MD Is Morality Relative? (or "Is there anything out there?")

From: Paul Turner (
Date: Mon Dec 20 2004 - 20:43:16 GMT

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    Hi David, Mark and all

    DMB said:
    Paul Turner has helped me out on these sorts of issues and I think he's
    absent from the forum mostly because he's working some MOQ things up.

    I've just started reading a few posts again and came across my name!
    Speak of the devil...

    The reason I have been away from the forum is mostly lack of time but I
    have also been working on an exposition of Pirsig's work which has grown
    from the organisation of material into a logical order. As it turns out,
    I don't think it is really required anymore because Anthony McWatt's PhD
    thesis now has a section which covers the same ground. As such I have
    been giving Anthony some assistance instead of finishing off my work. If
    I do have the time to finish it, as it only needs proof-reading and
    referencing, I will ask Horse to host it on the forum.

    In terms of Mark's question, and DMB's reply, I have some thoughts and
    some quotes from Pirsig which may help although I think David's answer
    is about right anyway.

    MSH said:
    Yes, this comment has always troubled me. "The world has no existence
    whatsoever outside the human imagination." Is Pirsig an Idealist or an
    empiricist or what? I can see how the laws of nature and logic might be
    said to exist in our imaginations, but everything? Is this just some
    poetic enthusiasm from way back, near the beginning of ZMM, to support
    the ol' ghosts around the campfire setting? What do y'all think he
    means? Is there something OUT THERE, or not?

    I think the first thing is that the MOQ proposes that the distinction
    between "out there" and "in here" is not a fundamental unquestionable
    reality but is also a result of the human imagination, as is the notion
    of "existence" itself. I think Pirsig sees "existence" in the western
    sense as coming in with the Greeks.

    However, in answer to your question, the MOQ calls itself pure
    empiricism and starts with the premise that the "something that is
    there" is sense data but refers to the source of this sense data, prior
    to any intellectual differentiation, as Dynamic Quality.

    The thing is, even to talk of "experience" or "sense data" is to make
    intellectual differentiations which, strictly speaking, is no longer
    pure empiricism. Northrop makes the point in the "Logic of Science and
    the Humanities" that in this strict sense the pure empiricist is the
    philosophic mystic. Whatever you describe is always less than what you
    experience so a pure empiricist should say nothing. This is kind of the
    position of the MOQ in ZMM. In LILA, of course, being the degenerate
    that he is, Pirsig constructs a metaphysics which has to make
    propositional statements about experience and sense data. In this
    respect, Pirsig recently had this to say about the relationship between
    sense data and value in the MOQ:

    "...propositionally speaking, experience is sense data but the sense
    data has already been preselected by quality. We are flooded with far
    more sense
    data all the time than we can possibly absorb. We do not, for example,
    sense even our own eye-blinks although our whole field of vision goes
    when they occur. These eye-blinks are not sensed because they are not
    valued. So the MOQ is strictly empiricist but it says all sense data is
    valued sense data. Scientifically speaking, that which cannot be
    distinguished from anything else does not exist. The MOQ says that which
    is not valued either positively or negatively is not distinguished from
    anything else. Therefore sense data that is devoid of value does not
    exist." [Pirsig to McWatt, 2004]

    Further to this, and with reference to DMB's mention of the question of
    "Which came first?" this quote from Pirsig may help. This was written in
    response to a similar question from one of Anthony's students in April

    "Yes, there is a chicken-and-egg problem here about which came first,
    the inorganic level or the intellectual level. It is not unique to the
    MOQ. The centuries-old controversy between philosophic materialists and
    philosophic idealists centers about this question. The MOQ says that the
    intellectual pattern, "matter was here first" has higher quality for
    scientific explanation than the intellectual pattern "mind was here
    first" but it notes that both of these statements are just mental,
    intellectual patterns to explain sense data. We are trained to think of
    this sense data as coming from objects but the whole idea of objects is
    arrived at from primitive value judgments of the sort newborn infants
    have before they have any idea of such a thing as an object and long
    before they have an idea of such a thing as mind. The MOQ says it is the
    unnamable source of these valuations that comes first, not mind or
    matter. It calls this unnamable source "Dynamic Quality" for purposes of
    intellectual reference, but carefully avoids defining it." [Pirsig to
    McWatt, 1999]

    Basically, the MOQ says that the "external world" is often the highest
    quality pattern of intellectual knowledge we have to handle and explain
    sense data but it remains no more than an extremely good hypothesis.
    Furthermore, seeing as the external world is *deduced from* sense
    experience it seems incorrect to presume that it is the *source of* the
    sense experience. I find that this statement from Pirsig is a neat
    summary of his position.

    "I think that science is simply the best interpretation that can be made
    of sense data and can function without a faith in an external objective
    world. I also think that religion is the best interpretation that can be
    made of sense data and can function without a faith in an external
    deity. Sense data is reality enough.

    It is easy for scientifically trained people to see that an external
    deity that creates everything is just an imaginary being sustained by
    social tradition. It is much more difficult to see that an external
    objective world that creates everything is also just an imaginary being
    sustained by social tradition.

    The Metaphysics of Quality is a third conjecture that can be made about
    the source of sense data. It does not contradict a deityless religion
    such as Buddhism. It does not contradict an objectless interpretation of
    science" [Pirsig to McWatt, 1999]



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