RE: MD When is a metaphysics not a metaphysics?

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sun Feb 29 2004 - 21:53:41 GMT

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    Matt and all MOQers:

    Matt K wrote:
    For the pragmatist, there is no difference between vocabulary and mindset.
    When you make a distinction between the two, the spectare of the
    correspondence theory of truth arises. AND LATER
    ...In terms of expression, it would be like trying to find a pair of clear
    lenses, a search for the kind of clarity in which your words don't get in
    the way of what you are trying to say. For Wittgensteinians, "clear words"
    wouldn't express anything, they would be completely empty. It is only
    because they are opaque that they can mean anything. Language isn't a
    gateway into what we are thinking, in which the clearer the gateway, the
    better in which another person can rub elbows with our thoughts. Our
    thoughts are our language (this is what is meant by the "linguistic turn")
    and what you are rubbing up against is the language we use.

    dmb replies:
    As I understand it, Pirsig does not go as far as "the pragmatist" in
    equating vocabulary with mindset. Pirsig goes along with Wittgenstein in
    holding that language precedes thought. We see this idea in Pirsig's
    correction of a certain famous frog. "If Descartes had said, 'The 17th
    century French culture exists, therefore I think, therefore I am', he would
    have been correct." (CH 24) We see this idea expressed in Pirsig's
    distinction between the 3rd and 4th levels. We see this, by analogy, in his
    description of the role of ritual in our beliefs. "That is, we don't perform
    rituals because we believe in God. We believe in God because we perform
    religious rituals." (end of CH 30) And so it is with language. We don't
    speak because we have thoughts, we have thoughts because we speak. Pirsig
    subscribes to this idea too (the linguistic turn), but it would be difficult
    to overestimate the difference Pirsig's level's make on the issue of
    language. Without the distinction between social and intellectual levels,
    "the pragmatist" (Matt and Rorty) can equate language and mindset, but
    Pirsig cannot. Where the vocabulists would describe the distinction between
    religious conservatives and secular liberals as a difference in
    vocabularies, Pirsig would describe it as an evolutionary conflict between
    social and intellectual values, putting a great distance between Rorty and

    Matt K wrote:
    This is why I think Pirsig's lens analogy is misleading in Lila. Pirsig
    says that our static patterns, our personal histories, are like differently
    colored lens with which we perceive the world. ..We all agree with Clifford
    Geertz that we use lenses of our own grinding. However, its when Pirsig
    goes on to suggest that we can _discard_ the lenses entirely, that the
    pragmatist wishes he hadn't pressed the analogy too hard. The suggestion is
    that we can get rid of our static patterns, that we can shed our personal

    dmb replies:
    Here we have a slightly different problem. This time your misunderstanding
    of Pirsig is NOT caused by the failure to make the social/intellectual
    distinction, but the static/Dynamic distinction. (Have you ever read LILA?)
    Pirsig asserts that anyone who believes he can escape from the mythos does
    not understand what the mythos is. He fully accepts that language shapes and
    forms our consciousness rather than reflecting it, but when he talks about
    discarding the lenses entirely, he's not taking it all back. He's talking
    about the mystical experience. He's talking about a shift in consciousness
    that mystics all over the globe have talked about for ages. He's not talking
    about perfect clarity to see the foundation. That you interpret it that way
    only reveals your own athiest and physicalist bias. Don't forget that Pirsig
    is neither of these. He's approximately the opposite. He's an
    anti-materialist mystic. I believe this is at the root of a whole series of
    misinterpretations and this is just one more example.

    "Some of the most honored philsophers in history have been mystics:
    Plotinus, Swedenborg, Loyola, Shankaracharya and many others. They share a
    common belief that the fundamental nature of reality is outside language;
    that language splits things up into parts while the true nature of reality
    is undivided. Zen, which is a mystic religion, argues that the illusion of
    dividedness can be overcome by meditation. The Native American Church argues
    that peyote can force-feed a mystic understanding upon those who were
    normally resistant to it,.." LILA (ch 5)

    Matt K wrote:
    Like I said in the last post, the idea of Western politics is that we only
    set practical boundaries to political conversation. Philosophy is
    moreorless excluded because over the course of history it has become more
    and more out of touch with social problems (roughly paralleling the
    increasing professionalization of philosophy). So when I say philosophy is
    impractical as an instrument of social change, it is because most people are
    unfamiliar with the distinctive conversation that is philosophy.

    dmb replies:
    Well, there political philosophy and a whole range of disciplines that
    address social problems. Philosophy isn't excluded from the debate so much
    as there are a great deal of other disciplines in the conversation. This is
    the age of specialization, that's all. There are "out-of-touch"
    conversations going on in philosophy simply because the various fields of
    inquiry have narrowed even as they grew in number. Sociology, political
    science, history, psychology, urban planning, democraphics, international
    relations, and a zillion other ologies have taken over turf that once
    belonged to philosophy. Even physics once belonged to philosophy. I don't
    think we can rightly read this historical development as some kind of
    extinction or social irrelevance for philosophy.
    In fact, I think Pirsig and Wilber, unlike Rorty, both offer some extremely
    useful insights into the nature of our political conflicts. Not to mention
    the Enlightenment thinkers, who shaped the world we live in. You ingrate!

    Ken Wilber says:
    "h no! You cannot even begin to make sense of the human condition without
    looking deeply into philosophical issues. Even those who totally reject the
    importance or the validity of philosophy -- they give philosophical reasons
    for the rejection! In other words, whether you like it or not, to be human
    is to be a philosopher, and your only choice is whether to be a good one or
    a bad one.

    And so, once you decide that you want to try to be a good philosopher, then
    this tends to happen: if, as a philosopher, you ever allow yourself to
    decide that you have some actual conclusions -- about the nature of reality,

    the nature of human beings, of spirit, of the good and the true and the
    beautiful -- than you very quickly realize that it is absolutely mandatory
    to try to make society a place in which the greatest number of people are
    free to pursue the good and the true and the beautiful. That becomes a
    burning categorical imperative, and it eats into your soul with its
    unrelenting moral demand.

    As Foucault pointed out, one of the many great things about Kant is that he
    was the first modern philosopher to ask the crucial question, What does it
    mean for a society to be enlightened (in Kant's essay, "What is
    Enlightenment?")? In other words, not just "enlightenment" for you or me,
    but for society at large! Or Karl Marx: philosophers in the past have merely

    tried to understand reality, whereas the real task is to change it. To be
    socially committed!And so, as a modern philosopher, you are suddenly in the
    broad field of political theory. You realize that Bodhisattvas are going to
    have to become politicians, as weird as that might initially sound."

    Matt K wrote:
    For Western political thinkers like myself, however, we think these
    suggestions and lamentations are fruitless nostalgia. We think them
    fruitless, not necessarily because the situation couldn't be reversed, but
    because we think the gains of our current situation outweigh the losses. We
    think the freedom to choose whether you do philosophy or not outweighs the
    benefits of everyone having Plato's Republic memorized. We don't think
    philosophy itself is useless or fruitless, we simply think it sits alongside
    with all the other tools we use for social change. Philosophy is a good
    handmaiden to politics, but a poor master.

    dmb says:
    "Western political thinkers like myself"? Congratulations, sir. I believe no
    one has ever achieved this level of arrogance in the forum before. And thank
    you. You have hereby officially taken Struan's place as the guy who makes me
    look humble by comparison. I'm forever in your debt. But seriously,...
    Pirsig doesn't go so far as to say that Philosophy should be the master of
    politics, but he comes close. Again Pirsig differs because of the MOQ's
    distinction between the social and intellectual levels. He says the conflict
    between social and intellectual values is an earthquake in values, a period
    of evolutionary transformation, a hurricane of political forces and "that
    hurricane is the history of the 20th century". And so instead of describing
    the matter as a problem of incompitable vocabularies, Pirsig is saying that
    two completely different levels of reality are in conflict in the world and
    that we have a moral responsibility to be on the correct side in that
    conflict. This moral compass is designed to replace the "paralyzing
    confusion..that dominates all thoughts about morality and society today",
    (CH 24) which is represented so well by "the pragmatist".

    "Now it should be stated at this point that the MOQ SUPPORTS this dominance
    of intellect over society. It says intellect is a higher level of evolution
    than society; therefore, it is a more moral level than society." (CH 22)

    I owe you a bottle of eye drops, dear reader. Thanks.

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