Re: MD food for thought

From: Matt the Enraged Endorphin (
Date: Sat Sep 14 2002 - 19:51:41 BST


>Hello Matt,
>Is the essay to which Platt refers the one that you originally posted at the
>end of June, or is it one that was posted more recently? If the latter,
>please could you repost it (in the absence of the archives being up and
>running). I would like to respond to some of the things you have said about
>Rorty and truth, but I'd like to see what you said at the beginning of the
>correspondence first.

This is, actually, a sticky thing. The post Platt is referring to is one
recently. Imbedded in the post is an aborted essay that I was writing during
my pre-Rorty phase. I tried to use it to contrast some of the things I no
longer think. I think it got a little confusing because I think some people
have thought that the whole thing was an essay, or that everything in the
imbedded essay I still hold to. This is why when Platt said "which part of the
essay is true" I gave a start because in the context of what he was saying that
would imply that I think the whole essay is true, which is not the case.
Nobody so far has really made any interpretive errors in responding to the
post. Platt and I, for instance, have rarely so far referred back to the
original post and so I really never thought it really necessary to say anything
about this.

However, for posterity sake, I will again voice this caveat: the imbedded
essay in the post I'm about to re-post is not necessarily my stance. I think
once one understands much of everything I've said since the July "Confessions"
post, it is fairly easy to see which stuff I'm definitely against and which
stuff I could still hold onto. For instance, whenever I talk about how we need
metaphysics, I don't think that anymore. I am no longer a foundationalist
seeking a foundation for our knowledge or morals. I have, however, replaced
"metaphysics" with "narratives" and in many places a simple substitution of
"narratives" for "metaphysics" will make it closer to some of the things I now
think. And if you [as in anybody else, not just you Sam] haven't followed my
posts and you care about the posts I'm writing now, all you have to do is ask
and I'll clarify by doing a little bit of a longer analysis of the aborted
essay (entitled "Quality, Metaphysics, and Quality Metaphysics").

So without further ado (and my apologies for the added length to the already
long post):

Scott, John, Bo, All,

Scott, you responded to Bo the other day, "On your first charge, that I
'try to make [my] favourite authors' argument into MOQ arguments and that
does not always jel', guilty as charged...." and I thought that that was a
good response. I've tried to emphasize the need for strong misreadings and
for heroes in our narratives. Of the type of crime Scott and John B. have
committed Rorty (acknowledging my participation in this crime) says,
"Paradigms of imagination are the new, metaphorical use of old words (e.g.,
gravitas), the invention of neologisms (e.g., "gene"), and the colligation
of hitherto unrelated texts (e.g., Hegel and Genet {Derrida}, Donne and
Laforgue {Eliot}, Aristotle and the Scriptures {the Schoolmen}, Emerson and
the Gnostics {Bloom}, Emerson and the skeptics {Cavell}, cockfights and
Northrop Frye {Geertz}, Nietzsche and Proust {Nehamas})." ("Inquiry as
Recontextualization: An Anti-Dualist Account of Interpretation") I would
add Barfield and Pirsig {Scott R.} and Wilber and Pirsig {John B.}, in
addition to my own colligation of Rorty and Pirsig, amongst the many
attempts that others have put forward. I had earlier attempts with
Husserl, Sartre, Camus, and Dawkins, with limited results. In a footnote,
Rorty adds, "Successful colligation of this sort is an example of rapid and
uncouscious reweaving: one lays one set of beliefs on top of another and
finds that, magically, they have interpenetrated and become warp and woof
of a new, vividly polychrome, fabric. I take this as analogous to what
happens in dreams, and that analogy as the point of Davidson's remark that
"Metaphor is the dreamwork of language." This is his suggestion for strong
misreadings: the laying of a framework or vocabulary on another's
vocabulary and seeing what pops out.

The funny thing I find about Bo's and other's aversion to these "paradigms
of imagination" is that Pirsig employs the first and the third. He
breathes new, metaphorical life into old words all the time (e.g., Quality,
morality, gumption, mu, Church of Reason). The use of strong misreadings
is an attempt to heroize and villianize certain thinkers or groups in the
construction of your own narrative. Pirsig heroizes Poincare and the
Sophists in ZMM and James and Sidis in Lila. He villianizes Plato and
Aristotle in ZMM and Boas and the Victorians in Lila.

All of this is an attempt, as ironists, to seek alternative vocabularies.
When something "pops out" you hope for a better metaphor or insight to your
narrative. Hence, when John B. says, "It seems to me that S/O thinking is
not altered by ideas about alternatives, but only through experience of
alternatives," I agree to the extent that we need to seek alternatives in
our final vocabulary. But to the extent that I make the "linguistic turn,"
I don't see a difference between the "experience of alternatives" and
"ideas about alternatives." I would stress that "ideas," as the subject
material of the Intellectual level of Pirsig's schema, are experienced the
same as a rock.

In my former capacity as "priest of the MoQ", I once wrote in a post on
what one could do with Pirsig's MoQ. I followed up those thoughts in an
abortive attempt to systematize the MoQ in a Hobbesian deductive format
that I was tentatively calling "Principia Qualita: A Metaphysics of
Reality." For rhetroical, contrastive purposes I'll print what I had written:
Principia Qualita: A Metaphysics of Reality

Quality, Metaphysics, and Quality Metaphysics

What I have planned is a series of essays expounding upon my metaphysics.
The series is called "Principia Qualita: A Metaphysics of Reality" for
various reasons of wit, that I hope do not obscure my intentions, and also
because of the nature of metaphysics. This particular essay is to be both
a foundation upon which I hope to create my metaphysics (based on Robert
Pirsigs Metaphysics of Quality) and I also hope to send out a plea to
those reading. The plea is simple: create your own metaphysics.

Metaphysics as a discipline has largely been misunderstood. Especially in
our contemporary age, science has dwarfed all other fields of inquiry and
metaphysics has, in particular, been lost. But this is mainly because of a
misconception of what science and metaphysics really are. Science is not a
great machine that churns out definitive answers to the nature of reality.
It does not tell us exactly how the universe functions. To be sure, it
churns out answers, but they are not definitive in any sense of universal.
These are not Universal Truths that we read in Discovery or Nature or any
of the scientific journals published in a year. They are explanations as
susceptible to revision as a nations laws.

Metaphysics, on the other hand, has largely been pushed to the mystical.
It has been deemed "New Age." Or, as Lord Bowen is attributed to have
said, "A metaphysician is a man who goes into a dark cellar at midnight
without a light, looking for a black cat that is not there." But this is
also due to a misconception, this time promulgated by its very
practitioners. Metaphysics is not itself reality. It is a set of
explanations of reality, just as science is. But metaphysics is not at
odds with science, no more than physics is at odds with chemistry or
chemistry with biology. Metaphysics is simply, as the name implies, the
larger field in which all explanations extend to.

In every field of explanation something is assumed. In sociology, it is
assumed that human beings are separately thinking individuals. In
evolutionary biology, it is assumed that the theory of evolution is true.
In religion, it is assumed that a god or gods exist. [footnote 1: This is,
of course, assuming a traditional definition of religion. It is
rhetorically simpler to say "god or gods" and thereby cover the largest
religions, rather than to try and include the slew of "religions" covered
by any number of the definitions that could possibly be used by looking in
your local Religious Studies Handbook. Some notables that are sometimes
included: Marxism and Platonism.] In Hubble's evidence for an expanding
universe, the increasing red-shift in light is assumed to be due to the
Doppler Effect. In Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, he made two
assumptions: light's speed is invariant and all inertial frames are
equivalent. In fact, we make assumptions everyday of our lives in simple
discourse. If we didnt assume simple definitions of words, people would
have to walk around footnoting their speech, which is next to impossible.
So, in one sense, metaphysics is the discipline in which we can keep all of
our assumptions about reality straight. [footnote 2: Because when you
assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.] In a related sense, it glues
together the conclusions drawn from these other fields. Metaphysics keeps
all the particular truths coherent with themselves. [footnote 3: Assuming,
of course, that "truth," in any traditional sense, is even possible.]
Pirsig rightly described two views of metaphysics in Lila. [footnote 4:
Lila, 72-73, Ch 5] He described the positivists as thinking metaphysics
too mystical and Ive already briefly answered that particular side. Like
Pirsig, I also see the other side, the mystic one, as the more formidable
opponent. Pirsig says, "Metaphysics is names about reality. Metaphysics
is a restaurant where they give you a thirty-thousand-page menu and no
food." [footnote 5: ibid.] And he's absolutely right. In ZMM, Pirsig
describes Aristotle's entire enterprise as
"this neat little stunt of naming and classifying everything. His world
began and ended with this stunt. ... Walk into any of a hundred thousand
classrooms today and hear the teachers divide and subdivide and interrelate
and establish "principles" and study "methods" and what you will hear is
the ghost of Aristotle speaking down through the centuries--the desiccating
lifeless voice of dualistic reason." [footnote 6: ZMM, 370, Ch. 29]
In this fantastic passage, Pirsig the mystic is lambasting the entire
enterprise of metaphysics. And with good reason. As ZMM and Lila set out
to show, the way we've been classifying things ever since the Greeks is
fundamentally flawed.

So why do metaphysics? Metaphysics has been criticized as being simply a
taxonomy, but that is exactly what it is: a naming of parts. Metaphysics
is a taxonomy, but people do it because they think the taxonomy being used
implicitly is flawed. [footnote 7: Struan Hellier once said, "Moq [sic]
taxonomy does not interest me one iota...." (, MD Archives, MD
More blind propaganda, Wed Dec 05 2001 - 18:05:37 GMT) I think this,
though, misses the point of why Pirsig enthusiasts take so much interest in
Pirsig. It is because we are trying to improve upon the current taxonomy,
be it called SOM or whatever. Even if I disagree with a particular
metaphysics, I still take a cursory interest in it because my goal is not
to necessarily promote the MoQ, but simply to improve upon metaphysics. I
assume Hellier's disinterest in the MoQ comes from his belief that it does
improve upon the current metaphysical taxonomies.] Because its not just
metaphysics that is a taxonomy, language itself is one. Language is the
endless naming of things. Language is names about reality. That's why
mystics sit around in silence all day. To say anything is to disrupt your
direct connection with reality. The only difference between a dictionary
and a metaphysics is that a metaphysics typically systematizes by a
principle other than alphabetical order. But we don't go around burning
our dictionaries because they're useless, do we?

Metaphysics helps us make reality coherent. A metaphysics is a map to
reality. It helps you find your way around and there are many different
types of maps. But there's one problem that I've glossed over earlier and
that Pirsig confuses a bit, too. Metaphysics are as a part of reality as a
rock, stool, bug, or waterfall. Pirsig gives you the pretty mystic point
of view, but then never adds this important point explicitly. [footnote 8:
The closest I believe he gets is on page 74 (Ch 5) in Lila, "Getting drunk
and picking up bar-ladies and writing metaphysics is a part of life." And
I must say, this is a lot more eloquent than saying it explicitly.]

The reason I bring this point up is because there has been a lot of
discussion as to where the Metaphysics of Quality fits into the Metaphysics
of Quality. Some think the MOQ is the intellectual level. Some believe it
is something else, possibly a fifth level, and that the SOM is the fourth
level. [footnote 9: Bodvar Skutvik is the notable originator of this view.
The so-called "SOLAQI" interpretation.] I've come to think that the MOQ
is simply an intellectual pattern. Others have argued against this point
on the basis that the MOQ cannot contain itself i.e. it would lead to
circular logic.

To answer this objection I would return to my map analogy. If there's a
problem with the MOQ containing itself, then that's a problem with all
maps. If you took a map of the world and zeroed in on the United States,
and then centered on the state of Wisconsin, and then focused in on it's
capital, Madison, and then zoomed in all the way on the capital building,
went north two blocks up to the second story of building 209, Apartment #4,
you'd find me, sitting, writing about maps and metaphysics. If the map is
detailed enough, it will include itself; if its too general, then its

That's the thing about maps: you want to be able to find yourself on them.
If you couldn't find yourself on a road map, then how would you be able to
get yourself going in the right direction? The usefulness of a map depends
on you being able to locate yourself and other landmarks. And if you look
real closely at the map once you've found yourself, you'll see yourself
standing there, holding the map.

The problem with maps is that they sometimes become outdated. New
highways get put up or taken down or a river floods away an entire city or
the whole of the West Coast breaks off and falls into the Pacific Ocean.
You have to stay aware of the road ahead of you to make sure the map is
still useful. If you keep your nose glued to the map, you'll miss the
signs saying "Bridge out" or "California gone." A map is a static pattern.
Any particular map doesn't change unless you change it. And sometimes its
best just to chuck the whole thing and start over. And so it is with

As with maps, it usually helps you get somewhere. Metaphysics is a road
map to enlightenment. But let me reiterate: a metaphysics is not by itself
reality. It merely points to reality (including itself). It refers to
reality the same way science does: with words, numbers, intellectual
constructs, i.e. ghosts. The enlightenment that is led to is not
omniscience or any other type of realizable goal. It is more of an
amorphous goal, one that pulls us forward. This goal is that of being
excellent. Be an excellent human being. That is enlightenment:
excellence. Because of the nature of explanation, any particular
metaphysics is just one of many possible road maps. The goal of
metaphysics is to create the best one, the most accurate one, the one that
will lead to excellence.

This particular metaphysics is a type of Quality Metaphysics (QM). It
takes as its point of departure Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ). But
it is not the MoQ. QM is a term first used (I believe) by Bodvar Skutvik
on the MOQ Forum. However, as far as I've been able to tell, Skutvik has
used QM interchangeably with the MOQ. I wish to alter that.

This is where I make my plea. There are several things we can do in
relation to Pirsig's philosophy: hammer out exactly what Pirsig wrote,
extend what Pirsig wrote, and interpret what Pirsig wrote. Many times on
the discussion lists the line between "what Pirsig wrote" and "what
I think about what Pirsig wrote" are blurred and confused. So here is
where the new definition of QM comes in: a Quality Metaphysics is a
metaphysics that uses the Quality thesis as its foundation. When referring
to Pirsig's QM (which is only as descriptive as he has written) I shall use
MoQ; all other systems shall be designated (if I should ever reference
them) as variously titled QMs.

It has been commented before on the MOQ discussion lists that there are as
many interpretations as there are participants. Well, my plea is this:
write out your QM. Take the time to write an essay stating your position
to the MoQ (which is Pirsig's). Where it agrees, say you agree with
Pirsig; where it doesn't, write why you disagree. I think one of the
successes of metaphysics is as a personal tool: a framework to put all of
your beliefs. Using someone else's framework can lead to pointless
bickering as to what the framework your using really says. The solution
seems simple: make the framework your own. Whether you fall into a strict
interpretation or a loose interpretation, it will be your interpretation
and your QM, not Pirsig's QM.

The way I will attempt to write my metaphysics will be in a deductive
theory format (axioms, definitions, and derived propositions). I believe
by doing it this way the metaphysics will be very clear and concise. I'm
not sure at this time how far I will be able to get with this format, but
hopefully it will at least make it clear where good points of entry for
critiques and extensions will be.
This bit of writing is about as systematic as I got. But within the
systematic tone are the seeds of my new outlook. The contrasting of
particular metaphysics, with the emphasis on making your own. Metaphysics
as a purely private affair. The main thing that I eschew from this paper
is footnote 3, "Assuming, of course, that "truth," in any traditional
sense, is even possible." This I do not assume anymore. The view that
there is anything interesting about the notion of "truth" is part and
parcel with the "correspondence theory of reality" which, with the help of
Rorty, I have gotten over.

In particular, I want to reiterate my former "priestly" call for personal
interpretations of the MoQ. When I said that there are three things you
can do with the MoQ (hammer out exactly what Pirsig wrote, extend what
Pirsig wrote, and interpret what Pirsig wrote), I am pulling off this
claim. The only thing you can do with MoQ is interpret it. "Hammering
out" the true meaning of Pirsig's words implies there is a correct version.
There is not. The closest you can get to a correct version is simply
reading Pirsig's works word for word our loud. Any deviation strays into
exegesis and interetation. Extending what Pirsig wrote is simply the same
thing as interpretation. In effect, I want to continue to blur the line
between "what Pirsig wrote" and "what I think about what Pirsig wrote." My
suggestion is to make the MoQ say what you want to say. Write out your
narrative and don't be afraid of including others as heroes, even if Pirsig
stays as the central protagonist.


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