RE: MF Discussion Topic for October 2004

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sat Oct 30 2004 - 22:14:53 BST

  • Next message: Valence: "MF CALL FOR TOPICS"

    Sam asked:
    Is 'subject-object metaphysics' just another word for Cartesianism? If not,
    is there another description of it that might be recognised by the academic

    "From the first google website enquiry on Cartesianism: "The central idea of
    Cartesianism is that the mind is separate from the body and that the mind
    can be better and more fully understood than the body. One's essential
    identity is one's mind and the interior processes of the mind have more
    reality than the physical processes of the body. It follows from this that
    what you think (subjectivity) is more important than anything outside you in
    the physical world (objectivity); from this would be developed the
    Enlightenment concept of the subject."

    Matt answered:
    .. I would want to take "modern philosophy" to mean the desire to do
    epistemology, the thought that the skeptic needs to be answered rather than
    bypassed. I would want to take "Cartesianism" in the wide sense to be
    synonymous with modern philosophy, or in a restricted sense to be some form
    of the thesis that certainty proceeds from the mind (this would extend
    "rationalism" to include Descartes to Kant to Chomsky). In these general
    terms, SOM in the wide, Greek-as-target sense is synonymous with modern
    philosophy, though I think its ambiguous as to whether Pirsig is modern or
    post-modern then (I think there is evidence for both). On the other hand,
    SOM in its more restricted, logical-positivist-as-target sense is not
    synonymous with the specific sense of Cartesianism because the logical
    positivist (and therefore SOM) is already post-Cartesian (though I wouldn't
    be surprised if there remained a few Cartesian remenants in Pirsig).

    Rick Valence said:
    I agree with Matt that the jury is still out on whether Pirsig is modern or
    post-modern and I think that alternative interpretations of SOM must arise
    depending on which category one places Pirsig in. If Pirsig is seen as
    post-modern, then SOM is easily identified with the tradition(s) of
    Modernism (and with Cartesianism to the extent that that term is synonymous
    with Modernism). But if Pirsig himself is a part of the Modern tradition,
    then SOM must be restricted, in one way or another, to some subset of the
    modern tradition (possibly this one that "proceeds from the mind" as Matt

    dmb says:
    I don't mean to equivocate when I say that Pirsig is Modern AND Postmodern,
    its that I think it must be so for any postmodern view. In fact, Pirsig's
    inclusion of the perennial philosophy means that he has also included the
    wisdom of the PREmodern social level too. And of course this is only
    consistent with the MOQ's overall structure, where each level depends on the
    previous one. In other words, its only right and proper that certain
    elements of the previous worldviews, its wisdom and accomplishments, will be
    retained even as we are also working hard to jettison the obsolete and
    negative aspects of those same worldviews. Perhaps you recall the Ken Wilber
    quote pointing out that "'s 'modern world' actually consist of
    several different currents, some of which are 'modern' in the specific sense
    (those events set into motion with the Western Enlightenment, as listed
    above), others of which are carry-overs from the premoden world (in
    particular, remnants of mythic religion and, more rarely, remnanats of
    tribal magic), and still others of which are postmodern. In short, today's
    'modern world' actually consist of various premodern, modern, and postmoden
    currents." The wisdom of the social level is retained in the perennial
    philosophy and we also see a broader version of this respect in Pirsi'g
    advice to re-examine social values. We can see the best of Modernity in the
    MOQ's defense of rights, democracy, and other fruits of intellect. But we
    also see his Postmodernism in his attack on SOM, on the "single truth"
    theory of scientific objectivity, in his emphasis on interpretation,
    provisionality, and the intellect's dependence on language.

    "No epoch is without its geniuses, its wisdom, its enduring truths,
    Moreover, to ignore past truths seems to be the very definition of
    pathology. Therefore, an integral approach - a sane approach - would surely
    attempt to honor, acknowledge, and incorporate these enduring truths in the
    ongoing sweep of consciousness evolution. ...From the modern heritage, we
    have learned of the need to recognize and honor art, morals, and science and
    let each pursue its own truths without violence from the others (a respect
    that contributed to the rise of the modern democracies, feminism, ecology,
    and the postconventional ideals of libery, freedom and equality). And we
    have mentioned the 'bright promise' of constructive postmodernity, which
    involved the integration of the best of premodenty (the Great Nest) and
    modernity (the differentiation and evolution of the Big Three) resulting in
    a more integral approach."

    Rick said:
    Philosophical conversations are typically framed as arguments and the use of
    rhetorical devices is certainly nothing new in argumentation. Pirsig's SOM
    is virtually indistinguishable from the Sophist interlocutors of Plato's
    Socratic dialogues. Plato's Sophists were caricatures of contemporary
    figures making arguments tailored to allow Plato to exhibit his
    philosophical ideas (by proxy, through the character of Socrates). SOM is
    the interlocutor who supplies the answer Pirsig needs to steer the
    conversation towards the issues he wants to talk about (through the
    character of Phaedrus).

    dmb says:
    I think that idea really works, most especially as a literary observation.
    Like Plato, Pirsig is up against almost everybody else, up against a whole
    cultural background. They're both misfits and all that. But more
    specifically, I think that SOM serves to pinpoint the flaws that Pirsig
    sees, its his way a characterizing what he sees as a "genetic defect" in our
    scientific worldview. I think lots of thinkers have been critical of this
    view in their own particular way and there are various schools and trends,
    but they all join Pirsig in same finding fault. The various names depend
    only on which aspect of the problem is being emphasized. I mean, I think
    academia would recognize the concept of SOM, if not the phrase itself. Maybe
    this is TOO obvious, but postmodernity is nothing if its not a criticism of
    modernity. And it seems that in the broadest sense means acknowledging that
    interpretation is an inherent feature of our reality. This is what Pirsig
    does when he rejects the single truth and puts value first, when he rejects
    scientific objectivity in favor of many truths, when he puts biography at
    the center of history and such. I think it only makes sense that he would
    characterize "the representational paradigm" in terms of "subjects" and
    "objects", but I think there are other good reasons for depicting his enemy
    this way. Dualism is his enemy as a mystic, not just as a philosopher. Its
    not just about dissolving the mind/body problem. For Pirsig, the whole thing
    begins and ends with mysticism. And one of the reasons I like the idea of
    SOM as Pirsig's sophists, is because one of the things that motivates both
    of them is the (degenerate)desire to assert some ideas about "the One". I
    mean, one of the major-league limitations of scientific objectivity is its
    inability to deal with the interior dimensions. The gulf between subject and
    object created an impossible disconnection from reality, a kind of
    ontological lonlinessm, and rendered the world meaningless, hollow and
    empty. Not that this is the only problem with, but Pirsig's characterization
    basically locates the heart of what needs a fixin'.

    From ZAMM, Chapter 10:
    "The cause of our current social crises, he would have said, is a genetic
    defect within the nature of reason itself. And until this genetic defect is
    cleared, the crises will continue. Our current modes of rationality are not
    moving society forward into a better world. They are taking it further and
    further from that better world. Since the Renaissance these modes have
    worked. As long as the need for food, clothing and shelter is dominant they
    will continue to work. But now that for huge masses of people these needs no
    longer overwhelm everything else, the whole structure of reason, handed down
    to us from ancient times, is no longer adequate. It begins to be seen for
    what it really is... emotionally hollow, esthetically meaningless and
    spiritually empty. That, today, is where it is at, and will continue to be
    at for a long time to come."

    Rick said:
    .................................I don't believe anyone was ever meant to
    agree with the Sophists who appeared in the dialogues, and I don't think
    anyone was ever meant to agree with SOM. On the contrary, I think people
    were meant to disagree with them. Painting clear and flattering pictures of
    all of the particular philosophies and philosophers grouped under the banner
    of SOM is no more Pirsig's task than painting clear and flattering pictures
    of the Sophists was Plato's. ....But to answer Sam's actual question about
    whether there is a description of SOM that might be recognized by the
    academic community I would think that Glenn is still right in saying that
    there probably isn't. Pirsig's thoughts on the SOM are often hard to
    separate from his criticisms of professional academia. He sees SOM as being
    deeply ingrained into the academic community and so I'm inclined to think
    that we're no more likely to get academia to accept the hodgepodge that is
    SOM (under any name) than we are to get Gorgias to accept Plato's hodgepodge
    of the Sophists.

    dmb says:
    Deeply ingrained. Right. That's what I meant when I started out saying that
    both Plato and Pirsig were misfits going up against a whole culture. And I
    suppose its true that very few of their targets would agree with such a
    characterization nor admit to holding such views. But I think both of them
    were trying to get people to see one of those things that's so omnipresent
    that its invisible. You don't notice it because it is everywhere and no one
    has ever seen the world without it. Most of the ideas that we'd group into
    postmodernism, in fact, only continue and extend the problems that Pirsig
    emphasizes most. The meaninglessness and spiritual emptiness of SOM is only
    magnified by the more extreme versions. It takes the valuable insight that
    interpretation is part and parcel of reality and turns the volume up to the
    points where there is nothing BUT interpretation. Science and religion are
    made equal by the assertion that they're both arbitrary, or they're both
    power grabs, or that they're both useful. It makes them equal by shooting
    them both in the head. Pirsig's assertion that there are "many truths" does
    not go so far as to say all truths are equal. He does eject the standards of
    empirical evidence when he ejects objectivity, just as he does not eject the
    wisdom and mysticism of the world's great religions when he ejects the
    clap-trap and low-grade yelping about god. Instead, we see this attempt to
    salvage what's still good about obsolete forms and turn it all into
    something newere and better. That's what Plato was up to as well. He was
    trying seperate Socrates, the good sophists, from the ones who didn't really
    know what they were talking about. He was trying to cut through a forest of
    isms to find some unity behind it all. And I suppose Pirsig differs from
    most other postmodern thinkers because of this profoundly different starting
    point. His formulation of modern philosophy in terms of subjects and objects
    not only give his a sufficiently broad target, it also allows him to include
    mysticism as a valid empirical experience. He's trying to nail down the
    "One", just like Plato.

    "Plato is the eternal Buddha-seeker who appears again and again in each
    generaton, moving onward and upward toward the 'one'. ...Phaedrus was
    clearly a Platonist by temperment and when the classes shifted to Plato he
    was greatly relieved. His Quality and Plato's good were so similar that if
    it hadn't been for some notes Phaedrus left I might have thought they were
    identical." ZAMM p.331-2

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