Thursday, 1 December 2011

Pirsig's assumptions, Cocks students, my former self

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Reading an essay by Richard Cocks on teaching Plato at college, made me think about my enthusiasm for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM), by Robert Pirsig.

http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/4871

(H/T Laura Wood aka the Thinking Housewife)

I was recommended this by an instructor at an Outward Bound adventure school in my mid teens, loved it at first reading, and it became one of my favourite and most re-read books; indeed I published an 'academic' article on it at one time.

http://www.moq.org/forum/BruceCharlton/APhilosophicalNovel-ZenAndTheArtOfMotorcycleMaintenance.html

Most recently I published an article on Pirsig's use of ECT (electroshock) as a fictional (not factual) plot device

http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/2009/03/electroshock-and-pirsig.html

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Reading Richard Cocks made me recognize that one reason I found ZAMM so appealing, aside from its being superbly written, was that Pirsig was (like me) so non-Christian that he did not even consider God as an explanation for Quality. The whole book (and the much-worse follow up Lila) was about the importance of Quality (value, excellence) in our world, but that it was increasingly difficult to regard Quality as real and important.

Pirsig, and the reader, struggle to find a way to acknowledge the reality of Quality, the origin and nature of Quality - and at times it feels as if this has almost been achieved - but of course it never has and never is, because the only answer is that which is ruled out from before the beginning, so far back that its being ruled out is not something that needs justifying.

Quality is either transcendental and underwritten by the divine, or else it is nothing: Pirsig knows that Quality is vital, and will not let go of that, but he cannot (except by sleight of hand) do what he wants to do - which is regard Quality as real and objective but in a universe with no God.

This reminds me of the attitude of Cocks students, who regarded the introduction of divinity into metaphysical arguments as something of a 'cheap trick'.

If it is a cheap trick to invoke divinity as an explanation, then it is one which Socrates, Plato and Artistotle used, as well as the other greats of philosophy up to and including Descartes.

And divinity (the god of the philosophers, if not the God of Abraham) turns-out (as Pirsig apparently recognises at times) to be a 'cheap trick' without which nothing really makes any sense.

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