Re: MF Response to Glenn

From: Matt Kundert (
Date: Fri Oct 22 2004 - 18:39:12 BST

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    Overall, I accept all of your counterpoints. The water is very muddy. I
    consider most of the mud being stirred up to be a consequence of two
    competing traditions of philosophy in Pirsig, but others disagree on this
    point. The only point I would still insist on, though there isn't room here
    for an analysis (nor do I have one fully formed yet to offer), is the last
    one about mysticism and biology. I'm not sure biology would be the end of
    mysticism (see, for instance, John Beasley's essay, "Quality and
    Intelligence," where he takes _Pirsig_ to task for not rooting mysticism in
    biology), but I will say that its not entirely clear to me that Pirsig
    _isn't_ saying there is an important connection between mysticism and our
    physiology. I don't know. I see the peyote chapter, I see his comment
    about the neurologist (which, notice, is a reversal of his previous
    thoughts), the Dharmakaya light (thanks to Rick for that reminder). It
    starts to pile after a while. I'm hoping to look into the matter more fully
    at some point.

    This is the only thing I had a remark on.

    Glenn said:
    It's fair to say that almost no philosopher expressed as much doubt as
    Descartes, but I find the same vein in Pirsig because he warms to the Greek
    Sophists who were themselves often aligned with Philosophical Skepticism.
    Pirsig agrees with Protagoras' "man is the measure of all things" and he
    shares Gorgias' belief that all knowledge originates from sense experience,
    both of which suggest that people set the standard for truth and value and
    that this will vary from person to person. He's into 'scientific erasors'
    and 'many truths' and all of this presupposes a constant doubting and
    re-evaluating posture.

    I see what you mean now. In that case, I don't think what you described was
    Cartesian skepticism. I think the difference was that Cartesian skepticism
    is of a particularly methodical kind, whereas the "skepticism" that ranges
    from the Sophists to contemporary pragmatists is more like an attitude.
    Descartes used doubt as a method with which to build his philosophical
    edifice. He never actually doubted that some things are absolutely,
    universally certain, like belief in God (I'll grant that this biographical
    point is debateable, but its tangential to my main point). The Sophistic
    skepticism that you described, however, is doubt about the entire idea of
    there being a need for a philosophical edifice. Its the doubt that we need
    anything to be absolutely certain, all we need is regular ole' probablistic

    I dislike using "skepticism" to denote the tradition that begins with the
    Sophists, but a lot of people do use it, so I understand the tendency. To
    clarify the varied uses of skepticism, I would differentiate at least three.
      Cartesian skepticism is a method used to find a foundation. As I said
    before, I don't think anybody has been a Cartesian skeptic except Descartes.
      The reason Descartes is important to understanding philosophy is not
    because of the methods he used or the answers he gave, but because of the
    problematic he considered important. This problematic is what formed modern
    philosophy as an epoch, but in a lot of important ways it was a continuation
    of Greek philosophy. The modern epoch's problematic was defined in part by
    its opposition to the second kind of skepticism, which I shall simply call
    philosophical skepticism. The philosophical skeptic is one of the
    degenerate boogeymen that modern philosophers use to scare people into
    thinking that Descartes' problematic is a living one. The philosophical
    skeptic is the guy that keeps asking you, "How do you know?," everytime you
    say you know something. He's the guy that drives philosophers into writing
    huge books about why its okay to use the word "know," i.e. he wants us to
    provide a foundation for our knowledge. Besides Cartersian skepticism and
    philosophical skepticism is skepticism about philosophy, specifically modern
    philosophy. This last kind is what I would call the Sophistic tradition.
    They get called philosophical skeptics, but really they only feign the role
    to annoy the foundationalists and show them how silly the whole problem is.
    The point of these skeptics is that the problem is bad, because as long you
    consider the problem good, you can never shut up the philosophical skeptic.
    He'll keep asking, "How do you know? How? How? How? How?" until somebody
    punches him. His questions will always seem pressing, instead of silly.
    Under these conditions, I wouldn't consider Pirsig a Cartesian skeptic, but
    as you say, Glenn, there is considerable reason to think him a Sophistic,
    skeptic-about-modern-philosophy. However, as the second part of my paper
    "Philosophologology" attempted to illustrate, there is reason to suspect
    that Pirsig may still be infected by the modern, Cartesian problematic, and
    so still consider the philosophical skeptic to be a deadly enemy.


    p.s. Just in case anybody thought I was accusing Glenn of plagarizing with
    my "cribbing" comment, I wasn't. It was just my colorful way of pointing to
    the origins of the Cartesianism that Glenn presented. Since legal citation
    is really nothing more than plagarism with a name attached, I thought I'd be
    a little splashy. When you think about it, what we call knowledge is little
    more than ideas cribbed off of dead people learned from places we've
    forgotten. I certainly didn't mean any disrespect towards Glenn and I
    apologize to Glenn and anyone who thought so.

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