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

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Wed Dec 22 2004 - 23:57:38 GMT

  • Next message: Richard Loggins: "Re: MD Is Morality Relative? (or "Is there anything out there?")"

    Hi Paul and all,

    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?

    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.

    msh says:
    Right. So the sense data have a "source" i.e. DQ. There is
    something "there" but, so far, we have no definitive answer as to
    whether the "source," DQ, has a "location," internal to the sentient,
    external, or ... "

    paul continues...
    The thing is, even to talk of "experience" or "sense data" is to make
    intellectual differentiations which, strictly speaking, is no longer
    pure empiricism.

    msh says:
    Ok, In ZMM, we're talking pure empiricism, with the "source" of
    sense data deliberately undefined. It might be internal, external,
    or...? In LILA (and the MOQ) we've already degenerated from pure
    empiricism into metaphysical discussion, so I take it it is fair to
    ask questions, and make propositional statements, about this

    <snip Northrop and other understood, agreed stuff>

    paul continues:
    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 dark 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,

    msh says:
    Here he says there is a "flood" of sense data, some of which is
    preselected by DQ. That is, he seems to be saying there are two kinds
    of sense data, some valuable and some not. So DQ works like a
    sieve, filtering out all the valueless sense data? Or DQ sorts the
    data, assigning value to some of it but not all? If so, it seems
    fair to ask about the source of the valueless sense data, and what
    happens to it after it is DQ rejected. Or is it that there really is
    no mixed flood of valuable and valueless sense data, but only sense
    data presented (created?) by DQ for our enjoyment, all of it

    <snip mind-first/matter-first question, as the answer seems to be
    that we choose one or the other depending on the nature of the
    problem we hope to analyse and explain. This I understand and agree
    with. But then comes...>

    pirsig to McWatt via paul:
    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]

    msh says:
    Ok. Here's the rub. If DQ comes before both mind and matter then it
    must be external to both. That is, DQ, at least, must be "out there"
    independent of any sentient. Since he has already degenerated into
    metaphysical speculation, I think it's fair to require him to take a
    stand regarding this issue. At this point, it's too late to
    honestly avoid the issue by claiming that DQ is a "mystical" entity
    and can't be defined. At least, IMHO.

    paul continues:
    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.

    msh says:
    Understood. Agreed. But this still avoids the question of the
    "location" of DQ as the "source of" sense experience. As does the
    following, which I find valuable but incomplete, as described above.

    pirsig to McWatt via paul:
    "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]

    msh says:
    I agree with all of this. Please understand that I find the moral
    hierarchy of the MOQ to be extremely valuable in my miniscule
    attempts to make the world a place of higher quality for all. But I
    also think that Pirsig's metaphysics, once he has defined it, cannot
    be immunized against criticism by claiming that DQ cannot be defined.
     Even if, especially if, that criticism comes from the so-called
    establishment philosophers. Pirsig elected to play their game,

    Thanks to all for any help here,
    Mark Steven Heyman (msh)

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