MF Diplomatic Relations

From: Matt Kundert (
Date: Thu Oct 28 2004 - 18:16:01 BST

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    In the focus question for this month and in his first contribution, Sam
    forwarded as his motive the goal of linking Pirsig's philosophy up with
    others, something Pirsig has expressed little use for (I've gone some way to
    respond to Pirsig's sour attitude towards academia, symbolized best by his
    neologism "philosophology," in my recent Forum paper "Philosophologology").
    We've all, to a certain extent, extended invitations to other philosophers
    and the process is pretty idiosyncratic, all depending on who we've read and
    what kind of philosopher we think of ourselves. So, I thought I'd simply
    suggest a few philosophers I had ideas of colligating Pirsig next to at one
    time or another, besides the obvious few suggested by Pirsig (James, the
    Sophists, Poincare, Northrop, etc).

    Kuhn -- In the philosophy of science, Kuhn has had a dramatic effect on how
    philosophers think, pushing us several steps closer to a historicist view.
    To my mind, Pirsig reflects much of this historicism in ZMM and in the
    philosophy of science, I think this would be the first place to start a
    conversation (also Mary Hesse with her work on the grouding of science in

    Nietzsche -- Often pinpointed as the father of post-modern philosophy,
    Nietzsche and Pirsig show many similarities. Four things that might be
    interesting to explore are their claims to the effect that its "rhetoric all
    the way down," their use and abuse of the Greeks (and how both, in a certain
    light, fail to overcome them), their poor relations with professional
    philosophers (Nietzsche wasn't considered a philosopher until Heidegger
    devoted four volumes of lectures to him), and their experiences of insanity.

    Freud -- Since we've all become commonsensically Freudian, I think a useful
    comparison might be between the way Pirsig treats the pysche (particularly
    in Lila with his "philosophy of insanity") and the guy who changed the way
    we think about the mind.

    Foucault -- There are two interesting potential connections. On the
    cultural level, Foucault's treatment of psychology and its institutions in
    Madness and Civilization (which, so I'm told, had a revolutionizing effect
    on European mental institutions) and Pirsig's in specifically ZMM (because
    the two books are from close the same time period) and also in Lila. On a
    more philosophical level, the curious connection between Foucault's
    treatment of power and Pirsig's treatment of value. What I'm thinking of is
    how both men ubiquitize their key term, enmeshing everyone into webs of
    power/value, yet the key terms are mirror images of each other. "Quality"
    is a term that carries positive connotations and Pirsig always speaks of our
    relation to it as being very personal. "Power," on the other hand, carries
    tremendous negative connotations and Foucault talks of it as being the
    relation between struggling participants. (I only thought of this
    comparison between Foucault and Pirsig the other day, and I find it very
    intriguing. I think the differences between the two could probably be
    summed up nicely as being the difference between Foucault being French and
    Pirsig American and how those backgrounds infect and change essentially the
    same insight.)

    Spinoza -- It would interesting to explore the connections between these
    two's monisms, particularly as I don't think Pirsig quite escapes the
    rationalism that is part and parcel of Spinoza's philosophy.

    Dewey -- The one thing I've been struck is how close Pirsig and Dewey seem
    philosophically, particularly between Dewey's Experience and Nature and
    Pirsig's Lila.

    Heidegger -- David's favorite, he's already drawn much attention to the
    favorable connections between the two. I would only highlight the
    comparison of Heidegger and Pirsig's use of "care," Heidegger's "Being" and
    Pirsig's "Quality," and their diagnostics of technology and the mind-set
    that goes along with it.

    Wittgenstein -- Sam's favorite, like David he's done much in paving the way.
      I think the most interesting thing to me is how (like Heidegger) they seem
    to be going in two different directions in their lifecycles, Wittgenstein
    becoming more historicist the older he gets and Pirsig the opposite.


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