If my notes here have gotten a bit dismissive sounding, it's largely to provide a counterweight to Dave's discipleship. This is not to diss Dave (or Bo or other Pirsig fans posting on our board here), but my approach, and the approach I see in enthusiasts like Katie re. Foucault or Matt Evans did for Plato is yes, to try to figure how out to charitably elaborate and defend the view, but perhaps moreso to independently parse and critically appraise it: you pick it apart, test the limits, and see what remains. (Again, this is not to diss Dave, who I'm sure is seeing his role here as sharing his enthusiasm and trying to get more folks interested in Pirsig.)
While of course you want to get out of a reading every bit of richness you can (so as to make it worth your time to have read it), I'm extremely suspicious of anyone who focuses too exclusively on any one philosopher (for non-professional reasons; if you're a Kant scholar, than of course you have some reason to get obsessed, though of course to be a good Kant scholar you'd need to really know your Hume and Leibniz and many others), whether it be Marx or Ayn Rand or Jesus or whomever. Genius is overrated... even great thinkers steal 90% of their ideas from their predecessors and contemporaries, and don't necessary end up with the greatest versions of these ideas. The progress of ideas makes any one thinker to some extent instantly obsolete. Pirsig provides a fine model of a very smart guy thinking through things deeply to come to his own conclusions, but don't think for a second that he invented the idea of overcoming subject-object dualism, which is one of dozen or so major themes pervading philosophical history in the 20th century (see Heidegger, for one, though arguably he was just following on to Hegel), and Pirsig's account, taking up a whole two books of musings totaling something like 100 pages when you get rid of all the travelogue stuff, is just not going to be the most developed and comprehensive take on this however you slice it.
OK, enough with the general cautionary words to keep perspective, which no one in need of them is likely to listen to anyway. I wanted to recount here a part of Lila that struck me as a particularly stark example of casual overreach: pages 152 to 157. Here he explains how denying subject-object metaphysics solves a whole mass of traditional philosophical problems.
First, he thinks it allows you to solve the basic problem of metaphysics: ontology. What kinds of things are there? Well, the only reason you ask the question with the word "things" is due to the bogus idea that perceivers are fundamentally different than perceiveds. Once you get rid of that, you pay attention to the phenomena themselves, which tell you a story of teleology, of purposes, of values. What gets picked out as objects in the phenomenal stream (and keep in mind, this phrase phenomenal stream doesn't itself imply subject-object metaphysics; I recommend listening to our Sartre discussion if this sounds wrong to you) is a function of values, but Pirsig doesn't want this to be a mater of either a Schopenhauer-type Will, i.e. this uber-force that underlies and actually drives own own desires, or merely a matter of our personal values shaping our perceptions. The point of his teleological levels is to set up a hierarchy of types of purposes.
Here's how Pirsig makes the point, from p. 152:
In a subject-object metaphysics value has always been the most vague and ambiguous of terms. What is it? ...The word is too vague. The "value" that holds a glass of water together and the "value" that holds a nation together are obviously not the same thing. Therefore to say that the world is nothing but value is just confusing, not clarifying. Now this vagueness is removed by sorting out values according to levels of evolution. The value that holds a glass of water together is an inorganic pattern 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 evolutionary process that created all of them. But that process is a process of value evolution. Therefore the name "static pattern of values" applies to all.
Continuing the same passage on 153, he moves to mind-matter (recently discussed in this context in a different post):
That's one puzzle cleared up. Another huge one is the mind-matter puzzle.
If the world consists only of patterns of mind and patterns of matter, what is the relationship between the two? ...[This] is one of the most tormenting problems of the physics to which positivism looks for guidance. The torment occurs not because of anything discovered in the laboratory. Data are data. It is the intellectual framework with which one deals with the data that is at fault. The fault is within subject-object metaphysics itself.
A conventional subject-object metaphysics uses the same four static patterns as the Metaphysics of Quality, dividing them into two groups of two: inorganic-biological patterns called 'matter,' and social-intellectual patterns called 'mind.' But this division is the source of the problem... It has to make this fatal division because it gives top position in its structure to subjects and objects. Everything has got to be object or subject, substance or non-substance, because that's the primary division of the universe. Inorganic-biological patterns are composed of 'substance,' and are therefore 'objective.' Social-intellectual patterns are not composed of 'substance' and are therefore called 'subjective.' Then, having made this arbitrary division based on 'substance,' conventional metaphysics then asks, 'What is the relationship between mind and matter, between subject and object?'
One answer is to fudge both mind and matter and the whole question that goes with them into another [ill-formed concept] called 'man.' 'Man' has a body (and therefore is not himself a body) and he also has a mind (and therefore is not himself a mind). But if one asks what is this 'man' (which is not a body and not a mind) one doesn't come up with anything. There isn't any 'man' independent of the patterns. Man is the patterns.
This fictitious 'man' has many synonyms; 'mankind,' 'people,' 'the public,' and even such pronouns as 'I,' 'he,' and 'they.' Our language is so organized around them and they are so convenient to use it is impossible to get rid of them. There is really no need to. Like 'substance' they can be used as long as it is remembered that they're terms for collections of patterns and not some independent primary reality of their own.
In a value-centered Metaphysics of Quality the four sets of static patterns are not isolated into separate compartments of mind and matter. Matter is just a name for certain inorganic value patterns. Biological patterns, social patterns, and intellectual patterns are supported by this pattern of matter but are independent of it. They have rules and laws of their own that are not derivable from the rules or laws of substance...
So what the Metaphysics of Quality concludes is that all schools are right on the mind-matter question. Mind is contained in static inorganic patterns. Matter is contained in static intellectual patterns. Both mind and matter are completely separate evolutionary levels of static patterns of value, and as such are capable of each containing the other without contradiction.
The mind-matter paradoxes seem to exist because the connecting links between these two levels of value patterns have been disregarded. Two terms are missing: biology and society. Mental patterns do not originate out of inorganic nature. They originate out of society, which originates out of biology which originates out of inorganic nature. And, as anthropologists know so well, what a mind thinks is as dominated by social patterns as social patterns are dominated by biological patterns and as biological patterns are dominated by inorganic patterns. There is no direct scientific connection between mind and matter. As the atomic physicist, Niels Bohr, said, 'We are suspended in language.' Our intellectual description of nature is always culturally derived.
The third piece of Pirsig's account I want to throw out there starts on p. 155, just a paragraph after the above:
A third puzzle illuminated by the Metaphysics of Quality is the ancient "free will vs. determinism controversy." Determinism is the philosophic doctrine that man, like all other objects in the universe, follows fixed scientific laws, and does so without exception. Free will is the philosophic doctrine that man makes choices independent of the atoms of his body.
...If the belief in free will is abandoned, morality must seemingly also be abandoned under a subject-object metaphysics. If man follows the cause-and-effect laws of substance, then man cannot really choose between right and wrong. On the other hand, if the determinists let go of their position it would seem to deny the truth of science. If one adheres to a traditional scientific metaphysics of substance, the philosophy of determinism is an inescapable corollary. If "everything" is included in the class of "substance and its properties," and if "substance and its properties" is included in the class of "things that always follow laws," and if "people" are included in the class "everything," then it is an airtight logical conclusion that people always follow the laws of substance.
To be sure, it doesn't seem as though people blindly follow the laws of substance in everything they do, but within a Deterministic explanation that is just another one of those illusions that science is forever exposing. All the social sciences, including anthropology, were founded on the bedrock metaphysical belief that these physical cause-and-effect laws of human behavior exist. Moral laws, if they can be said to exist at all, are merely an artificial social code that has nothing to do with the real nature of the world. A "moral" person acts conventionally, "watches out for the cops," "keeps his nose clean," and nothing more.
In the Metaphysics of Quality this dilemma doesn't come up. To the extent that one's behavior is controlled by static patterns of quality it is without choice. But to the extent that one follows Dynamic Quality, which is undefinable, one's behavior is free.
It should be clear that I think these solutions are much too glib, but I'd like to hear the thoughts of other folks reading this blog who are not Pirsig specialists re. what might be wrong with these accounts as he's formulated them.