Re: MD Structuralism in Pirsig

From: Steve Peterson (
Date: Tue May 20 2003 - 21:12:24 BST

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    Mi Matt,

    > Matt:
    > As use cruelty the same way that I use "good" and "true." All the three terms
    > are vague and flexible. As I'm coming to see it, following Rorty, cruelty is
    > one of the most important terms in our moral delibrative vocabulary, if not
    > these most important. Moral growth, from the liberal Shklarian definition of
    > "cruelty is the worst one can do," is the growing awareness of the ways in
    > which we are
    > cruel to a wider and wider cross-section of phenomena. That's why I can say
    > "Slavery is bad" with no small measure of certainty. I'm not sure we can ever
    > reach an absolute state of no cruelty. I not sure the idea is even coherent.
    > What I do know is that we can try to alleviate as much cruelty as we can
    > without positing an end-state, ala Hegel or Pierce or Habermas.

    It sounds like cruelty is a sort of undefinable anti-Quality for you. Does
    that make sense?

    > Steve said perceptively:
    > When you use deciding between a Pepsi and a Coke as an example to disprove
    > your arbitrary relativism you prove the point.  Moral decisions seem to be
    > just a matter of taste to you.  Some people like chocolate, others like to
    > sacrifice virgins to the volcano god.
    > Matt:
    > Well, it doesn't prove your point, but it does strike up your insight.
    > Following a Humean line, moral decisions are a "matter of taste." Pragmatists
    > don't make a discrete, metaphysical distinction in kind between morals and
    > taste, between morality and prudence. They put them on a continuum. When
    > deliberating over wh
    > at kind of soda we should drink, nobody's life is on the line. The
    > distinction is a pragmatic one between taste and morality: tastes are
    > uncontroversial, it doesn't matter if no one agrees; morals are controversial
    > because it does matter if no one agrees, or rather, if people do disagree.
    > And, after all, some people have better taste than others.
    > As I see it, Pirsig makes this exact point with Quality. In Pirsig's
    > philosophy, morality is the same as matters of taste because Quality is made
    > ubiquitous. But this also means that matters of taste are the same as
    > morality. The equal sign goes both ways.

    Point taken.

    > Steve said:
    > Has postmodernism gotten you anywhere?  You've said before that pragmatists
    > feel that we should stop talking about metaphysics  to further the
    > conversation.  On the contrary, it's seemed like a conversation stopper to
    > me.  You keep having to say that you pragmatist types don't like to talk
    > about it.
    > Matt:
    > Sure it has. What pragmatists want to do is to move on to better
    > conversations, rather than continue the degenerate metaphysical ones. We
    > think that metaphysics mires people in a swamp that just as effectively stops
    > the conversation because the conversation never goes anywhere. We want to
    > stop talking about metaphysics so we move along and start talking about other
    > things, like the ways in which people are cruel to each other and the ways in
    > which
    > literature can help us identify that cruelty.

    Again with the anti-Quality of cruelty. It sounds like you think by
    meditating on cruelty we can work towards perfecting ourselves, which is the
    other side of the coin of what you criticized about Plato previously.

    I prefer Pirsig's positive goal of Quality instead of negative goals of
    freedom from oppression and cruelty. This may be a matter of taste (in the
    sense of a moral decision, as all decisions are, for which inter-subjective
    agreement does not seem so important.)

    Thanks for your responses. I was hoping you could answer this one question
    from my last post:
    "Is progress in any way distinguished from changing tastes in
    your philosophy?"

    Perhaps one difference in Pirsig's and your philosphy is that while you both
    see taste as morality, Pirsig and I see taste as improving throughout
    history (and through personal development) in higher levels of awareness.


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