Lila in Dialogue – Part 3

emerging

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

chains

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. 

Economics

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. 

Politics

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.

Imperialism

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.

Education

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.

Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals – Part 1

sailing

It’s kind of hard to know where to start with penning my thoughts on Robert Pirsig’s sequel Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals. I’ve read it like someone given water after wandering through the desert. It is perhaps fitting that my last post on this blog was on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and my thoughts here will simply be a continuation.

You will remember that I was disappointed that Pirsig mentioned little about morals in his first book. While this book certainly tackled those questions, it also appeared to be an elaboration on Pirsig’s philosophy, dubbed the “Metaphysics of Quality”.  I have chosen to organize my thoughts into three posts as I did last time, since each has a different purpose.

Metaphysics of Quality

Pirsig rejects the positivist school that seeks to create value-free sciences. Adopting the positivist approach has hampered the progress of studies like anthropology and social sciences that have spun around in circles and continued to contradict each other.  The simple reason is that positivism does not solve the metaphysical conundrum of dualisms: the objective and the subjective, the romantic and the classical, reason and values.

Pirsig’s newly minted philosophy, the Metaphysics of Quality, claims that values are not outside empirical experience, but part of those experiences. Values are in fact more empirical than subjects and objects themselves because it is needed a priori to understand subjects and objects. We do not pursue the study of objects and subjects unless we attach value to understanding them – that we find Quality in studying them. Therefore, you cannot empiricize values or morals by locating them in the brain, in the physical, as Descartes once tried to do.

For Pirsig, there is no distinction between Quality and morality. Quality is morality. Morality is thus the primary reality of world and the world is primarily a moral order. This conception thus allows for more than one set of truths or morals to exist.

Quality & its many names

Pirsig tackles four different concepts that are platypuses or platypi when it comes to understanding our reality: metaphysics, scientific reality, causation and substance. These are concepts that do not fall neatly within the realm of experience.

Pirsig has already tackled the platypus of metaphysics by noting Quality precedes all cognizance and perceptions of reality. He also debunks the “scientific reality” myth by saying that if it were true, no one but the scientists, physicists, chemists, etc. would know what reality is – which is an absurd conclusion. He notes that scientists are describing a static set of patterns of value concerning reality, but the patterns are not the whole of the reality that they describe.

He uses the Metaphysics of Quality to replace the word “causality” used by the sciences with “value”, preferring induction to deduction when studying the world. Absolute causes are simply very consistent patterns of value. Saying “A causes B” is the same as saying “B values precondition A”.

As for substance, we can only ever observe data, since substance stripped of properties calls nothing to mind. Substance is something continuous in time even if it has no observable properties. Substance is a subspecies of value, a pattern of inorganic values.  Since subatomic particles make up the whole universe and they are deemed substance, then they are also deemed a static pattern of value.

Thinking of causation and substance as synonymous with value allows the crossover application to other fields of knowledge that also involve value, albeit much more dynamic patterns of value.  In this way, the Metaphysics of Quality is able to provide much simpler, better explanations of patterns of value.

The discrete moral orders

Science is a study of stable inorganic and biological patterns of value. Anthropology and the social sciences study a network of social patterns of value. Political science is the study of intellectual patterns of value.

All life and everything in the world is an ethical activity for Pirsig, but these are governed by a hierarchy of orders of morality or “betterness”. Inorganic patterns are governed by the Laws of Nature – physics & chemistry. Biological patterns seeks to triumph over the inorganic and is governed by survival of the fittest. Social patterns rise above the biological and are governed by social institutions such as criminal law and the family. Intellectual patterns that seek to contain society are governed by philosophy and Dynamic Quality.

Therefore, “it’s more moral for a social pattern to devour a biological pattern than for a biological pattern to devour a social pattern” (p.252).

What about the age-old dilemma that asks whether one person should die for the good of society? Pirsig says the man is not just a biological creature, but also a source of thought, and therefore intellect and ideas. This is a case of intellectual moral versus social morals, where it is more ethical for an idea to kill a society (evolution) than for a society to kill an idea (devolution).

In modern society, the most common conflict between the hierarchy of moral orders are social versus intellectual. However, Pirsig notes that the intellectual moral order cannot control the biological moral order – only the social moral order can do so. In the instance of crime, it is not possible for philosophers to think crime out of existence, but rather have police officers, soldiers and/or social workers deal directly with biological crime.

Applications to personal life

I have been struggling of late with intellectual beasts and I have found myself utterly alone in such battles. The high country of my mind is as much a part of me as any part of my body. I love him with all my heart and I do my best to share everything I have and am with him. But in the realm of philosophy, he is not able to follow me down roads he does not fully understand. In his words, they “go over his head”.

There was a line in the book that struck me as I was wrestling with this problem after the scene where Phaedrus and Lila make love: “the way their bodies paid no attention to all their social and intellectual differences and had gone on in as if these ‘people’ that ‘owned’ them didn’t exist at all”.

No person is an island. He grounds me in a way that is necessary to my understanding of life, not just from the intellectual point of view, but also the biological, the social and the artistic. When you’re wandering in the high country of the mind, it is so easy to get lost. You spend so much time looking at the stars that you forget you’re firmly rooted to the Earth. Then, you come back to civilization and you are bitter about ever having to leave the rugged beauty and mystery of the philosopher’s world.

He is something to come back to. He is a noun, like the Good. He is neither subjective nor objective, neither classic nor romantic, neither static nor dynamic. He simply is and all those dualisms are bound up in him.

Qui es veritas?

Throughout the book, Pirsig is obsessed with the notion of Dynamic Good. But Dynamic Good is not the same as Dynamic Quality. Dynamic Quality is some combination of Dynamic good and static good. Dynamic good cannot achieve a high level without being grounded in static good, through static latching as moral evolution progresses. Static patterns and static goods provide a necessary stabilizing force to protect leaps made through Dynamic Good (Dynamic Quality) from degeneration.

Going back to the original intent of the blog, perhaps the real question for this blog should not be “What is Truth?” but “What is Quality?” – and Quality as such cannot be defined, it precedes thought, we just know what it is a priori. As he notes: “Truth is a static intellectual pattern within a larger entity called “Quality” (p.416). “Value” is more direct, more everyday experience – the primary empirical experience (p.418). In whatever field of knowledge we are invested in, we have to ask “What is the Quality of this idea?”

Copernican Revolutions

schoolofathens

Finally finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and this will likely be my last reflection.  Strangely, Pirsig barely skims the surface of ethics in the remaining chapters of book.  I have found out there is a sequel to the book called Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals which tackles the subject. However, there is also a line in the book that seems to dismiss ethics as a minor branch of knowledge.  Pirsig seems quite obsessed with metaphysics, though perhaps the sequel may indicate otherwise.

I have noticed the high value that Pirsig has attached to individualism throughout the book. Take for instance the following excerpt:

I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with the talk of relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value. – Chapter 25, p.267

The high value placed on individual self-improvement and understanding of his or her reality is interesting. If the individual cannot understand how to attach quality, value and care to the discovery of facts, they cannot effectuate larger changes. They cannot “think outside the box”, not in a creative or logical sense, but in the sense of pushing the boundaries and limits of our own knowledge. What he calls the “Copernican Revolution”. Being able to turn our world upside-down and see the facts from a  different angle or different angles to get a better understanding of the truth.

And we as humans, derive a certain sense of satisfaction from breaking the barrier of existing knowledge or achieving a new field of knowledge on our own. The only problem is that the former can easily and dangerously be perceived as insanity in light of existing knowledge. Learning how to fix a motorcycle does not break barriers as momentously as breaking the barriers of reality itself, as Pirsig discovers.

This is how he arrives at value rigidity, or stuckness. To a certain extent, the modern Copernicus must be prepared to throw out old schools of thought and start with a blank slate. Most people are too afraid to let go of conventional thoughts, but Pirsig argues there is a certain freedom that occurs when we are able to break away and save ourselves from value rigidity. It is the dilemma of Plato’s cave (as much as Pirsig hates the man, the analogy is apt here): leaving the shackles to walk out into the blinding sun of enlightenment. Aristotle also repeats this notion when he says that it is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it. However, even the most intelligent man on earth still runs the risk of not being able to differentiate between the love of the pursuit of wisdom and the love of wisdom itself. The word “philosophy” becomes a clumsy word in this regard.

If he does not praise ethics, he does bring up the concept of value. We attain peace of mind which in turn helps us to “get things right”. If we were purely empirical beings, we would not attach any value to the discovery of facts. As he describes, it would simply be a train of knowledge sitting there statically, objectively. The interaction between subject and object is important to producing Quality. He regards Quality as dynamic and that it is driven by care, or value, to move forward. The train picks up steam as the value increases through the discovery of more facts and the individual’s investment in them as contributing to some greater harmony of reality.

I have also discovered why Pirsig refuses to equate Quality with Truth as the “source of all things” – reality itself. It is an aversion to the founders of Western philosophy, Plato and Aristotle. They both characterize Truth as fixed, immobile and therefore objective. There is no dependence on the subject-object phenomenon described by Pirsig. They think Truth can be discovered rationally, wrapped up and filed away in the cabinets of our mind, to be pulled out now and then in moments of doubt like a ritual.

At the same time, the author seems to concede that they contribute meaningfully to Western thought, but that the interpretation of their work has set philosophers down the wrong path indeterminately in terms of thinking about Quality (or Truth in my own understanding) as precedent to creative and logical thought. Perhaps the author is a little narcissistic to think that he has unravelled the whole of Western thought, but I believe he suffers from some hindsight bias.

The end of the book leaves me somewhat disappointed for some reason. Perhaps it’s his attack on Aristotle. Perhaps it’s the fact that the author finally devolves into insanity. Perhaps he didn’t actually explain everything as he hoped. There are certainly some life lessons about learning, education and teaching here. Also some interesting ways to think about reality beyond the objective-subjective, classical-romantic divide. Either way, my thirst for philosophy does not end here, but I will continue to read such books to understand myself, my universe, and my reality better.

Pirsig and Puzzle Pieces

puzzle

I continue with Pirsig who outlines another aspect of Truth, or Quality. He says that Quality and Care are internal and external aspects of the same thing. You demonstrate your understanding of quality by caring about it. Though I have never read him, Pirsig brings in Poincare’s work to explain it. He says that the contradictions in mathematical theories at all, but different forms of measurement to explain the same concepts, like the metric and imperial systems, or the Mercator and Gall-Peter and Hobo-Dyer projections of world maps.

We choose ways of understanding the facts which are more advantageous, or rather fit into the harmony of other concepts. If we had infinite time, we could sit there and explore all the evidence and facts, but we are finite beings, so we must invest ourselves (i.e. care) about certain facts over others. We are selective with our facts, in the same way when we put a puzzle together. Only in the case of the universe, we are talking about an extremely giant puzzle or a set of giant puzzles with the pieces all scattered. We only choose pieces that fit, that seem to go with colours and shapes (i.e. past experience) of knowledge seekers before us.

This does not mean our facts are subjective because we are choosing certain facts to suit our own purpose. Since Quality and Care precede and cause creativity and logic, our minds have an a priori way of organizing facts that conform to our sense of quality and care.

Pirsig is also astute in noting that the “moment of care” or the moment of crystallization of certain concepts occurs at odd times. If we were purely rational beings, we would be like computers, constantly taking in information and comparing it against known data. The flash of inspiration, or crystallization moment, occurs when we have all the necessary and advantageous facts and then something triggers our understanding to figure out the missing piece or solution.

It’s also interesting to see this element of “care” introduced. It is not a synonym for emotion at all! The closest description I can give to it, even as something undefinable in the first place according to Pirsig, is the sense of satisfaction that an individual has when he has accomplished something or learned something. Like the author’s learning and investment in troubleshooting motorcycle machinery problems.

For him, technophobia or fear of technology comes from our absence of care. We don’t understand how it works and therefore, do not feel invested in its maintenance. People who dislike philosophy dislike it for the simple reason that it is too complex and therefore, they are disinclined to pursue it. They don’t have the patience or zen to think about the meaning of life or the existence of God even though they are very important questions given man’s mortality. Or they have seen what happens to philosophers who pursue those questions and see that they have made little progress thus far or been driven to madness. Or their personal experience with religion has somehow disappointed them.

I wonder if care can be equated with morality, but it seems more of an empirical construction than an a priori one. It is the difference between good and bad and right and wrong. Perhaps there is a third aspect to join Quality and Care. Perhaps Quality and Care will produce the third which precedes the romantic and classical split.

I suppose the next part of the book may try to explain these things. What exactly triggers crystallization remains a mystery to me, though Pirsig seems to have just left it at “care” at this point in the book. That is, we are invested in certain facts and we are bent on finding a solution to make the whole machinery of thought work. Or maybe he will tackle morality, which seems to plague 20th century philosophers and is the third branch of philosophy (it is known as Ethics). He has already covered epistemology and metaphysics. Whatever the following chapters harbor (and there are few left!), I am eager to see what else I can learn and apply to my own understanding of Truth.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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I have been reading Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I had been warned previously that the book spouted some leftist nonsense, but the people who had told me are guilty of their own ideological hackery. I have found nothing of the sort thus far, though am just about halfway through the book.

High Country of the Mind

The author had a few turns of phrase, almost prose, which I liked. The sort of thing that I do in my blog, the exploration of higher orders of thought, Pirsig calls the “high country of the mind”. Similar to travelling to the countryside or to a remote area or to a mountain in Pirsig’s book, your mind is travelling to higher orders of thought away from the tumult of everyday thoughts. In essence, you enter the world of philosophy and philosophizing.

Pirsig says not many people come up to the high country of the mind. Those who do sometimes get lost or confused (i.e. mental illness, explaining the eccentricities and sometimes madness of some philosophers). Some may never come back because there is no civilization there to help you back. You are essentially following trains of thought where no one has been before. Like the countryside, it is a treacherously beautiful part of the mind.

Maintenance of the Mind

I think there is a subtle comparison between the maintenance of a motorcycle and the maintenance of your mind through philosophy. He says anyone who is interested in learning about or improving their motorcycle to make sure it runs better and “feels right” must have a peaceful state of mind when working on the machine.

I think a parallel line of thought can be drawn for philosophizing, to understand and invest yourself in the understanding of how your mind, your existence, your consciousness and your reality works. You have to have a certain state of mind, like zen for lack of a better word. For myself, the higher orders of thought come more often when I have the time to think, usually spurred by something I’ve read or something I’ve seen or a moment of reflection on past life experiences when I’m writing in my journal.

The Romantic & The Classical

I like how he divides the world into two meta-concepts about the human mind: the romantic and the classical. The romantic approach sees the beauty of things in and of themselves, like an appreciation for the outward appearance of a motorcycle in the book. The classical approach appreciates the underlying form of things (remember Plato?), such as the mechanics and moving parts of the motorcycle’s machine. Pirsig seems to think that the whole of philosophy is bent on reconciling these two concepts, which are constantly at war with each other. Beatniks & squares, art & science, right & left, soul & mind.

My own thoughts on the subject are that the brain is already structured to harmonize both aspects.  They are not meant to be split up or favour one over the other, though sometimes it is easier for people of simpler minds. Your mind is capable of harmonizing the creative soul with logical reason. You reach your full potential by exercising both. Probably what Aristotle meant by being virtuous, I suppose.

Quality & Truth

Pirsig, or rather the first person character, also struggles with the notion of Quality. He posits that defining Quality puts it under the analytical knife because there is no rational or creative way to approach it, since it is precedes rational thought and creative thought. He brings in Kant to explain it as a priori knowledge, like time and space (although Kant himself is a slave of reason). He also proves that we know what Quality is when we see it. That’s how we know it exists. We can make value judgments that something is better than another thing. Quality itself is neither subjective nor objective, but perhaps a third entity unto itself used to understand the real world.

In this blog, I know Quality by another name: Truth. In my first blog post, I asked whether truth was subjective or objective and whether it was rational. I think Pirsig answers the question so far in his book. But the other questions in my post, those remain to be answered. Perhaps not by Pirsig, but there is still half a book to read. It is nonetheless discouraging to know that the first person character went crazy in the pursuit of understanding the concept of Quality and now refers to the ghost of his philosopher as Phaedrus.

Concluding Thought

I have no intention of stumbling into madness in the pursuit of Truth, however much I may be intellectually tired and disturbed by the burden of philosophical questions and answers. Perhaps enlightenment of what the truth is will be a lifelong endeavor. I am prepared to wait for all the pieces to fall into place. I rather enjoy my escapes to the high country and hope there are many more trips to come.

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

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
-William Butler Yeats

Quo vadis?

It has been over a year since these posts started and Pilate may well laugh in their face with his famous: Qui est veritas? Are we any closer to it? Do we recognize it? Is it problem-solving, life-changing, or disappointing? Truth may set one free, only to be entrapped in some other snare of conundrums and trials.

Yet the human mind loves to be challenged and the process of enlightenment for a finite being is never complete so long as there is a wider universe of puzzles and enigmas. As humans, we cling to certainties wherever we find them. But in our heart of hearts, we love the mysteries, the puzzles, the challenges that help us grow in wisdom and power.

The posts have always demonstrated a part of the truth or a category of truth or the direction to turn in order to grasp at the truth. It has been firm in its objective premises and minimized the flaws of faulty argumentation that may be used to arrive at truth. It is sure of itself, perhaps more than the author. Can a subjective being author objective truths? Does the subjective being recognize the objective truth when it stumbles upon it?

In the age of the specialization of subjects, with all the accompanying -ologies of dissective categorization, it is easy to forget the big picture when it comes to truth. However, such specialization may indication that we have better understood the multi-faceted nature of truth.

Kant and Mises have countless times brought up the a priori fact that our brains categorize and rationalize  information in a particular way. Such categorization of the mind is not pure random evolution, but the manner in which humans are able to perceive the real world. One cannot be anti-foundationalist when the whole of scientific inquiry and philosophy of values must make progress in the realm of knowledge. There is a reality; whether it is malleable or rigid is up to the philosophers to debate

When the relativists critique such foundations in the rational sciences, saying that the models and theories do not account for the irrational, counterrational, or superrational elements of human action, behaviour, psychology, etc., the falsity of such statements is rendered by virtue of assuming that such models do not already include such calculations. Indeed, such models presuppose humans operating at the optimum level of their biological, mental, etc capacities are able to do and other sciences/philosophies do represent models that factor in human irrationality. To suggest that such optimum models are flawed because they do not account for human irrationality is absurd. The critique may be rendered and then dismissed, but never dwelt on so much as it is today.

Truth was never unattainable insofar as the human rational mind is there to perceive and know it. We should never overthink it.

Solitude

Taken from a journal entry dated August 3, 2010:

In the Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt speaks of the differences between solitude, isolation, and loneliness. Solitude is the dialogue with the self, who has had sufficient experience with the world to conduct such a dialogue which is better known as philosophizing. In solitude, one is never really alone because you are conducting a discourse with your experienced self. It is by choice and Arendt attaches a positive connotation to being alone as opposed to being lonely.

Isolation is other-imposed on the self, in most cases by the sovereign. Isolation is often punitive in this sense, but Arendt elaborates another type of isolation which provides the illusion of unity (i.e. nationalism, communism) with the masses and fellow man. However, as Kierkegaard notes, men lose their individuality in the herd mentality. Some are even excluded. This isolation-by-exclusion goes hand-in-hand with isolation-by-illusion. Insiders in the sovereign state may be treated like outsiders (Schmitt’s state of exception or Agamben’s camp) and outsiders are defined in binaries (us versus them, being with us or against us). That is, a suspension of the individual’s moral conscience and ability to reason in joining the herd mentality, thus exiled from his basic humanity and self.

Loneliness occurs as a result of this purposeful isolation. It is against the will of the individual (where isolation in the herd may be consented to through ideological brainwashing). Man is cut off from the human race. He may be in the company of his fellow man, but none choose to recognize his individual existence or everyone chooses to recognize his identity as conglomerated with the masses (communism, fascism). The lonely individual is denied thymos. He is lonely not alone.

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