RE: MD Absolutes and Generalities

From: Jonathan B. Marder (
Date: Thu Jan 30 2003 - 12:58:32 GMT

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    Hi Platt, Matt, Joe, Kevin, Erin,

    You have all made excellent points, and you will forgive me for not
    answering each one individually.
    I think that Platt has been the most specific, providing a lot of meat
    to chew on, so I will answer his post in some detail.

    PLATT also gets top marks for picking up my error:
    >Did you mean in the first line to say "my 'True is an adjective'
    Thanks for noticing. This is my new pragmatist slogan - the home run;-)

    JONATHAN (earlier)
    > I think that [the absolutist] approach has its own problems, and leads
    to fundamentalism.

    You seem to suggest that "fundamentalism" is on its face a bad thing.
    Science, of course, follows its own brand of fundamentalism, defined as
    widely held and solidly adhered to belief system.

    JONATHAN replies
    I think I had better make clear that by fundamentalism I mean solid and
    UNQUESTIONING adherence to a particular belief.
    By this definition, science (as I understand it) follows the Socratic
    tradition of questioning everything, the antithesis of fundamentalism.

    Question: Do you
    consider the following quotes from Pirsig to represent "fundamentalism"
    in a negative sense?

    "But what's not so obvious is that, given a value-centered Metaphysics
    of Quality, it is absolutely, scientifically moral for a doctor to
    prefer the
    patient." (13)

    JONATHAN replies
    Look again at your quote and you will see that it is not absolute at
    all. It is explicitly relative to a specific context, which is why
    Pirsig throws in "GIVEN a value-centered Metaphysics". To be more
    precise, he should have said "given Pirsig's MoQ". If the statement was
    absolute, there would be no need to reference the context.

    PLATT (quoting Pirsig)
    "We must understand that when a society undermines intellectual
    freedom for its own purposes it is absolutely morally bad, but when it
    represses biological freedom for its own purposes it is absolutely
    morally good. These moral bads and goods are not just "customs."
    They are as real as rocks and trees." (24)

    "A culture that supports the dominance of social values over biological
    values is an absolutely superior culture to one that does not, and a
    culture that supports the dominance of intellectual values over social
    values is absolutely superior to one that does not." (24)

    JONATHAN replies
    This is not consistent with the way Pirsig explains the levels, with a
    lower level being essentially "blind" to the level above. Is it immoral
    for a plague of locusts to wipe out the cultivated crops of a village?
    IMO, such a claim is meaningless. The only valid question is how the
    village reacts to the locusts, not the other way round.

    IMO the MoQ dissolves the [art vs. science vs. religion] conflicts by
    encompassing them in the
    embrace of absolute Quality. Both are forms of this absolute Quality,
    the logical positivist side being represented by static Quality and the
    mystic side by Dynamic Quality.
    SQ patterns may not be absolute in the positivist sense, but allowing
    DQ is not the reason why. Static patterns "can't by themselves perceive
    or adjust to Dynamic Quality. Only a living being can do that." (13)

    I think you are going to have a hard time convincing anyone that an
    entity can contain a "dynamic" unpredictable element and also be
    absolute in the sense you indicate ("true for all people at all times,
    now and forever" - Lila ch. 13). You certainly couldn't call it absolute
    in a scientific sense.
    Furthermore, if you take the statement "Only a living being can do that"
    literally, the MoQ completely falls apart. We may argue about how many
    levels of pattern go into a "living being", but according to Pirsig, ALL
    those patterns are SQ. The statement that static patterns can't adjust
    to DQ is completely untenable - surely every pattern, responds to DQ,
    including quarks, electrons, rocks, dice and roulette wheels, cells,
    organisms and societies.

    PLATT (re: suggestion to use the word GENERALLY in place of ABSOLUTELY)
    I'm not convinced that your definition of "generally" avoids relativism,

    also known as "situational ethics." Generally it was OK in Communist
    Russia to murder dissidents.

    I don't believe you CAN avoid relativism. EVERY ethical decision is
    I strongly believe that in the context of Communist Russia, it was WRONG
    to murder dissidents and Stalin's campaign of purges was immoral.
    Furthermore, I would be hard pressed to find an example where killing of
    dissidents might be admissible (though Pirsig himself says that a
    society might use extreme means to ensure its survival).

    JONATHAN (earlier)
    > I find a lot of support for my suggestion:
    > 1. In the critique on Franz Boas and his breed of anthropologists (ch.
    4 of
    > Lila), Pirsig states "If you can't generalize from data, there's
    > else you can do with it either." "A science without generalization is
    > science at all". [snip]

    First, to "generalize from data" is to change the meaning of the word
    from how you used it previously. Here it means to infer from facts.
    Previously it meant to refer to a general principle. The meanings are

    JONATHAN replies
    The distinction between implication and inference is strongly dependent
    on a clear subject-object dichotomy.
    So is the distinction between data and principles. IMO, the pragmatic
    approach is to consider principles to be generalizations of the data,
    with no absolute line to distinguish between principle (the general) and
    data (the specific). Therefore I believe that my use of "generalize" is

    Secondly, the MoQ provides a SPECIFIC framework
    for solving particular problems. Because it is specific, Pirsig doesn't
    hesitate to use "absolute" when the framework calls for it.

    JONATHAN replies
    NO! The MoQ provides a GENERAL framework. It is only made specific in

    Furthermore, while I GENERALLY accept much of RMP's approach, he makes
    far too many mistakes (see examples above) for us to take Lila as the
    ABSOLUTE last word in metaphysics. I am ABSOLUTELY with ERIN on this;-).

    Take care everyone,


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