MF Introductory Remarks

From: Matt Kundert (
Date: Tue Oct 05 2004 - 20:59:01 BST

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    I think SOM can pretty easily and uncontroversially be identified with
    philosophy done in the Cartesian tradition. Iconoclastic philosophers have
    always been good at coming up with idiosyncratic names for the problems they
    see, and in this case Pirsig's doesn't even stray very far from traditional
    appellations. The separation between subject and object has been explicit
    at least since Kant, and Kant is typically seen as working out the
    consequences of the problematic handed down to us from Descartes.

    There's one scholastic problem, of course, with simply identifying SOM with
    Cartesianism and that's Pirsig's ZMM tracing of the problem to the Greeks.
    If you look into the historical studies on the subject, they'll usually tell
    you that there were some significant changes between the two time periods,
    typically something like the ascendancy of epistemology in Descartes. I
    think what can be said, though, is that there are a whole host of problems
    born of errant distinctions and that many of these distinctions orbit each
    other. If you start with any one of them in a particular orbit, you'll more
    than likely get weighed down with the others. It is certainly apparent to
    me that Pirsig shunts a whole host of distinctions under SOM's canopy and
    his narrative extending back to the Greeks simply helps show how Descartes
    and his problematic were still working in Greek shadows.

    Now, one thing I wish Pirsig would have done was distinguish more sharply
    between the various problems that were included in his SOM. I think his
    neglect to do so leads him to conflate materialism (an ontological thesis)
    with epistemology in a less than helpful way. I think this conflation is
    what leads him to say, fallaciously, that _any_ philosopher worth his salt
    forwarded seriously the thesis that values are not real. The materialism
    comes out when Pirsig identifies objects with the material realm and
    subjects with the apparitions in our minds. It is only combining this
    thesis, that the world is nothing but corpuscles bouncing in a void, with
    the episteomological distinction between objectivity and subjectivity that
    we get the absurd claim that rocks are real, but our desire for ice cream is
    not. I don't think any of the great Western philosophers have ever
    tendered such a suggestion. The two are obviously connected in important
    ways, but not in the way that Pirsig claims. Pirsig aims this charge at the
    logical positivists and I think this is why Galen Strawson, who should
    otherwise have at least picked up from his dad, P.F. Strawson, a thing or
    two about Kantian philosophy and the persuasiveness of a paradigm of
    thought, says that SOM is a strawman. The positivists claimed that values
    were cognitively meaningless, which leads to emotivism, not unreal and there
    is big difference.

    One thing that can be done in the way of breaking out of our sometimes
    self-enforced ghetto (which I think refers to Pirsig's remarks about how the
    academic community has ignored him, and he's returned the favour) is to
    simultaneously engage the history of philosophy and contemporary debates
    within philosophy. Because Pirsig doesn't engage in dialogue with any
    contemporaries, its difficult to simply set Pirsig into the fray. There
    needs to be some work done to have Pirsig say things in the idioms currently
    dominating fields like the philosophy of science, mind, language, moral
    philosophy, political philosophy, etc. I think the best way to engineer
    this conversation is to trace back the roots of Pirsig's problems and of the
    contemporaries because Pirsig _does_ explicitly engage the history of
    philosophy in some small fashion, and he's certainly not making up the other
    problems he doesn't contextualize in history. This way we can plausibly say
    that Pirsig has things to say about, e.g., the modernity/postmodernity
    debate when it isn't readily apparent, because of idiom differences, that he


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