MD Summary of the MOQ

From: Platt Holden (
Date: Thu May 31 2001 - 13:19:13 BST

Hi Matt:

It's been a long time since I've read such an accurate and succinct
summary of the MOQ. In fact, I don't recall ever reading a better
synopsis of Pirisig's revolutionary metaphysics. It bears repeating, so I
have. Congrats and thanks.

> Simon:
> You think there's a foundation to your [social] morals.
> Myself, Pirsig, Sartre, Camus, Foucault, and every other existentialist and
> post-modernist would, however, disagree. That's not to mention the Analytics
> and Pragmatists.
> Pirsig was attacking the logical empiricist/positivist position that holds that
> values, morals, religion, and art aren't verifiable (because they remain in the
> subject) and, therefore, are not areas in which we can have legitimate
> knowledge. (Lila Ch. 8) Pirsig, and everyone here I would presume, disagrees
> with this. But now Pirsig has to come up with where they exist and how and why
> they are verifiable. This is the core message of ZAMM and Lila. And its not
> neccessarily and easy thing to do, hence the second book, Lila.
> Existentialists and Post-Modernists would vary the attack slightly. After
> Nietzsche knocks down any outside interference from God, the attack would be
> that morals and values are given by society. What's wrong with that, you say?
> They're completely arbitrary, of course! Enter relativism, the intellectual
> scourge that has laid waste to our society's foundations for, well, whatever
> foundation ya' got.
> There have been attempts to resurrect a foundation in the vacuous hole left by
> society's morals. All of the people who have made these attempts fully
> understand the implications of modern science, which is partly responsible for
> the intellectual hole. These include utilitarianism and Simone de Beavoir's
> Ethics of Ambiguity. They also include attempts at ethics by
> scientist/philosophers. They are written in books with titles like The
> Philosophy of Biology and The Metaphysics of Evolution and Biology and the
> Foundation of Ethics. None of them, however, quite work. Why? Because as
> Pirsig has pointed out, they are using the wrong language.
> You seem to take offense at the use of morality in relation to physics and
> inorganic static patterns of value, in general. Fine. Whatever. It's not
> important what words we use. It's the truth that's behind them that's
> important. The "socially high quality" in not killing someone is, by itself,
> intellectually foundationless. It is that way for all the reasons given
> above. Pirsig, in the Metaphysics of Quality, gives it an intellectual
> foundation. He says that "Thou shalt not murder" is a social static pattern of
> value. Still foundationless. That's just renaming "socially high quality".
> The foundation comes from "All life is a migration of static patterns of
> quality towards Dynamic Quality." (Lila Ch. 11) Why is it migrating towards
> Dynamic Quality? It must be because DQ is inherently higher up on the totem
> pole. Why is it higher? Its higher for the same reason that Quality exists in
> the first place: the world wouldn't function if it weren't or at least it
> wouldn't look the way it does. (ZAMM Ch. 18)
> So, essentially, if you already agree that "Thou shalt not murder" than, yeah,
> MOQ doesn't say anything new. What it does do is give a foundation to the
> argument made towards those who do not believe in "Thou shalt not murder".
> Without that foundation you get lost in relativism, specifically cultural
> relativism. And the MOQ then gives a foundation for other arguments made in
> relation to other, more morally fuzzy statements such as "Thou shalt not abort"
> or "do drugs".
> (And by the way, if you define morals as "social values" than, yeah, of course,
> it will only apply to social static patterns of value. What Pirsig was doing,
> in naming moral judgements the foundations of reality, was continuing to make
> light of the fact that positivists believe that values only reside in the
> subject and that, therefore, aren't real and blah, blah (you probably know the
> argument against SOM in ZAMM and Lila by now). "Conventional morals" are all
> those foundationless codes that I've named off above. They are foundationless
> partly because positivists don't acknowledge the reality of values. "...moral
> judgements are essentially assertions of value..." didn't include the "social"
> bit because values already implicitly meant subject/society/person/whatever.
> Pirsig is saying that this implicit assumption is dead wrong. The reason
> society has the "moral" high ground against biology and can control it in the
> name of society is because of the MOQ foundation. Without it we would have a
> recurrence of the 1920's when Intellectualism declared itself supreme and that
> society was foundationless and biology was the last stop before the intellect.
> (Lila Ch 21 and 22))
> Matt

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