Re: MD Begging the Question, Moral Intuitions, and Answering the Nazi, Part III

From: David MOREY (
Date: Sun Oct 12 2003 - 18:52:36 BST

  • Next message: MATTHEW PAUL KUNDERT: "Re: MD Begging the Question, Moral Intuitions, and Answering the Nazi, Part II"

    Hi Matt

    I think I can see where you are at, and I can assure you that
    there is another place to be. You are giving us the
    US/Rorty/pragmatist -style
    of post-modernism, but there are other ways of considering morality in a
    Heiderggerian, post-Derrida context. I think one of these for example is
    another is Charles Taylor, another is Jean-Luc Marion. Sure argumentation,
    patterns of analysis, vocabularies are pretty essential to the way we can
    talk about
    and value aspects of our experience. For you pragmatists you want to leave
    it there,
    there is simply a choice between vocabularies, but how do you choose between
    For me, there are various sources of value that appeal to aspects of our
    experience that
    do not sit easily in any of the vocabularies we currently have. They make us
    they saturate our experience, they are a kind of holy terror, where we
    intuit that our
    concepts are failing us, where we intuit that we lack understanding, or that
    our concepts lack
    something, that they do not grasp the phenomenon. The concept of DQ is
    a negative concept, in the way that god is in negative theology. This is
    because DQ is Pirsig's
    way of pointing to the transcendent, what is beyond the horizon of our
    conceptual grasp.
    In fact our conceptual tools are very limited. Because of SOM they are only
    really happy handling
    objects, yet our experience is full of things that are not objects: other
    people, love, time, death, etc.
    All there things are linked to DQ and this link makes them hard to deal with
    using forms of analysis
    that are almost entirely designed to handle SQ patterns or objects. DQ for
    me is an aspect of our
    human authenticity, as individuals we face a unique set of possibilities,
    and we are unable to either
    turn away from the given set we possess (I never did have a chance of being
    a space man) or from
    the anxiety of having to choose (eat the cake or not), or from other people
    (my wife wants to eat the last
    cake too!). In the end a question of freedom. Such are we human beings. The
    Nazi can deny it, but in
    his or your very denial you confirm what I believe about human freedom. This
    is my vocabulary and
    I think it matches with our human experience better than a pragmatists: I
    have an ontological position, the
    pragmatists has unstated ontological assumptions (that you can choose
    between vocabularies) and this
    gives me something firmer to bang the Nazi over the head with, to encourage
    him to believe me when I
    say I do not have to agree, and even under threat of death we can make our
    Byronic stand.

    David M

    ----- Original Message -----
    To: "MoQ" <>
    Sent: Saturday, October 11, 2003 9:29 PM
    Subject: MD Begging the Question, Moral Intuitions, and Answering the Nazi,
    Part III

    > Return of the pragmatist,
    > Moral Intuition(s)
    > --------------------------
    > There are two senses of intuition that we should distinguish. The first
    are ideas that we feel without argument. The second is a way of accessing
    something nonrational, something beyond argument. The two are obviously
    related, but the first sense is the sense of "intuition" as ideas that we
    feel are fairly obvious. The second sense is the sense of "intuition" as a
    faculty that gives us access to ideas that should be fairly obvious.
    > By "moral intuitions" I mean certain ideas about what is good. For
    instance, we Americans have intuitions that democracy is the best form of
    government yet realized, that freedom is the best route to happiness, and
    that Nazis are despisable. We feel these things without argument and we
    agree to them without argument. They are in our blood, so to speak. By
    "moral intuition" I mean an ability to access ideas about what is good,
    ideas that we accept without argument.
    > What I will argue is that Pirsig holds to both senses of intuition and
    that pragmatists hold to only the first sense.
    > The reason people want to answer the Nazi, want to be able to
    argumentatively and dialectically wrestle the Nazi down, is that they fear
    "that when the secret police come, when the torturers violate the innocent,
    there is nothing to be said to them of the form 'There is something within
    you which you are betraying. Though you embody the practices of a
    totalitarian society which will endure forever, there is something beyond
    those practices which condemns you.'" (Rorty, p. xlii, CP) Rorty says that
    our moral intuitions are temporary resting places, that there is nothing
    ahistorical or universal about them. They are simply the best that we have
    come up with so far. They are what make us _us_, or as Wittgenstein would
    put it, they are a form of life, the best form of life we have yet seen.
    When Sartre says, "Tomorrow, after my death, certain people may decide to
    establish fascism, and the others may be cowardly or miserable enough to let
    them get away with it. At that mom
    > ent, fascism will be the truth of man, and so much the worse for us"
    ("Existentialism is a Humanism") the "us" Sartre is referring to is not some
    universal image of mankind, but _us_ Westerners, we who have lived through
    the Enlightenment and WW II, who have seen the terrible things that fascism
    and totalitarianism can do.
    > Pirsig however does refer to something that is beyond our practices,
    something that will condemn us even if there is nobody else around but us.
    He calls it Quality and Dynamic Quality. Quality is reality for Pirsig.
    This is consistent between ZMM and Lila. In Lila, however, Pirsig develops
    two ways in which we access Quality: through static patterns of quality and
    through Dynamic Quality. Pirsig calls Dynamic Quality the "pre-intellectual
    cutting edge of reality." (p. 133, Ch. 9, Lila) For Pirsig, "Static quality
    ... emerges in the wake of Dynamic Quality." (ibid.) One way we can
    interpret this is that Dynamic Quality represents our intuition, our access
    to the nonrational, our access to Quality. It gives us our moral
    intuitions, which take the form of static quality patterns. Static quality
    patterns are what is left over and these are arguable. These represent our
    patterns of argument over the years that have accumulated, arguments for
    democracy and freedom. But
    > unlike Rorty who says that we can never reach outside of the cicle of
    these static patterns, Pirsig says that the argument begins and ends with
    Dynamic Quality.
    > To help see this interpretation, I think we should first stop and look at
    the way Pirsig literally writes these two things: static patterns of small
    "q" quality and Dynamic big "q" Quality. Quality as reality, for Pirsig, is
    always capitalized, just like Dynamic Quality. Static patterns, on the
    other hand, are never capitalized, the "Quality" that comes with them is
    never capitalized. I don't think this is just some German pretension. I
    suggest that we take this as a sign that Pirsig is suggesting that static
    patterns are not quite "Quality," not quite reality, but that Dynamic
    Quality does give us access to reality, to Quality.
    > My main analysis starts with, Pirsig's glasses analogy at the beginning of
    chapter eight in Lila. "The culture in which we live hands us a set of
    intellectual glasses to interpret experience with, and the concept of the
    primacy of subjects and objects is built right into these glasses. If
    someone sees things through a somewhat different set of glasses or, God help
    him, takes his glasses off, the natural tendency of those who still have
    their glasses on is to regard his statements as somewhat weird, if not
    actually crazy." (p. 112-3, Ch. 8, Lila) The "intellectual glasses" that we
    are given by our culture is our static patterns, they are our intuitions.
    The shift to another set of glasses represents the shift to another set of
    intuitions, another vocabulary. Pragmatists would agree to all of this.
    However, Pirsig continues and says that we can _take our glasses off_. This
    is Pirsig's split between mediated and unmediated experience, his idea that
    static patterns are a
    > veil and a distortion of our experience, of the true reality.
    > What Pirsig does is privelege unmediated experience. Pirsig says, "The
    purpose of mystic meditation is not to remove oneself from experience but to
    bring one's self closer to it by eliminating stale, confusing, static,
    intellectual attachments of the past." (p. 134, Ch.9, Lila) We must
    "eliminate" our static patterns so that we can become closer to unmediate
    experience. Our static patterns are "stale" and "confusing". Further,
    Pirsig says that "All life is a migration of static patterns of quality
    toward Dynamic Quality." (p. 160, Ch. 11, Lila) Life is a movement towards
    unmediated experience. The priveleging is solidified with "In general,
    given a choice of two courses to follow and all other things being equal,
    that choice which is more Dynamic, that is, at a higher level of evolution,
    is more moral." (p. 183, Ch. 13, Lila)
    > This isn't a minor interpretation of Pirsig that is hard to get a handle
    on. It is pervasive. Pirsig says, "Mystics will tell you that once you've
    opened the door to metaphysics you can say good-bye to any genuine
    understanding of reality. Thought is not a path to reality. It sets
    obstacles in that path because when you try to use thought to approach
    something that is prior to thought your thinking does not carry you toward
    that something. It carries you away from it. To define something is to
    subordinate it to a tangle of intellectual relationships. And when you do
    that you destroy real understanding." (p. 73, Ch. 5, Lila) Static patterns,
    thought itself, will never lead to a "genuine understanding of reality," "it
    carries you away from it", it "destory[s] real understanding." To think
    about something is to "subordinate" it, it is to make static patterns higher
    than Dynamic Quality and, all other things being equal, this is immoral.
    > Not only is this theme pervasive in Lila, the later, more metaphysical
    Pirsig, it has precedent in ZMM. Linking together Pirsig's cooptation of
    the rhetoric of science and Dynamic Quality as an intuition, a capacity for
    that which is beyond rational means, he says, "What guarantees the
    objectivity of the world in which we live is that this world is common to us
    with other thinking beings. Through the communications that we have with
    other men we receive from them ready-made harmonious reasonings. We know
    that these reasonings do not come from us and at the same time we recognize
    in them, because of their harmony, the work of reasonable beings like
    ourselves. And as these reasonings appear to fit the world of our
    sensations, we think we may infer that these reasonable beings have seen the
    same thing as we; thus it is that we know we haven't been dreaming. It is
    this harmony, this quality if you will, that is the sole basis for the only
    reality we can ever know." (p.273, Ch.
    > 22, ZMM)
    > This, in itself, seems to simply refer to a redescription of objectivity
    into intersubjectivity, which every pragmatist can rejoice in. However,
    Pirsig says that there is a "guarantee". Pirsig is saying that
    intersubjectivity, alone, is not enough, we need a guarantee for this
    intersubjectivity to be objectivity. Pirsig spins his words to make it look
    like intersubjectivity guarantees objectvity, but a close reading shows that
    this is not the case. Preceding this passage, we find that the guarantee is
    "... the sense of harmony of the cosmos, which makes us choose the facts
    most fitting to contribute to this harmony. It is not the facts but the
    relation of things that results in the universal harmony that is the sole
    objective reality." (p.273, Ch. 22, ZMM) [thanks to Paul for calling my
    attention to these passages] "The sense of harmony of the cosmos" is
    Dynamic Quality, intuition, and this sense "makes us choose the facts most
    fitting to contribute to this harmony." I
    > t _makes_ us, it _forces_ us, it _compels_ us. This is what forces the
    Nazi to play our game, a game in which the Nazi has no chance of winning.
    The force is our intuition of Dynamic Quality, a capacity that every person
    has, that every person has a moral obligation to follow. If the Nazi denies
    it, then we should feel righteous in saying that he is subordinating Dynamic
    Quality to immoral static patterns. The Nazi is immoral because he denies
    Dynamic Quality.
    > Pirsig's force comes from Dynamic Quality as bringing in something outside
    of static patterns; this in effect reconstitutes Kant's analytic/synthetic
    dichotomy and Mill's real/verbal dichotomy, the ones that Quine gets rid of.
    Rather than following the pragmatists and saying that our language never
    brings in or refers to something that is outside of itself, Pirsig becomes a
    Kantian by suggesting that some static patterns, like "All bachelors are
    single", are analytic, wholly internal to themselves, and that some static
    patterns, like "Nazis are immoral", are synthetic, they refer and are forced
    by something outside of the pattern. This allows, in argumentation, for
    Pirsig to not simply make verbal inferences, but real inferences, like the
    kind that would be made when answering the Nazi, when engaging in an
    argument where you can triumphantly and dialectically declare "You are
    > But the pragmatist gets rid of this distinction. He dissolves our ability
    to distinguish in any absolutely certain way the difference between analytic
    truths and synthetic truths, verbal inferences and real inferences. By
    doing this, the pragmatist is saying that our moral intuitions are inside of
    a vocabulary, too. That the distinction between Dynamic Quality and static
    quality, between unmediated and mediated experience, is inside of a
    vocabulary. Pirsig wants to say that our vocabulary is only our static
    patterns of quality (specifically our intellectual static patterns of
    quality) and that Dynamic Quality exists outside of our vocabularies.
    Dynamic Quality then becomes our trump card, that which forces people to use
    certain vocabularies rather than others. But the pragmatist simply becomes
    metaphilosophical and says that you are begging the question. By saying
    that something exists outside of a vocabulary, you are begging the question
    over the pragmatist who says
    > that nothing can, that nothing can force us to play a vocabulary. The
    pragmatist instead says that some vocabularies are better than others, but
    the choice in vocabularies is always a question begging experience.
    > People should notice that I've conveniently walked around in a circle for
    everybody: I've ended with Quine's dissolution of the analytic/synthetic
    dogma, which was one of my original premises. I didn't actually conclude
    with Quine's dissolution, but I could try by pointing out that "Dynamic
    Quality" exists as a static pattern, that we can't seperate any of those
    words from a vocabulary, from the Quality vocabulary. That any effort to
    point or refer or demonstrate the existence of something unmediated is
    doomed to mediation. But that's not my main point. My point isn't to argue
    for the pragmatist position, for Quine's dissolution of one of the dogma's
    of empiricism. The point is that Rorty is showing us the consequences of
    pragmatism. My effort is to show that Pirsig fails as a pragmatist part of
    the time, and succeeds some of the time. I am not arguing for pragmatism.
    I am showing the fruits of its labors. Its up to each individual
    interlocuter to decide whether or
    > not they will follow in my footsteps, in my interpretation, in my
    pragmatist vocabulary.
    > I've continually tried to point out Pirsig's ambivalence concerning these
    subjects, what I've called his pragmatist impulse and his Kantian or
    Platonic impulse. People have taken this to mean that I am debasing
    Pirsig's genius. But this isn't so, not in the least. I believe the grey
    space in Pirsig's writings is enormous, compounded by the fact that the
    volume of Pirsig's writing is very small. Rorty writes that "the works of
    anybody whose mind was complex enough to make his or her books worth reading
    will not have an 'essence,' that those books will admit of a fruitful
    diversity of interpretations, that the quest for 'an authentic reading' is
    pointless. One will assume that the author was as mixed up as the rest of
    us, and that our job is to pull out, from the tangle we find on the pages,
    some lines of thought that might turn out to be useful for our own
    purposes." ("Taking Philosophy Serious" quoted in Hall, 166) I think that,
    given in particular the kinds of books P
    > irsig wrote, books about a man who went "insane" and then came back to
    tell the tale, this is as true of Pirsig as it was for Heidegger.
    > Matt
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