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.
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.
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.
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?