The big distinction made in Lila is between dynamic quality and static quality. Dynamic quality is Quality in ZAMM, i.e. the immediate, moment-to-moment recognition of something's awesomeness level, but also in ZAMM, he wants us to recognize quality in classical (as opposed to romantic) forms, for example, the quality of the structure of a motorcycle. Since dynamic quality is instantaneous, and we can only have (roughly) one thing in mind at a time, it would seem to rule out any kind of body of quality knowledge, but that's clearly not the way judgments work.
Pirsig stresses that we make Quality judgments first, and then figure out later how to characterize them. But certainly this doesn't have to the be case: often we have a standard already in mind, and we explicitly apply that standard to something and judge it positively or negatively. Judges are supposed to do this, for example. Now, you could say that what judges do (looking at legal precedent and seeing how a new case stacks up) is cold and impersonal: they don't necessarily feel the verdicts they issue, and in fact might have feelings contrary to what they judge, but still, that doesn't mean they should overturn all legal precedent on a whim.
Pirsig gives the example of music: I can hear a song and have dynamic approval of it, but then after I listen to it a lot, it no longer thrills me. I can still recognize that it's a great song, even if I'm not in the mood for it. I will recommend it to others and probably hold onto the recording so I can enjoy it more later when time has passed and made it fresh again or when my mood shifts.
This step is absolutely necessary for Pirsig to support any sort of ethical system. If you're read ZAMM and think that value is all subjective, that then you might judge murder as high-quality and who am I to say otherwise, then you don't understand Pirsig. He's actually very much a fuddy duddy about ethics: while he criticizes old-style Victorian morality as hopelessly outdated, the solution is not to just reject it and do what you feel, but to engage with it: see what worked and what didn't, what makes sense and what doesn't. He wholeheartedly approves of the effort to be moral, and in fact things this moral acculturation has been historically essential for overcoming chaos (think Hobbes's state of nature).
So part of the freight in that "train of experience" that Dave described on the episode is a set of standards we've already developed, or more likely inherited. There's nothing wrong with those being there, so long as we remember that its original source is dynamic quality distinctions by actual people and nothing more.
Perhaps I shouldn't say "part of" the freight, here, though. Pirsig insists that anything picked out as an element in perception, or encoded in a system of thought, is done so for Quality reasons, which is equivalent to saying that there was a sufficient reason for it being done so. Any persistent idea, from a private obsession that goes round and round in your head to the dictates of a major world religion that get promulgated through the centuries, is there because it met some need, fulfilled some function with success as compared to the alternatives present at the time, it passed some Quality test.
In Pt. 3 I'll say more about how Pirsig thinks the various Quality tests are hierarchized, which determines how moral conflicts should be adjudicated.
mark, do you read this kind of trying to find some natural/objective grounding of (direct-ed access to) the Good as another variety of the ought/is distinction?
reminds me of folks who try and revive Aristotle’s phronesis while ignoring the social/political aspects of his (and our) times/works.
and how does the research on cognitive biases fit in?
here is an interesting link on Foucault, neuroscience, and the gaps in our self-relations:
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks. Yes; see part 3. If you elaborate your points on Aristotle and cognitive biases, I’ll respond to them.
While I greatly appreciate your plethora of links, time constraints make me unable to just go read 4 extra articles every day, so obeying the podcast rule of making your point in a respondable fashion in the comment itself would enrich your interactions with all here.
thanks, the links are just there for anyone who might be interested (and as time allows) and certainly not intended as homework or as in any way an obligation connected with exchanges here.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Oh, I’m not trying to discourage you; I’m trying to get you to give us yet more of your valuable time! 🙂
I don’t know if it’s any consolation but I’ll usually follow your links, and sometimes have difficult finding their relevance. Though this Malabou lecture is particularly great as a contrasting modern enlightenment inspired perspective to Pirsig’s recognition of the self ultimately constrained by an unforgiving, indefinite subjectivity. Knowing I’m guilty of this too in the course of all my rambling speculation, maybe just tend to add a little bit more of a connection with the original post.
I disagree with the overarching car-bike analogy. I get around just fine, I prefer listening to music over the dead static noise of wind, there are people who know their cars better than he knows his bike, Pirsig is reading his own misery on to the face of others, and we won’t quickly be ran down by inattentive drivers. More importantly, neither method offers some transcendent mode of existence that should trump the call for an actual public transportation system.
I’ve kept hearing across the board on pirsig the following: no big message, no metaphysics, no excessive thought. If only I could read it in just the right way, I’d find it’s nothing more than a simple way to be. And yet this man has published hundreds of pages deeply inspired by the chin stroking philosophical tradition, and what I’m finding in them is a carefully crafted message, an overt metaphysics, an imbalance toward thought, the sort which works to come to a psychologically comforting, quickly all encompassing worldview that might allow one to better deal with the deliberately inhumane social and political circumstances of our time. He does this by attempting to dissolve their active existence in to a necessary force of nature that allows for even our highly constrained way of life to persist against the background of natural discord, just as ancient mystics told stories about how the gods had granted man fire, in order to render more comprehensible the inexplicably complex conditions they found themselves living among.
The history of morality is not of simple progressive acculteration, it is of long fought for and always vulnerable contracted rights. There is nothing about the practice of slavery in itself that naturally compels people toward becoming better individuals, instead they tried very hard to maintain control right up until they were met with overwhelming violent response. I guess what we need then today is another text with a powerful force of narrative, like say the Iliad, or maybe ZAMM as its strong following has revealed, that would work to explain how the present day economy has become manifest in to a living, breathing actor, maybe now the most powerful out of all, and is not just some monolithic entity always already out there structuring a world we are later tossed in to. All of the rational formal arguments being made today concerning the economy presuppose its contingent modern conception as a physical inevitability. Now there is nothing in any of this allegedly pragmatic talk that can bring salvation to the tragic lives of the global poor worked unto death as a radical socio-political theory would, this is rather the philosophy of the already empowered individual triumphant over his community, who spends their idle days bringing forth for themselves new worlds to play in all the time, and I find it outrageous we’re to be reduced to scrapping together yet another way to placate restless, wealthy Americans. At this point all the cult of personality, pseudo spiritual, bourgeois nonsense that is maybe beginning to wrongly characterize Pirsig’s work for me is becoming actively irritating, bring on Saussure I say.
Scott Forster says
“He’s actually very much a fuddy duddy about ethics: while he criticizes old-style Victorian morality as hopelessly outdated, the solution is not to just reject it and do what you feel, but to engage with it: see what worked and what didn’t, what makes sense and what doesn’t. He wholeheartedly approves of the effort to be moral, and in fact things this moral acculturation has been historically essential for overcoming chaos”
“So part of the freight in that “train of experience” that Dave described on the episode is a set of standards we’ve already developed, or more likely inherited. There’s nothing wrong with those being there, so long as we remember that its original source is dynamic quality distinctions by actual people and nothing more.”
That sounds like John Dewey’s Ethical Philosophy.Dewey’s books on ethics might be worth a read.
His longer Ethics guides a broad but rather impressive anthropological account of the evolution of ethical ideas.Parts 1 and 2 might be more suited to your purposes.Part 3 bridges on politics and social ethics while Part 1covers how we developed the ideas of ethics we have moving from group ethics to individual ethics while keeping the latter.Part 2 covers his theory of ethics relating to habits,his criticism of utilitarianism and Kant etc.
Or if you prefer his shorter work, A theory of the Moral Life covers part 2 of his Ethics in more concise form without the anthropology of Ethic’s part 1.