RE: MF Discussion Topic for May 2005 - individual worth

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sun May 29 2005 - 23:37:33 BST

  • Next message: "Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2005 - individual worth"

    Dearest darling focusers:

    It seems there are a number of subplots surrounding our elected topic.
    That's OK with me. For one of my last posts, I've taken some early quotes
    from Sam and some recent quotes from Matt. It seems both of them have
    misconstrued Quality, although for different reasons and with different
    results. Matt thinks its the most trivial thing, the lowest common
    denominator, obvious, innocuous and only a dunderhead could find it
    philosophically interesting. Sam has equated with the social level
    rhetoriticians and takes the following quote as expressing an
    anti-intellectual stance...

    Sam Norton said on Tuesday, May 10:
    The Narrator then goes on to describe what Plato does with regard to arete
    (excellence, aka individual worth): "Why destroy arete? And no sooner had he
    asked the question than the answer came to him. Plato hadn't tried to
    destroy arete. He had encapsulated it; made a permanent, fixed Idea out of
    it; had converted it to a rigid, immobile Immortal Truth. He made arete the
    Good, the highest form, the highest Idea of all. It was subordinate only to
    Truth itself, in a synthesis of all that has gone before." ZAMM p.342

    Sam continued on the 10th:
    This is a rejection of traditional metaphysics, the history of western
    thought. The Narrator is objecting to the raising of dialectic over
    rhetoric - and it is THIS which underlies the maxim at the beginning of the
    book, 'and what is good.', because the point is that you don't need a
    definition of the good in order to know what the good is.

    dmb says:
    As I understand it, the evil that Phaedrus sees here is not in "the raising
    of dialectic over rhetoric" but rather it was Plato's attempt to make an
    "ever changing, and ultimately unknowable" reality into a fixed and rigid
    idea. Plato's evil here is not putting intellect over society, but in
    converting the dynamic into the static. Plato's Good would have been
    identical to DQ if he hadn't tried to encapsulate it. The quote Sam used
    above ends with "...of all that has gone before", and continues in the next
    paragraph with...

    ZAMM page 342..
    "That was why the Quality that Phaedrus had arrived at in the classroom had
    seemed so close to Plato's good. Plato's Good was TAKEN from the
    rhetoriticians. Phaedrus searched, but could find no previous cosmologists
    who had talked about the Good. That was from the Sophists. The difference
    was that Plato's Good was a fixed and eternal and unmoving idea, whereas for
    the rhetorician it was not an idea at all. The Good was not a FORM of
    reality. It was reality itself, ever changing, and ultimately unknowable in
    any kind of fixed, rigid way.".

    dmb resumes:
    This is where is all went wrong. This is the move that killed mysticism in
    the West. This is what sent DQ underground in our culture. And I want Matt
    to notice that this is also where that your dreaded metaphysical Platonism
    comes from. This ever changing reality is the flux of life we know directly
    and intimately like our own breath, not a static intellectual description
    nor a static rhetorical description. As Anthony puts it on page 52 of his
    thesis, Heidegger...

    "..advanced the argument that Plato (and subsequent Western philosophers
    until Nietzsche) were in error when separating SEIN from SEIENDES. According
    to Northrop (1946, p.450), this is a critical separation because it is with
    Plato that Dynamic Quality (given the Platonic term 'the indeterminate
    dyad') was first deemed to be untrustworthy and, therefore, secondary to the
    static Forms:

    'Thereby, the aesthetic and emotional factors in man's nature, and in the
    nature of things, were designated as mere appearances and trivial; and the
    emotional and aesthetic foods which the nature of man needs for its
    sustenance were deprecated and ignored. The Greek and medieval Roman
    Catholic cultures had somewhat the same effect, when following Democritus
    and Plato they branded the sense world as giving spurious knowledge, and
    when following Plato and Aristotle they identifed the undifferentiated
    aesthetic continuum [Dynamic Quality] with the principle of evil:
    restricting trustworthy knowledge and the idea of the good and the divine to
    the unseen theoretic component. This had the effect also of making the
    cultures of East and West incompatible'."

    dmb resumes:
    Here I think we can see Northrop saying the same thing as Pirsig. Plato's
    move to encapsulate DQ into a fixed idea was the beginning of the idea that
    one's experience is "just subjective" while reality is to be found "out
    there". The metaphysics of substance can be traced to this move. The
    difference between Eastern and Western religions is part of the same effect.
    Its huge not only in terms of historical impact, but also in getting at what
    the MOQ is doing. Notice how the MOQ, as a form of philosophical mysticism,
    refuses to make that move, is highly critical of that move and refuses to
    define DQ. Philosophical mysticism is intellectual, to be sure, but it
    insists that reality is ultimately unknowable in any static intellectual way
    and asserts that DQ can only be apprehended through non-rational means. When
    DQ is associated with religious mysticism, says Pirsig, it produces an
    avalanche of information about Dynamic Quality.

    "Philosophical mysticism, the idea that truth is indefinable and can be
    apprehended only by non-rational means, has been with us since the beginning
    of history." ZAMM p.207

    Hang on to that thought because it only SEEMS like we're switching topics...

    Mark said:
    The experience of Dynamic Quality is the same for everyone, it is only the
    experiences and objects which are mentally associated with the experience
    which are different. There is no difference in the liking when the liking is
    independent of the things liked. Dynamic Quality is universal. No-one says
    that his liking for beans is any different to someone else's liking for
    carrots independently of the beans and carrots involved.

    Matt said:
    No one says that their "liking" for beans is any different than someone
    else's "liking" for carrots, independently of the beans and carrots, because
    it would be an absurd thing to say. Who cares if "liking" and "valuing" is
    the same for everyone? That's the most trivial thing you could possibly
    say. If that's all the "universality of Dynamic Quality" amounts to, then
    it pretty much amounts to the fact that we all use the words "liking" and
    "valuing" and their synonyms in the same way. Because the only way we could
    know if we were all experiencing the same thing, yet independent of the
    experience itself (boy, that doesn't sound very Pirsigian, does it?), would
    be to say, "Hey, I like beans!" "Oh my god, I like carrots!" "Really?
    Hmm. Well, we both seem to enjoy these separate experiences in basically
    the same way. The lowest common denominator of our experiences must be

    dmb says:
    I think Mark was quoting Pirsig there. In any case, I think you have very
    much missed the point and that's why you see it as a trival denominator of
    our experience. I would also point out that Northrop's complaint about
    Platonism pretty much centers on this very kind of deprecation. (Put that on
    your irony scale and weigh it, Matt. It'll probably break the springs.) But
    the idea here is not to enthrone the trivial or find divinity in the lowest
    common denominator, but rather to take Quality down from heaven, to rescue
    it from that abstract intellectual encapsulation and otherwise bring it back
    to earth.

    "Quality is a word, of course, that every schlock advertiser tries to attach
    to his products, but it has the advantage that it ubigutiousness, everwhere,
    makes it not an esoteric, mystic term. It's a common, everyday word and I
    think one of the messages of the [MOQ] is that the good life is not to be
    found somewhere else, its to be found in daily life." Pirsig, as quoted on
    page 59 of Ant's thesis.

    Matt said:
    The point is that nothing much (let alone anything philosophically
    interesting) follows from the fact that we all "value," that we all
    experience some things as better than others. If we take Pirsig as simply
    forwarding that thesis, then we've severely hampered Pirsig's philosophical
    impact. If anything, Pirsig pointing out the obvious, innocuous fact that
    we all value some things over others is simply a softening up move to shake
    a few dunder heads out of their sleep. I stress "a few." The really
    interesting things happen after that in an argument that has to be a lot
    more subtle and complex than saying, "Hey, don't you like Guinness better
    than Bud Light? That's just like me liking Cezanne over Warhol!"

    dmb says:
    Yea, I'd definately say there's an argument after that. The basic sense of
    quality, of liking and disliking, is only the beginning. From there, the MOQ
    is built. In a way that reconciles East and West enlightenment with everyday
    experience, the MOQ's static/Dynamic split and its evolutionary hierarchy
    are like a giant spider web that has been spun out around this primary

    "Northrop's name for Dynamic Quality is 'the undifferentiated aestheitc
    continuum'. By 'continuum' he means that it goes on and on forever. By
    'undifferentiated' he means that it is without conceptual distinctions. And
    by 'aesthetic' he means that it has quality." Pirsig, on p.59 of Ant's

    "The 'nothingness' of Buddhism has nothing to do with the 'nothingness' of
    physical space. That's one of the advantages of calling it 'Quality' instead
    of 'nothingness'. It reduces the confusion." Pirsig, on p.60 of Ant's

    "'The Absolute' means the same as 'Dynamic Quality' and the 'nothingness' of
    Buddhism, but its a poor term because of it connotations. To me it connotes
    something cold, dead, empty of content and rigid. The term 'Dynamic Quality'
    has oppostie connotations. It suggests warmth, life, fullness and
    flexibility." Same Pirsig, same page, same thesis.

    "This value is more immediate, more directly sensed that any 'self' or any
    'object' to which it might be later assigned... It is the primary empirical
    reality from which such things as stoves and heat and oaths and self are
    later intellectually constructed." Pirsig in LILA p.69

    "To say that the world is nothing but value is just confusing, not
    claifying. Now this vagueness is removed by sorting our values according to
    levels of evolution. The value that holds a glass of water together is an
    inorganic patterns of value. The value that holds a nation together is a
    social pattern of value. They are completely different from each other
    because they are at different evolutionary levels. And they are completely
    different from the biological pattern that can cause the most sceptical of
    intellectuals to leap from a hot stove. These patterns have nothing in
    common except the historic process that created all of them. But that
    process is a process of value evoluton." Pirsig in LILA p157

    dmb finally runs out of steam and so moves to a conclusion:
    Its from the basic experience, the primary empirical reality that we
    construct the static world. Quality is what holds that world together. Since
    DQ, the undifferentiated aesthetic continuum, is described as ever changing,
    infinite, eternal and without conceptual distinctions, it is beyond all
    boundries and definitions. This is very far away from a fix, rigid idea.
    This is very far away from social level rhetoric, and this is very far away
    from Platonic foundationalism. Instead, we're talking about the void behind
    the forms, the Buddhist no-thing-ness. in ZAMM, Phaedrus comes to realize
    what Quality is only after reaching the end of his intellectual rope, after
    his conflict with the Chairman, when he has to "cross that lonesome valley"
    by himself...

    "He crosses a lonesome valley, out of the mythos, and emerges as if from a
    dream, seeing that his whole consciousness, the mythos, has been a dream and
    no one's dream but his own, a dream he must now sustain of his own efforts.
    Then even 'he' disappears and only the dream of himself remains with himself
    in it.
    And the Quality, the ARETE he has fought so hard for, has sacrificed for,
    has NEVER betrayed, but in all that time has never one understood, now makes
    itself clear to him and his soul is at rest."

    For Pirsig the moment of enlightenment came as a crisis, a death of sorts.
    It came suddenly when the fulitity of intellect became apparent. But this is
    only one way to put those static patterns to sleep, to see the nothingness
    directly again, to see the immediate flux of reality without
    conceptualizations again. Its a way of stripping away all the static
    interpretations that have been built up over a lifetime so the the primary
    empirical reality is no longer interpreted in terms of things like subjects
    and objects, nations, hot stoves and glasses of water. This the the world of
    distinctions, its the maya, the illusion we all share. And when that melts
    away, and, in the words of William Blake, "the doors of perception are
    cleansed, we will see the world as it truely is; infinite."

    Many thanks to all readers,

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