MD Primary Reality

From: Ant McWatt (
Date: Thu May 12 2005 - 17:50:24 BST

  • Next message: Matt Kundert: "Re: MD Access to Quality"

    Ham stated May 9th:

    I don't expect my comments to carry much weight in a forum that's committed
    to another ideology, but I hope such dialogue will be viewed as an attempt
    to clarify some of the concepts we are all dealing with. And while I've
    tried to avoid outright criticism, I would be remiss in not calling
    attention to certain MOQ propositions that I find philosophically untenable,
    ambiguous, or inconsistent with respect to traditional understanding.

    Ant McWatt comments:


    This is all fair comment. However, it is pretty clear to me from your post
    of May 9th that you haven’t read ZMM, LILA or my PhD thesis properly. I
    would guess that you’ve read the first halves of these texts and skimmed
    read – if at all - their remaining pages. Anyway, in the following are some
    replies before I return to my buggy and the golf course.

    Ham stated:

    My reference to the MOQ as a "cult movement" may have exceeded the bounds of
    objective critique, yet I think it characterizes the manner in which this
    ideology is "proselytized" and, to some extent, its attraction to the
    postmodern secularist audience. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines
    "cult" as "3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also its body
    of adherents; 5a: great devotion to a person, idea, or thing; especially
    such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad; 5b: a usually
    small circle of persons united by devotion or intelligence to an artistic or
    intellectual movement or figure -- cultic *adj* -- cultism *n* -- cultist

    I think you will concede that these elements are all present in the MOQ
    "orthodoxy", despite its author's objection to the word "religion".

    Ant McWatt comments:

    Firstly, as I’ve stated before, your system of Essentialism has far more
    religious connotations than the MOQ. The MOQ is an expansion of “rational
    thought” rather than a religion and the term “cult” only applies to the
    latter. If the MOQ is a cult – as defined above - then that also makes
    quantum physics and, in fact, any specialised academic area a cult.

    Secondly, (as noted by ‘Collier’s Concise English Dictionary’) religion has
    connotations of “formal or institutionalized expression” of a belief in
    “supernatural powers”. There is nothing “supernatural” in the MOQ and
    neither is it formalized in a social organization so to use another of
    Pirsig’s phrases you are talking “claptrap” (at least, in this regard). I
    think you’re getting hung up on what critics wish the MOQ was (probably
    something like your Essentialism) rather than what it is.

    Ant McWatt had previously stated:

    >If the MOQ Discuss members appear to [be] leaning to the
    >liberal left I think that it's only because these Buddhist orientated ideas
    >of the MOQ are of generally higher quality than right-wing political ideas.

    Ham stated:

    That's a personal opinion which isn't supported by any MOQ proposition or
    principle that I'm aware of. In fact, I can't discern any political
    position being advocated by Mr. Pirsig in the literature he's authored.

    Ant McWatt comments:

    I think if you read Chapters 17 and 22 of LILA carefully, you will realize
    that Pirsig is advocating a combination of using free markets (in the social
    realm) with socialism’s emphasis on economic intellectual control and
    (Buddhist) sense of fairness. In other words, he is suggesting that you
    need to tread a balance between opening the door (economically) to Dynamic
    Quality and avoiding the worst excesses of degeneracy that most so-called
    forms of capitalism presently cause i.e. “getting maximum freedom for the
    emergence of Dynamic Quality while prohibiting degeneracy from destroying
    the evolutionary gains of the past.” (LILA, Chapter 17)

    Ham stated:

    Your use of the phrase "higher quality than right-wing political ideas" does
    not automatically make your assertion an official MOQ proposition…

    Ant comments:

    Maybe not but I think Pirsig would agree that his MOQ system has higher
    quality than right-wing political ideology. For instance, note the

    “The conservatives who keep trumpeting about the virtues of free enterprise
    are normally just supporting their own self-interest. They are just doing
    the usual cover-up for the rich in their age-old exploitation of the poor.
    Some of them seem to sense there is also something mysteriously virtuous in
    a free enterprise system and you can see them struggling to put it into
    words but they don't have the metaphysical
    vocabulary for it any more than the socialists do. The Metaphysics of
    Quality provides the vocabulary.” (LILA, Chapter 17)

    Ham continued:

    …nor does the "mystical" nature of Quality as the empirical reality imply
    that the MOQ is "Buddhist oriented".

    Ant McWatt comments:

    This is the type of statement that indicates that you’ve not read ZMM, LILA
    or my thesis properly. For instance, in this regard, please note the
    following quotes by Pirsig from my PhD (references apply to the system used
    in its bibliography):

    “‘The Absolute’ means the same as ‘Dynamic Quality’ and the ‘nothingness’ of
    Buddhism, but it’s a poor term because of its connotations. To me it
    connotes something cold, dead, empty of content and rigid. The term,
    ‘Dynamic Quality,’ has opposite connotations. It suggests warmth, life,
    fullness and flexibility.” (Pirsig, 2002h, p.272)

    ‘“Unpatterned” might work as well except that “unpatterned” suggests that
    there is nothing there and all is quiet. There is nothing in the sense of
    no “thing”, that is, “no object”, and the Buddhists use nothingness in this
    way, but the term Dynamic is more in keeping within the quotation, “Within
    nothingness there is a great working”, from the Zen master, Katagiri Roshi.’
      (Pirsig, 1997d)

    ‘Phædrus went over to his bookshelf and picked out a small, blue,
    cardboard-bound book…. It was the 2400-year-old Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu.
    He… studied it to see if a certain substitution would work. He began to
    read and interpret it at the same time. He read: The quality that can be
    defined is not the Absolute Quality. That was what he had said. The names
    that can be given it are not Absolute names. It is the origin of heaven and
    earth. When named it is the mother of all things… Exactly.’ (Pirsig,
    1974a, pp.252/253)

    (Remember that Zen Buddhism which the MOQ is a development from was, in turn
    itself, a development from Taoism as well as Mahayana Buddhism.)

    ‘LILA was originally conceived of as a case-book in philosophy. “Does Lila
    have Quality?” is its central question. It was intended to parallel the
    ancient Rinzai Zen koans (which literally means “public cases,”) and in
    particular, Joshu’s “Mu,” which asks, “Does a dog have a Buddha nature?”.’
    (Pirsig 2002d)

    Ant McWatt had previously stated:

    >... Hence, Pirsig's attempt to
    >combine capitalism's use of free markets (in the social realm) with
    >socialism's emphasis on economic intellectual control and sense of

    Ham stated:

    If Pirsig has made such an attempt, it is only parenthetical and by
    innuendo. Certainly you can't be suggesting that the author is championing

    Ant McWatt comments:

    As I keep stating to Platt, the Pirsig is championing the MOQ, not socialism
    nor capitalism.

    Ant McWatt had previously stated:

    >Secondly, I think the MOQ can be seen as a framework to increase the beauty
    >in the world, whether this is in works of art, high quality engineering,
    >architecture or better personal/political relationships.

    Ham stated:

    Again, this is a personal inference rather than an MOQ proposition.

    Ant McWatt comments:

    This was an attempt to explain the MOQ to you in a different way to help
    your understanding. So, yes, this is a personal inference.

    Ham continued:

    No philosophy by itself can "increase beauty in the world". At best, it may
    aim at promoting keener esthetic sensibility among its followers. But the
    appreciation of beauty and the fostering of more congenial
    personal/political relationships is an attitudinal function on the part of
    individuals and their dealings with nature and society.

    Ant McWatt comments:

    You seem to be suggesting in the above paragraph that beauty is simply a
    value judgement. Conversely, what I would suggest is that beauty is
    something real but that people sometimes have disagreements about where it
    is manifested and to what degree. Moreover, to be logically consistent you
    couldn’t agree with me (as you state you do) that “this essential
    ‘substance’ (of beauty and other values) was creating the universe a long
    time before there were any human beings around to measure them and divide
    them into subjects and objects (or good and bad).” To use Pirsig’s
    terminology, you’re shifting - without explanation - from an SOM perspective
    to an MOQ one.

    Ant McWatt had stated:

    >... I'm sorry to state this
    >(as you have obviously put in a lot of hard work with your system and your
    >website) but I think it's incredible to think that the MOQ system is a cult
    >system in comparison to Essentialism.

    Ham replied:

    I take no offense, since having no known adherents to date, "cult system"
    doesn't really apply to Essentialism.

    Ant McWatt comments:

    I think your assertion here just gets Essentialism off the hook of being a
    cult system and on to the lower quality hook of being evidence of your
    insanity. For instance, the ‘Collier’s Concise English Dictionary’ defines
    “insanity” as “1b: a relatively permanent disorder of the mind; 2: utter
    folly; stupidity.”

    If, as you state, Essentialism has attracted no adherents to date (after
    being publicly accessible on the Internet for at least a year), it therefore
    seems a folly on your part. As such, possibly you should consider
    consulting a local psychiatrist for advice? Moreover, unless I wanted to be
    committed, I wouldn’t start with the phrase: “Nothing short of a
    psycho-philosophical revelation will awaken our nihilistic society to the
    cosmic significance of Freedom” (as you say in the first paragraph of your

    Ant McWatt had previously stated:

    >... Anyway, just to nail down this desire of yours
    >to see the MOQ as a formal thesis, I don't know what you think my Ph.D. is
    >but isn't this such a thesis? If it isn't, why exactly? Moreover, beauty
    >or Quality or enlightenment is not something that can be completely "nailed
    >down"/defined in the formal sense that you seem to require. There comes a
    >point where you have to stop discussing and analysing these things and
    >experiencing them Dynamically e.g. to stop talking about beauty (as an art
    >historian) and to start trying to paint beautifully (as an artist).

    Ham stated:

    Yes, you have a fine, well-researched thesis that refines much of what
    Pirsig has stated.

    Ant McWatt comments:

    You’re obviously not that much of a nut then. :-)

    Ham stated:

    But its perspective is oriented entirely within the MOQ framework. What
    you've succeeded in doing is what everybody in this forum is doing in a less
    formal way -- namely, showing how other viewpoints can be construed as
    supporting the Quality theory.

    Ant McWatt comments:

    But the participants on this Forum don’t just support the “Quality theory”
    do they, Ham? There is Matt Kundert and Scott Roberts, for starters. Then
    I think you have a spectrum of opinion all the way from them to Platt and
    myself – and you can see for yourself in the Epilogue of my PhD that I
    disagree with Pirsig on a number of issues and that Platt has difficulty
    reconciling himself with the liberal political views underlying much of
    Pirsig’s work. And, then there’s also your good self!

    Ham states:

    There are no arguments from the antagonists, no real dialectical challenges,
    no new insight that would tie together the loose ends of this philosophy.

    Ant McWatt comments:

    As regards my thesis, I try to show that there isn’t a better mainstream
    philosophical viewpoint than the MOQ. There is reference to all the main
    SOM philosophies (such as physicalism), East Asian philosophy and even a
    mention of post-modernism. I also used the opinions of critics such as John
    Beasley (who used to contribute to this group) and Galen Strawson (a
    philosophy professor who gave LILA a negative review). You can be rest
    assured that my supervisors and examiners (even if they aren’t personally
    named) brought up a wide range of potential difficulties (such as why did
    Pirsig use the term Quality?, why “Dynamic”?, why four static levels?, why
    “static”?, where does evolution fit in?, how is a moral framework produced
    from this?, why is the MOQ better than James’ pragmatism? etc., etc;) most
    of which were addressed.

    Moreover, for evidence of a “new insight that would tie together the loose
    ends of this philosophy” read Chapter 3 of the thesis. That takes the MOQ
    and ties it together with Northrop’s work to present a metaphysical solution
    to the mind-matter problem. I think it succeeds in the metaphysical realm
    though someone else may, of course, write an expanded or sophisticated
    version of this solution in the future.

    Ham stated:

    I'm still looking for a metaphysical rationale that, I expect, would require
    some modification of the MOQ as it is presently understood. A metaphysical
    presentation that would expand on and critique Mr. Pirsig's SODV paper
    might be a good place to start.

    Ant McWatt comments:

    I think the problem with the SODV paper is that it was written for an SOM
    audience in mind. As such, I think LILA and Pirsig’s later comments in
    “Lila’s Child” should be taken as more definitive. In the Epilogue of the
    PhD, I note that for the explanatory gaps in the MOQ, most of these are
    found in Northrop, William James and Zen Buddhist literature. So I would
    start with LILA and my PhD thesis and then use ZMM, Northrop, James and some
    East Asian philosophers (such as Nagarjuna and Lao Tzu) to provide the
    absent metaphysical arguments.

    However, I would caution that in such a relatively large project you could
    get lost in the philosophical details (such as why Pirsig capitalises
    “Quality” etc.). Remember that rather than being academic metaphysical
    presentations, ZMM and LILA were written as koans to enable a Western reader
    to reach a more enlightened, East Asian understanding about reality (that
    can, at best, be understood metaphorically) and, as such, this primary
    aspiration of Pirsig’s could be lost in a large project. Sometimes less is

    Best wishes



    In 1967 when George Harrison visited San Francisco, a young hippy came over
    to him and called out: “You are our leader, George. You know where it’s

    Harrison replied:

    “It’s you who should be leading yourself. You don’t want to be following
    leaders – me or anyone else.”

    (Wills, 2003)

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