in a post-war world!

2. What does Hazlitt think about dumping – the act whereby a country floods a developed or developing market with cheaper goods (and theoretically, destroys all hope of that country ever developing its industry and improving its economic welfare)?

Given Hazlitt’s anti-tariff attitude, I think he would wholeheartedly embrace the Walmart effect of cheaper goods flooding a given country’s market. Consumers have more purchasing power, the manufacturing workers receive profits, and more jobs are created because consumers can spend more. The only short-term fall-out is the temporary unemployment of manufacturing workers as other countries gain a competitive advantage and these skilled workers must find new jobs. However, developed economies are sufficiently diversified as to make absorption amenable.

But what about the effects on a developing country with no developed industry? Well, the same effects occur, but the unemployment is a little more sharply felt. However, in a purely free market world, there should be no such thing as an unproductive worker. If cheaper manufactured goods obliterate  a given industry, then the people of the developing country must simply find another good to develop: agriculture, mining, services, etc. Unfortunately, countries with high unemployment rates love to use this opportunity to beg for more foreign aid, the blank welfare cheque to much of the developing world. If aid were cut off for these countries, they would be forced to produce.

Countries that are rich now were not always rich. There are even some poor countries now who were once rich. In a free market world, it is entirely possible for a poor country to become rich, but not possible for a poor country to stay poor.

Summer Reading

A new look. A new start. Perhaps some new perspectives to add to these dormant pages.

While I conjure up some more verbose reflections on the meaning of life and the pursuit of happiness, perhaps my summer reading list will give you some sense of what’s distilling the cobwebs of my mind.

  1. Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt
  2. The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson
  3. Human Action, Ludwig Von Mises
  4. Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means For the World, Dambisa Moyo
  5. Fearful Symmetry: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Founding Values, Brian Lee Crowley
  6. Margaret Thatcher: The Autobiography
  7. The Origins of the Political Order, Francis Fukuyama
  8. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  9. The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad
  10. A Room With A View, E.M. Forster