Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2005 - individual worth

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Thu May 12 2005 - 20:51:18 BST

  • Next message: Mark Maxwell: "RE: MF Discussion Topic for May 2005 - individual worth"

    Hi all,

    More in response to Sam's long post.

    Sam now sets up a distinction between the ZMM Narrator and the character of
    Phaedrus in LILA, saying that the Narrator is more pragmatic in not chasing
    the metaphysics, while Phaedrus in LILA pursues the metaphysics with
    sometimes reckless abandon.

    I agree that this difference exists between the two characters, but I don't
    see the point in making the distinction. The literary and philosophical
    goals of the two books are very different, with ZMM telling us that we
    shouldn't need to be told what Quality is, and LILA saying "But in case you
    do, here's a metaphysical framework that will assist you." I'm not sure,
    but I think Sam sees these somewhat contradictory themes as evidence of a
    contradiction in the Metaphysics of Quality, a contradiction that is not
    apparent to me.

    The second element relates to the differing status of Socrates, the founding
    father of metaphysics.

    msh says:
    Sam then correctly goes on to say that in ZMM the Narrator becomes furious
    when he sees that "Socrates is not using dialectic to understand rhetoric,
    he is using it to destroy it." He sees dialectic as the usurper, "muscling
    in on all that is Good and seeking to contain and control it. Evil."

    So, no problem. This supports the main idea of the book: we don't need
    someone to tell us what is good, not even Socrates (Plato).

    But in Lila, the status of Socrates has changed. Now he is once more the
    martyr to the independence of intellectual patterns from the social level:
    that 'truth stands independently of social opinion'.

    Instead of being an instrument of evil, he has become an instrument of a
    higher evolutionary level, and therefore more moral than those who oppose

    msh says:
    Here I have to ask for some textual support. Where, in LILA, do you see
    Socrates re-enthroned, where does Pirsig claim that "truth stands
    independently of social opinion?" In LILA, I see that an intellectually
    dominant individual has a closer connection to truth than one who is
    dominated by social custom, but this doesn't mean that all social customs
    are ignorant of truth.

    This is why I think there is a problem with the structure of the MoQ. In ZMM
    the Narrator quotes Kitto saying: "areté implies a respect for the wholeness
    or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialisation. It implies a
    contempt for efficiency - or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an
    efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself".

    I think the problem you see is self-created. You are trying to reconcile
    the words of two different characters from two different books which were
    written for two different reasons. You are trying to coalesce into one the
    Narrator of ZMM, the Phaedrus of LILA, and author of the two books.

    So what is the problem? The problem is the question that I began with: where
    does individual worth, areté, fit in with the MoQ? Or is it something to be
    left behind?

    msh says:
    Again, for me, areté fits in at the social level, and is left behind once
    the intellectual becomes dominant. For me, the desire for areté, rooted in
    competition and war, plays a vital role in the battle between the biological
    and social levels, and in the various skirmishes within the social level
    itself. As Kitto says, areté is "what moves the Greek warrior to deeds of
    heroism." Once the cultural illusion of self-reliant individuals is
    shattered by intellect, there remains little need for areté, unless one
    finds oneself suddenly needing to "beat a young braggart at throwing the
    discus, challenge the Pheacian youth at boxing, wrestling or running; flay,
    skin, cut up and cook an ox."

    In terms of what I wish to pursue in my life, it is precisely that pursuit
    of Quality, the 'wholeness of life', which corresponds to areté, or
    individual worth, or (as I put it in my essay on the eudaimonia
    which I find to be of high Quality, both static and dynamic. Whereas the
    intellectualism of Phaedrus, and the construal of the fourth level as
    represented by that character, I find to be sterile, of little interest.

    msh says:
    This assumes that a dominantly intellectual person is one dimensional. In
    fact, an intellectual might recite poetry or play chess, or prepare haute
    cuisine, make love and money, and even skin an ox if necessary. That is,
    the dominantly intellectual individual exists atop the other levels, not
    apart from them.

    IMHO, of course. :-)

    I offer my last paragraph above in response to Sam's remaining three.

    Best to all,
    Mark Steven Heyman (msh)


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    Mark, my Suburu is idling roughly.

    Call a mechanic.

    You know, for an intellectual, you're not much use.

    Being an intellectual doesn't mean you can't adjust a carburetor... it just
    means you don't have to.

    I'll call my son...

    There you go...

    Donnie Darko:
    Dad, I'm crazy.

    You're not crazy. I used to be crazy, but you're not crazy. I know I'm not
    the best communicator, but whatever happens to you, whatever shit you come
    up against, just be honest, tell the truth, even if they do look at you
    funny. They will. They'll call you fool, tell you you're wrong. But
    there's something you gotta understand son, and that's that almost all of
    those people are full of shit. They're all part of this great big
    conspiracy of bullshit. And they're scared of people like you, because
    those bullshitters know that you're smarter than all of them. You know what
    you say to people like that?


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