MF Response to Glenn

From: Matt Kundert (
Date: Fri Oct 15 2004 - 19:01:59 BST

  • Next message: Glenn Bradford: "MF Response to Matt"

    I'm glad Glenn wrote in, 'cuz the discussion was getting kinda' drowsy. Its
    good to see someone (other than me) stir up the pot. And, typically
    functioning as what Glenn calls "an MOQ dissenter," its strange to find
    myself in a position to _defend_ Pirsig (well, sort of).

    Though, for our purposes, I don't see the point in spending much time on
    finding the "correct Cartesianism," I agree with Glenn that there are
    continuities between Pirsig and the Cartesian tradition, which is given good
    representation by Peirce, et al. Within Glenn's depiction, materialism
    doesn't come up because, I think, Peirce's enemy was more epistemological
    then anything else and, as I said before, I think Pirsig runs together some
    things. That being said, I don't see the point at all in saying that
    "Finding a useful, near-equivalent academic term for SOM is fruitless
    because SOM is a hodgepodge of ideas (idealism AND materialism, for example)
    without a philosophical compass that no one could completely agree with. SOM
    is not a metaphysics, it is a rhetorical device." The response good
    Pirsigians (in full pragmatist garb) would have is, "Well, of course its a
    rhetorical device. That's all conversations, descriptions, vocabularies,
    etc. are. Its analogues all the way down." SOM _is_ a hodgepodge of ideas,
    but so is every other "tradition" or "metaphysics" or "kind" of philosophy.
    When making connections between thinkers we use epithetical constellations
    like "Platonic," "Kantian," "foundationalist," etc. to pin piont where a
    thinker exists on the map, but rarely does any particular philosopher accept
    all the theses grouped under a mantle, particularly if there are a lot of
    them. The 12 ideas that Glenn cribbed off of Peirce, Lakoff, and Johnson to
    construct Cartesianism are _12_ and not _1_ exactly because they are in some

    way differentiable and so can be made to look haphazardly thrown together,
    i.e. a hodgepodge and lacking a "philosophical compass." However, we can
    also give historical reconstructions of how these ideas got put together and
    try and link them inferentially, but I think we can do the same for Pirsig's
    SOM. I agree that Pirsig's hodgepodge isn't as useful as, say, Peirce's,
    but I think it has a quite determinate philosophical compass. It may point
    us in the wrong direction from time to time, but I definitely think its

    All that being said, I agree with Glenn that a number of his desiderata for
    Cartesianism fit Pirsig, but I'm not sure about all of them (though, as it
    happens, a couple of them I think Pirsig might fit into, Glenn says "Nay").
    Most of the ones I'm unsure of aren't because I can think of conflicting
    passages, I just can't think of what in Pirsig would give an impression one
    way or the other on the issue. Its a scholastic question, one I'm very
    interested in as I explore the interstices of Pirsig's philosophy. I just
    want to know what Glenn's thinking of so I can get my bearings. I'll just
    list off the ones I have questions about:

    1. It teaches that philosophy must begin with universal doubt; whereas
    scholasticism had never questioned fundamentals. (Aye)

    I have a vague idea of why this impression might be given, but I'm not so
    sure it would be strong enough to call Pirsig specifically Cartesian. (In
    general, I have my doubts about the item being a useful pivot point to say
    yay or nay to. Nobody important before or after Descartes thought using
    "universal doubt" was a good idea as a method, so I'm pretty sure the above
    "universal doubt" is referring to something a little looser, but I'm not
    sure what it is.)

    3. The multiform argumentation of the middle ages is replaced by a single
    thread of inference depending often upon inconspicuous premisses. (Nay)

    Actually, I wonder why Pirsig doesn't fall under this rubric. Again, I'm
    not quite sure what the proposition is aiming for, but the I make sense of
    it is as foundationalism. Find the bottom and build up from there, which I
    would think is why Pirsig falls under it with his reduction to Quality, then
    DQ/SQ, then the fourfold SQ split, on and on.

    a. What makes human beings human, the only thing that makes them human and
    that defines their distinctive nature, is their capacity for rational
    thought. (Aye)

    I can see exactly why Glenn would answer this way, but I think Pirsig might
    try to argue that what makes humans human is their reaction to DQ (as when
    he says, "patterns can't by themselves perceive or adjust to Dynamic
    Quality. Only a living being can do that." Lila, p. 185).

    b. Thought is essentially disembodied, and all thought is conscious. (Aye,

    I think the first might be wrong and the second inconclusive. Pirsig's
    picture of a person is a stack of patterns built on top of each other,
    inorganic, biological, social, intellectual. In this way, I think he would
    argue that a thought is always embodied. On the second, if its a question
    about a conscious/unconscious distinction, I'm not sure that Pirsig would
    leave out an unconscious. Otherwise, I'm not sure what's at stake.

    e. Some of our ideas are innate and therefore exist in the mind at birth,
    prior to any experience. (Nay)

    I'm not completely positive that Pirsig eschews completely the idea of
    innate ideas. The conflict between the tabula rasa image given on 121 and
    137 of Lila ("the MoQ subscribes to empiricism..." and the baby passage
    respectively) and his use of Kant to get rid of Hume in ZMM leave me with a
    few nagging doubts that a simple Pirsig-has-changed-his-mind argument won't
    dispel without a fuller investigation.

    f. Other ideas are internal representations of an external reality. (Aye)

    I can't flat out agree with this because Pirsig never (that I can think of)
    speaks directly and explicitly to a representationalist picture of the mind.
      Pirsig really doesn't talk about the mind all that often. What is said is
    usually oblique and requires a major reconstruction to get him talking about
    the philosophy of mind. But, like I said, "that I can think of."

    h. Nothing about the body, neither imagination nor emotion nor perception
    nor any detail of the biological nature of the body, need be known in order
    to understand the nature of the mind. (Aye)

    Not sure about this. I just don't think Pirsig talks enough about the mind
    to make determinate answers easily. My instinct would be to say no just
    because of Pirsig's description of the petyote experience in Lila, where he
    makes mysticism biologistic. But again, I don't know.

    I would want to say three things about Pirsig and Cartersianism: 1) When
    Pirsig, on that rare occasion, talks about the mind, my impression is that
    it is usually in archaic, Cartesian terms. 2) However, he doesn't talk
    about how the mind works a lot so its difficult to get a bead on him (which
    leads to--). 3) I don't think he takes the "mind" all that seriously as a
    philosophical problem, unlike the Cartesians (which is good for my pragmatic
    aspirations for Pirsig). That's my impression, at least.


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