From: Sam Norton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Wed Sep 24 2003 - 13:11:19 BST
A return back to this one. (I've got about 20 posts to reply to which I'm working through in a
> Sam said:
> I would have said it's always possible to hold two opposing beliefs in tension, with a hope of one
day resolving them at a higher level (ie to de absolutise each belief). It's about being provisional
in our metaphysics - something I would have thought you'd be sympathetic to? And it's also about
putting the intellect in its place - rational consistency is not the highest good.
> I completely agree when you say, "it's always possible to hold two opposing beliefs in tension,
with a hope of one day resolving them at a higher level." (Except I still don't like the vertical
metaphors that you, Scott, and Pirsig use to describe the resolution of tension.) What I was
thinking of when I described the choice is that you've walked down the road of being convinced of
one or the other: meaning you've already arrived at that "higher" place. I think what you are
getting at is, for instance, the "dilemma" faced by first year philosophy students when they have to
choose between having free will and having physics. The way through the forest usually taken is a
third option, that of finding a different choice to choose, i.e. resolving the tension between the
two original beliefs. Resolving tension in this way still involves a choice because all that is
happening is that you find an assumption further back behind the original dilemma and you end up
affirming it or
> rejecting it, staying old or going new. This third option is a stalling action, which we simply
call "inquiry". This is what happens when a pragmatist deals with the "problem" of free will: they
go back and find the appearance/reality distinction. This is how Pirsig, in fact, deals with the
problem of free will: he goes back and finds it in one of our assumptions, embedded in what he calls
SOM (there, just for you DMB). What Pirsig and the pragmatists help us see is that you aren't
discovering anything about reality, you are making a choice when you resolve that tension. That's
partly why I don't like vertical metaphors: it seems to unduly privelege one position over another.
The emphasis is on "unduly" because we cannot help but privelege one position over another: ours.
But after you affirm your own beliefs, which is as natural as daisies, it seems like rhetorical
overkill to say that you've "ascended to a new level of Being" or "itís true for all people at all
> s, now and forever". But whatever vocabulary floats your boat, I know how to read it.
Right, I'm happy in many instances to be sceptical about vertical metaphors. However, unlike you I
think there are times when you do gain a greater understanding, when it is possible to say, eg, 'I
never really understood that before' - or for something creative to happen, a genuine insight to
occur, a new DQ development comes along which solves whatever problem was hanging your system. So I
think there are times when talking about 'height' of understanding (eg the mountains in ZMM) is
legitimate. How do you understand the dharmakaya light?
More interestingly, however, I think there are times when we just get snared in a contradiction,
when our 'moral intuitions' conflict. I think the excavation of our moral premises can lead to a
better understanding of how our different values fit together, and so, again, we reach a place of
higher Quality. Whatever vocabulary is used, I think it's something more than simply affirming your
beliefs - for part of the process is that your beliefs change, therefore - what beliefs are being
affirmed? I think this ties in with the transcendence point.
> However, when you say, "And it's also about putting the intellect in its place - rational
consistency is not the highest good," I see that as completely different from "with a hope of one
day resolving them". I don't think there is anyplace to put the intellect. Like language, its just
one of those things we use. There are no problems of the intellect or language which retain any
force as long as we remain nonmetaphysical. "Rational consistency", which I read as "coherence of
beliefs", is one of the ways which has proven over time to maximize our ability to cope with our
environment. We don't have to have our beliefs coherent, but its one of those beliefs that sit at
the bottom of most people's vocabularies.
OK. What I'm objecting to with that rhetoric is the Platonising emphasis on 'intellect' as a highest
value (in other words, think clearly and logically and all your [spiritual] problems will be
solved). It's Pirsig's point in ZMM, that sometimes an argument etc can be perfectly logical, but
still not any good. I think the MoQ has fallen away somewhat from that insight. I think seeking
greater coherence of beliefs is a good thing; I just think that it's impossible to articulate that
which can provide a genuine coherence, ie the ultimate, what I call God. Therefore, in the face of
our messy lives, we sometimes just have to (pragmatically!) put the desire for coherence to one side
and seek the good or the best outcome, however we understand the rationale for it being so.
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