MD The Individual Level

From: Platt Holden (
Date: Tue Apr 13 2004 - 17:35:13 BST

  • Next message: Matt poot: "RE: MD The Individual Level"

    Hi Sam, Wim, All:

    Although I didn't understand most of the exchange between Sam and Mark, it
    prompted me to take another look at Sam's essay entitled 'The Eudaimonic
    MOQ' in the Forum. There I discovered (having forgotten it) Sam's
    recasting of the Intellectual Level based on the distinction between the
    individual and society. He wrote:

    "To my way of thinking, the essence of the fourth level is the existence
    of an autonomous individual: autonomous because the individual is (for the
    first time) capable of establishing their own laws by which to act (auto
    nomos). Such an individual has freedom of choice and is thereby open to
    dynamic innovation; such an individual is able to develop that freedom
    through the development and application of the virtues: it is the wise
    person that is most free and in touch with Quality, not the intellectual.

    "Breaking away from the social level

    "Clearly the way to understand a fourth level, existing above the social
    level, is through describing the values which override social values.
    Thus, whatever the fourth level is, it must be something which emerges
    from the social level, but which cannot be captured through a description
    of the social level. More precisely, given that we are describing human
    activity, it must describe the way in which a particular human being
    rejects social values, in favour of a higher value. Put at its most
    simple, the fourth level occurs when a particular human being is able to
    say "My society says that this is good, but is my society right to say
    so?" - in other words, there is a questioning of social values. We are
    fortunate that there are some historical accounts of this process, and
    this history is one of the main strengths of my proposed revision.

    "The capacity to break out from social conditioning, ie to question social
    values, depends upon the ability to distinguish oneself as an individual
    apart from the various social roles that are played. In After Virtue,
    Alasdair MacIntyre discusses Homeric virtue (the arete that Pirsig also
    discusses in ZMM) and he argues that "morality and social structure are in
    fact one and the same in heroic society. There is only one set of social
    bonds. Morality as something distinct does not yet exist. Evaluative
    questions are questions of social fact. It is for this reason that Homer
    speaks always of knowledge of what to do and how to judge." It is only
    when there is some sense of self as something apart from those social
    roles (eg husband or wife, child or parent, noble or slave) that there is
    the possibility of judgement about what is right - in MoQ terms, that
    openness to DQ depends upon a degree of detachment from the social role.

    "Just as the cell is the unit at the biological level, and the social
    roles represent the unit at the social level (eg father, husband, son,
    farmer, politician, scientist), the unit of the fourth level is not a
    disembodied rational intellect, but an autonomous - ie socially detached -
    individual. And that autonomy is not dependent primarily upon reason, but
    upon emotional maturity. MacIntyre describes the transition (from human
    being as social unit, to human being as individual) as being the change
    from the story of the tribe or nation, to being the story of the
    individual. What is crucially at issue is a transition from being a
    vehicle or unit of that social order - and therefore whose decisions are
    wholly determined by that order - to being an autonomous unit of decision
    making, "For freedom of choice of values would, from the standpoint of a
    tradition ultimately rooted in heroic societies, appear more like the
    freedom of ghosts - of those whose human substance approached vanishing
    point - than that of men". Sometime around Homer and Isaiah, but best
    exemplified in the culture of fifth century Athens (where Socrates appears
    at the tail end), human beings gained the capacity to operate as
    individuals, and not as social units. Whenever a human being is in a
    decision making situation pre-5th century, then their decisions are geared
    around an application of biological and social level elements, eg instinct
    (run away from lions and tigers) or (eg)retribution (maintain status of
    clan or tribe). For various reasons, largely contact with other
    civilisations and greater affluence, human beings in Classical Greece
    became able to consider themselves separately from their social role;
    moreover, they began to dscriminate and judge between the claims of
    alternative societies. The key is that whereas before your identity was
    exhaustively defined by your social role, and your place in the story of
    that society, and your decisions were determined by the values of that
    society, now your identity is able to maintain its own narrative
    structure, your place is determined by the quality of your own actions,
    and your decisions are determined by your own values."

    To me all this makes sense except for a quibble about 'emotional maturity'
    which I find more in the realm of pop psychology than good science. I
    agree with Pirsig that emotions are expressions of biological level values
    with one exception--the uniquely human response to beauty i.e. DQ. My
    other quibble, previously expressed, was with the word 'eudaimonic'
    because I instinctively shy away from elitist-sounding balloon words.

    But that aside, I agree with Sam that the MOQ would be improved if we
    changed the term 'Intellectual Level' to a term that more accurately
    reflects its difference from the social level. As I wrote to Wim in a post
    of 4/4: "I think Pirsig's 'war' between the social and the intellectual
    levels is less between conservatives and liberals than between the state
    (the collective or group) and the individual."

    So my vote for the more accurate term to replace Pirsig's Intellectual
    Level is the 'Individual Level.' As Sam suggests, the level arose in
    ancient Greece when someone, responding to DQ, arose from the crowd to
    proclaim "It is I, not we." At that moment, the world turned.

    What do you think?




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