Re: MD Unofficial Rorty Dictionary

From: Matt the Enraged Endorphin (
Date: Sat Sep 28 2002 - 22:56:16 BST


>My view - and I think Matt's view - is that Pirsig declines to go down this
>route in ZMM, but indulges in it, whilst admitting that it is degenerate,
>because it is 'fun', in Lila.

Indeed, this is my view. There are in fact many ways to go at the
differences in ZMM and Lila, as you can imagine. Rorty offers and points
in the direction of a host of some the subtle twists of the analytic knife
that can leave both books lying split open: edifying v. systematic,
Rortyan v. Kantian, Rortyan v. Platonist, Rortyan v. Cartesian, nominalist
v. essentialist, ironists v. metaphysicians, Culture Critic v. Professional
Philosopher, rhetorician v. dialectician, Russell/Husserlian v.
Wittgenstein/Nietzschean, etc. I've mentioned some of these before and
some examples of them and will hopefully pursue some of them more
explicitly soon. All of them are partially defined by their opposite. (If
I forget, or one of these catches anybody's eye, prompt me and I can flesh
them out for discussion.)

If I were to pressed to say what I find to be Pirsig's mistakes in ZMM and
Lila, there would be two: 1) His predeliction towards metaphysics and 2) He
attempts to hold private obsession and desire for public good in one
vision. Rorty helps, in my opinion, overcome both of these. His
metaphysics predeliction gets him into a lot of easily ignored trouble (my
efforts to historicize and pragmatize Pirsig are in this vein), but its the
second one that contributes the most lasting nuisance. The two problems
overlap heavily, but its his Herculean effort at turning his Quality
insight into a solution of the world's problems that causes the most
trouble (particularly considering we have such trouble here deciding what
the Quality insight "really" is and means).

I think Quality metaphysics should stay in the realm of private obsession.
Rorty's argument is that when you are making useful suggestions for the
public realm, you can cut off the theoretical underpinnings. A useful
suggestion is then judged according to its usefulness, rather than any of
the theoretics that led you to such a belief and suggestion. In "Religion
As Conversation-stopper," Rorty uses the example of religion as a private
practice that should remain in private. The same can applied to other
types of private routes to self-perfection, up to and including
metaphysics. In this essay, Rorty says, "the epistemology suitable for
such a democracy is one in which the only test of a political proposal is
its ability to gain assent from people who retain radically diverse ideas
about the point and meaning of life, abou the path to private perfection.
The more such consensus becomes the test of a belief, the less important is
the belief's source. So when [Stephen L.] Carter complains that religious
citizens are forced 'to restructure their arguments in purely secular terms
before they can be presented' [from The Culture of Disbelief: How American
Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion], I should reply that
'restructuring the arguments in purely secular terms' just means 'dropping
reference to the source of the premises of the arguments', and that this
omission seems a reasonable price for religious liberty."

We should read this as private liberty. Pirsig's route to private
perfection is metaphysics and Quality. This leads him to some very good
suggestions, like the teaching and university sections in ZMM, which are,
as a future teacher, still my favorite sections. I think he's dead on, but
if one were to disagree with Quality, one could still agree with his


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