MF Discussion Topic for February 2005

From: Matt Kundert (
Date: Fri Feb 25 2005 - 00:20:36 GMT

  • Next message: Wim Nusselder: "Re: MF Discussion Topic for February 2005"

    For what its worth,

    I wrote what follows a couple of days ago and I was leery about some of the
    terminology I was using, in that it doesn’t immediately bring to mind the
    way Pirsig might describe things. But yesterday the moderator
    serendipitously sent in a review article that matches up with some of the
    language and issues I’ll make reference to (and the people I take seriously
    in the area, specifically Solomon, Rorty and Nussbaum), so this might make
    for some kind of initial map of how what the academics are talking about
    might relate to how Pirsig talks about emotions (the review article, by the
    way, is a very good overview in my opinion).

    My opinion on the matter of emotions is pretty much that of Amélie Oksenberg
    Rorty’s (if you’re wondering, only indirectly related to Dick):

    “the physicalist and the intentionalist accounts of anomalous emotions
    [roughly the two different camps that the article refers to as the
    physiologists and the cognitivists, respectively] are perfectly compatible
    and perhaps even complementary, physicalistically oriented theories
    explaining why a person is in that state, intentionalistically oriented
    theories explaining why the emotion has that intentional object. They
    appear to be at odds only when both theories get reductionally ambitious:
    when … each tries to explain all phenomena at all levels. Certainly if the
    intentional accounts deny that a person’s hormonal state ever enters into
    the explanation, and if the physicalist account denies that intentionality
    is ever required to explain or identify the emotional states, the two
    approaches will clash in an unilluminating struggle whose sterility will be
    masked by the parties goading each other into dazzling displays of
    ingenuity.” (from "Explaining Emotions" in Explaining Emotions, ed. Amelie

    I haven’t done the research to render an understanding of what Pirsig
    identifies emotion as or whatever, but the gist of the above is that

    If Pirsig identifies emotion at the biological level, it won’t work because
    it’s too reductionistic.

    The other option, it would seem, would be the social level, but I’m not sure
    if that’s what Pirsig means based on the few examples he gives of social
    level phenomena, the _office_ of the priest, the _office_ of the presidency.
     My prima facie understanding of the social level has been that its
    phenomena are social _structures_, rather than something that would refer to
    individual persons. But I’m not sure.

    But, say we do find that Pirsig identifies emotion at the social level. I’m
    not sure that would work based on his “doctrine of discreteness,” i.e. what
    leads him to say that the levels are discrete and (almost) independent of
    each other. Say we identify “biological” with “physical” and “social” with
    “intentional” from above; what Rorty is saying is that our emotions can be
    described by two different vocabularies, and that we need both vocabularies
    in our explanations to do our emotions justice. But with Pirsig’s
    conceptual apparatus, particularly the doctrine of discreteness, I think he
    forces us to say that such-and-such a phenomenon (emotions, ideas, cells) is
    the _exclusive_ property of whatever level, i.e. he’s still too
    reductionistic. I’m not sure that Pirsig allows us the vocable flexibility
    we need to explain our emotions.

    But perhaps he does. Perhaps we can say that our hormones are biological
    and our intentional objects are social and that we can draw upon both of
    those kinds of explanations for a full explanation of emotions.

    Just some thoughts,


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