Re: MD food for thought

From: Platt Holden (
Date: Sun Sep 15 2002 - 23:57:46 BST

Hi Matt:

Just as I thought I was beginning to grasp the relationship you see
between Pirsig and Rorty, I found myself at a loss to follow your latest

> Yeah, on irrationality, I think we are just using two different definitions
> and, like good Rortyans, we're sincere in our incorrigibility.

I haven't the faintest idea of what "sincere in our incorrigibility" means.

> However, in
> one last attempt to dissolve the difference, I would never describe
> irrationality as unintelligent. I distaste the word intelligence and think
> it is a facile representation of an amorphous collection of skills.

Pirsig uses "intelligence" quite often in LILA, using the everyday
meaning of the word as the "capacity for reasoning and understanding."
So I don't think he shares your "distaste" for the word, nor do I.

> So,
> when I describe postmodernism, along with the MoQ, as celebrating
> irrationality, if you don't like my ad hoc definition of the MoQ as
> irrational, don't be so quick to continue to follow the description of
> postmodernism as celebrating irrationality, the two are biconditional in my
> phrasing.

I don't know what you mean by "ad hoc definition." Does it mean you
can define words or philosophies any way you wish? Nor do I
understand what you mean by "biconditional in my phrasing." In your
zest to invent new vocabulary, you are leaving me in the dark.

>If pomo does, then so does the MoQ. If not, then not. And vice
> versa. In fact, Hall (the same as below) puts the issue like this: "the
> contrast rational/irrational is applicable only within a given language
> game and therefore cannot be used to explain movements among language games
> or the more radical changes in linguistic behavior associated with paradigm
> shifts." This summarizes in much clear language what I hope to get across.

That summary is pure gibberish to me.
> With beauty as an organizing principle, I think there is some truth.

Truth? I thought you said a post-philosphical culture believes a
discussion of truth isn't "profitable."

> David
> L. Hall, in his wonderful book on Rorty (Richard Rorty: Prophet and Poet on
> the New Pragmatism), does an excellent job in drawing up the American
> tradition of aesthetic pluralism and places Rorty within it.

I have no idea what you mean by the "American tradition of aesthetic

> Hall briefly
> sketches the tradition through Jonathon Edwards, Emerson, Peirce, James,
> Dewey, and an adopted American, Whitehead. For Rorty desires a poetized
> culture, a literary culture, a culture whose vocabulary "revolves around
> the notions of metaphor and self-creation rather than around notions of
> truth, rationality, and moral obligation." (Contingency, Irony, and
> Solidarity)

Well, if that's really what Rorty wants, count me out. Notions of truth,
rationality, and especially morality is what Pirsig's world is all about.

>Indeed, the notion of Rorty's causal transformation of beliefs
> is aesthetic. If you like what you hear, as opposed to what you already
> believe, you change what you believe. So, while I don't think Rorty would
> desire any kind of organizing principle, outside of any thing we propose
> and follow ourselves, contingently, he definitely has an aesthetic tilt to
> his thinking.

What does "causal transformation of beliefs" mean? Can you give some
specific examples? It appears you and Rorty follow the principle, "If it
feels good, do it."

> >I would make an important addendum to your breakdown of Pirsig's
> >thesis, namely, "Everything makes choices, and some choices are
> >better than others." Without the notion of "betterness" the MOQ is
> >neutered.
> The only reason I hesitate to add "and some choices are better than others"
> is because that implies an absolute "betterness" which I don't think there
> is room for in Rorty or an historicized Pirsig.

In the MOQ there is indeed absolute betterness, like it's better to kill a
germ than be killed by one. Please explain an "historicized" Pirsig.

>The notion of "betterness"
> for an historicist comes out of the contingent choices that have already
> been made.

I have no idea what you mean.

> A Dynamic choice would then be a deviation from past choices
> because you now believe that, in this present context, to choose
> uniformally with the past would not be better. So I think inherent in
> "making a choice" is the presumption that one is better than the other,
> without accidently encapsulating that "betterness" (like Plato did with the
> Good).

Further confusion. I read it again and again and it still makes no sense,
probably because "without accidentally encapsulating that 'betterness' "
means "without accidentally placing betterness in a capsule."

> And, like I said, I think Rorty could only agree that some things are
> better than others (from an ethnocentric, historicist position). I know
> for a fact that Rorty does think some things are better than others. Who
> doesn't? A fortiori, who could not help but to?

A fortiori, it's obvious Rorty thinks his philosophy or whatever you call it
is better than anyone's, from an ethnocentric, historicist position of
course. (-:

> >But the basic "the world is moral order" assumption that carries
> >the MOQ is something I suspect Rorty would cast aside as being "not
> >philosophically interesting" just as he considers the correspondence
> >theory of truth to be passe. Am I right?
> I think you're right, insofar as "the world is a moral order" implies
> metaphysical baggage. If it doesn't, and it simply means that we can order
> up the world into a catalog, ticking off who's being cruel to others and
> who isn't, who's creating new metaphors and who isn't, then I think he
> might agree.

What has Rorty got against metaphysics? Why is it always described
with the pejorative, "baggage." And incidentally, do you agree that you
sometimes must be cruel to be kind? Does "tough love" strike you as

> Here's something I have not said yet, but probably needs to be said. As a
> private route towards self-perfection, Rorty would have nothing bad to say
> about the MoQ. If it strays into the public realm with metaphysical
> baggage that provides an illusory, unneeded foundation for an absolute
> vocabulary, then Rorty might not look not fondly upon it. Can the MoQ, as
> a private project, accidently provide useful stratagies for the public
> realm? Quite possibly. In fact, that is what many good liberals' private
> projects are channeled towards: useful stratagies for the public realm.

Please explain some "useful strategies for the public realm."
Redistribution of income perhaps?

I'm all in favor of "creative" language, Matt. But when it beclouds and
obfuscates rather than shedding clarity and light, it fails its primary
function to bring about a meeting of minds. And we were doing so well
there for awhile. (-: Please humor me with some plain English. Thanks.


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