RE: MD Pirsig and Peirce

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sun Aug 31 2003 - 19:34:38 BST

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    Matt, Scott and all:

    Matt said:
    I should be more careful. ...If language is a mirror, then getting better
    knowledge amounts to having better and better representations of the object
    of inquiry, to mirror the world so that eventually our language will be
    transparent to the world. This means that the final judge and jury of the
    truth of a proposition is Nature, the World, something "out there" that is
    not us.

    dmb replies:
    The final judge and jury of truth is Nature, the World, something out there
    that is not us. Hmmm. Why does that ring a bell? Could it be that you're
    talking about objectivity, which is Pirsig's great white whale? I think so.
    (Wish you'd use Pirsig's terms.)I suppose its possible that you think you're
    talking about something else, but it seems pretty clear to me. Pirsig and
    Rorty don't agree about the source or the solution to the problem and so
    they use different terms, but the both identify the same problem. - as do
    many (post-modern) others.

    Pirsig in chapter 30:
    The was to really deal with insanity, he thought, is to turn the tables and
    talk about truth instead. Insanity's a medical subject that everyone agrees
    is bad. Truth's a metaphysical subject that everyone disagrees about. There
    are lots of different definitions of truth and some of them could throw a
    whole lot more light on what was happening to Lila than a subject-object
    metaphysics does. If objects are the ultimate reallity then there's only one
    true intellectual construction of things; that which corresponds to the
    objective world. But if truth is defined as a high-quality set of
    intellectual values patterns, then insanity can be defined as just a
    low-quality set of intellectual value pattterns, and you get a whole
    different picture.

    Matt said:
    I'll rehearse briefly the historical dialectic that led to this. ...
    Descartes's picture of language was as a mirror of nature. He thought of
    language as representing the world and that the object of the game was to
    get better and better representations, to have clear and distinct ideas.
    Locke made the next partial step by saying that we could talk about nominal
    essences, but that we would never really know if we had reached the real
    essence of the thing. The next full step was by Kant who took Locke's step
    and turned out its full implications, marking the distinction between the
    phenomenal and the noumenal.

    dmb says:
    Again, I would only point out that you are not talking about anything other
    than the various forms of SOM and it would be very helpful if simply called
    it that. Not because it is the only term, but simply because it is a term we
    Pirsig readers all have in common. Such "linguistic practices" only make
    sense, no? I mean, isn't it much easier for everyone to trade in the coin of
    the realm?

    Matt said:
    The full step beyond idealism is pragmatism. In pragmatism, we make the
    switch from language-as-representing to language-as-coping. Counter to the
    idealist's claim that there is no world "out there", the pragmatists says,
    yes, there is a world out there. However, our language doesn't represent
    it, it copes with it. Language is a tool with which we use to survive in the
    world, like a spoon or a fork (or the next stop on the evolutionary train,
    the spork).
    dmb says:
    Language as coping? This is where you start to lose me. Sounds bizzare,
    quite debateable and very un-Pirsigian. I gather that Rorty would like us to
    take a Darwinian approach to language, and that language as a coping
    mechanism comes out of that notion, but it is not at all clear to me what
    that means as a practical matter. I imagine there are ideas behind these
    slogans and I would very much know what they are. Beyond realism and
    idealism is... Darwinisms? I don't get it. How does one cope with an
    enviroment that can not be represented? A whole lotta groping and stubbed
    toes, I guess? :-) The pragmatists "solution" seems to beg the orignal
    question and raises a whole host of new questions. For example, how to we
    transpose biological mechanisms into the cultural realm without distortion
    of misappropriation? It seems that Pirsig's levels sort out that kind of

    Matt said:
    So, we are caught, in Fredric Jameson's phrase, in the "prison-house of
    language". Having knowledge is being familiar with a certain way of
    speaking. For instance, I have knowledge of pragmatist philosophy and you,
    DMB, admittedly, do not. And you have knowledge of mysticism and mystic
    philosophy (to employ Scott's helpful distinction) and I, admittedly, do

    dmb says:
    I don't buy it. You, Scott and I all speak standard American English, we all
    own dictionaries and we've all read Pirsig. I honestly don't see why we
    shouldn't be able to explain even unfamiliar ideas to each other. The only
    thing required is a willingness and ability to clearly express yourself. It
    doesn't help to pretend we're trapped in some solipsistic black hole. If we
    had much less in common I might believe that.

    Matt said:
    Representationalists (roughly, realists) think that knowledge is justified
    true belief. They believe that what counts as knowledge needs to be both
    justified and true. The first component is made in terms of other people.
    You have to be able to justify a belief in terms of reasons and
    argumentation. The second component is made in terms of the world. A
    belief is true when it gets something about the world correct. With these
    two components, some philosophers go on to say that, for instance, we can
    have knowledge of rocks because we can justify our beliefs in rocks and we
    can see that they are correct (notice the reliance on ocular metaphors).
    But we cannot have knowledge of God because, though it may be true that God
    exists and such, we will never be able to justify it to anyone, the truth
    being based on faith.

    dmb says:
    Again, these are the problems that Pirsig addresses but your jargon has
    hidden that fact from me until now. Rocks and objective, God is subjective
    and round and round she goes. And again, this confusion is sorted out by the
    levels. Even the ocular metaphors. Pirsig explains how the physical sciences
    have no problem with sensory perception and the extension of it through
    microscopes, telescopes, etc. The problem comes when empirical experience
    moves from the biological to the cultural. Knowledge and truth is mediated
    through 2nd, 3rd and 4th level patterns. This realization is not framed in
    Pirsigian terms, but it is behind the linguistic turn all the same. In
    effect it is an examination of the social and intellectual filters instead
    of just the sensory organs, which has been moved from philosophy to medical
    science in our post-modern times.

    Matt said:
    Pragmatists have no idea what "made true by the world" means. We don't see
    what the difference is between rocks and God in terms of their truth value.
    Pragmatists have yet to see a satisfactory explanation by a realist of how
    the world makes our statements true, and there have been a lot of smart
    realists taking stabs (from Moore and Russell to Searle and Nagel). For the
    pragmatist, we drop the ocular metaphors and think of knowledge as justified
    belief. Justified to whom? To the community in which you are conversing.
    Under the pragmatist's explication of knowledge, we can have knowledge of
    rocks and God (or, rather, knowledge of God-related things given some
    religions' propensity for thinking that God is ineffable) because knowledge
    is being familiar with a way of speaking. Again, the real issue is the
    utility of each way of speaking, not which way of speaking gets something
    Right and Correct about the world.

    dmb says:
    Again, we're still talking SOM. In Pirsigian terms, it seems you're saying
    that pragmatisist drop objectivity (realism) in favor of collective
    subjectivity (intersubjective agreement within various communities). It
    might be interesting to explore the differences between this move and
    Pirsig's. Pirsig sorts out rocks and God in a different way. And since
    pragmatisim seems unable rank such beleifs, I think Pirsig's is far more

    Matt said:
    I hope that goes some way towards answering the questions you posed.

    dmb says:
    Yes. I finally see what in the world you're talking about. Thanks.

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