From: David Buchanan (DBuchanan@ClassicalRadio.org)
Date: Sun Dec 07 2003 - 01:02:35 GMT
Dear focus group:
Sam's thesis for discussion: "Pirsig's conception of the intellect, as
expressed most recently in his letter to Paul Turner of 27 September 2003,
is incoherent and unsustainable."
My contention is that the understanding of intellect offered by RMP *cannot*
work in the way that is required for an adequate description of the fourth
level. The key element in my argument here is that 'intellect' as such has
no independent power of decision making ... it comes from an interaction
with our emotions and personal history, as embodied in the various
physionomic responses and interactions between viscera and brain - and
cannot act as the 'choosing unit' within the fourth level.
Machine language interface? Choosing unit? I'm not sure I understand what
that's all about or why such things are required for Pirsig's concept of
intellect to be coherent. But it might help to simply point out that Pirsig
never asserts that intellect is independent from the rest of our humanity.
As he puts it, we are "a complex forest of static patterns" from all of the
levels. I'm pretty sure he'd freely admit that each of the levels plays a
role in our decision making. His expanded brand of empiricism asserts that
our knowledge begins with the biological senses. In chapter 30 he says that
the MOQ asserts "that intellectual static patterns of quality are built up
out of social static patterns." And in chapter 24 of Lila he explains that
the social level also plays a role in the intellectual level.
"Our scientific description of nature is always culturally derived. Nature
tells us only what our culture predisposes us to hear. The selection of
which inorganic patterns to observe and which to ignore is made on the basis
of social patterns of value, or when it is not, on the basis of biological
patterns of value."
There are many quotes along these lines. I don't know that we'll find him
using the specific terms "emotion" or "viscera", but it seems quite clear to
me that the biological and social levels are where we'd locate such things.
He insists that the levels are discrete, but not independent. He describes
it several times in terms of a parent and child relationship, a
matter-of-fact evolutionary relationship. The intellect rests upon and
depends upon the lower levels for its very existence. "Just exactly HOW
independent IS science, in FACT, from society?" The MOQ's answer is, "Not at
In other words, I think your premise is mistaken and it is this mistake that
has lead you to a false conclusion; that Pirsig's concept is incoherent.
When making this argument, and discussing it in the MD list, several
commentators said that the definition of intellect that I was crediting to
RMP was not in fact his intended use. That is, RMP was employing a 'broad'
understanding of intellect, ie it was anything 'thought', and that it
therefore included the emotions etc which are necessary for 'intellect' to
be able to decide anything, and therefore function as a 'choosing unit'.
However, that line of defence is not compatible with RMP's most recent
comment that "the greatest meaning can be given to the intellectual level if
it is confined to the skilled manipulation of abstract symbols that have no
corresponding particular experience and which behave according to rules of
Right. Pirsig's comment dispells the notion that intellect is any kind of
thought, including emotions and such. But using that notion to try to defeat
your argument is just a battle of misinterpretations. I'd like to suggest
that since the task here is to determine the coherence of Pirsig's concept
we'd do well to focus on the things Pirsig has actually said about
intellect. I mean, I hope we're going to discuss Pirsig's metaphysics, and
nobody else's, in this forum.
To my mind RMP has given no account of WHAT is doing that skilled
manipulation; and the intellect, as commonly understood and described by
RMP, CANNOT perform that skilled manipulation.
I don't understand. If Pirsig DEFINES intellect as "the skilled manipulation
of abstract symbols", how is it possible to assert that intellect "cannot
perform that skilled manipulation"?
Thanks for your time.
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