Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Difference: Conversion and Articulation

I've been thinking lately about the differences between me, Rorty, and Pirsig. There are, of course, many differences, at least between Rorty and Pirsig, but one of the areas one can search for differences or similarities is in the area of a person's biography, in their own self-image as a philosopher and how they got from childhood to where they are now. Pirsig's biography, of course, is linked intimately and explicitly to his philosophy (despite the fact that we often suffocate those links to recontruct his philosophy), but Rorty's biography is only now just gaining more attention. With the publication of his autobiographical essay, "Trotsky and the Wild Orchids" in Philosophy and Social Hope and particularly with the publication of a collection of interviews, Take Care of Freedom and Truth will Take Care of Itself, Rorty's biography is becoming more explicitly seen.

One of the things that comes out of Rorty's writings is the notion that he's a fallen metaphysician. In "Trotsky", he says quite explicitly that he wanted as a child to have that kind of state of bliss that is associated with religion and Platonism. Until he was 20, he looked for a way to be a metaphysician. People use this knowledge to characterize why he is often considered to be an "end of philosophy" philosopher. Almost all philosophers of note who are even symathetic to Rorty still have qualms about the extremes he goes to. They take it that Rorty is a person who was fooled by Platonism, and he never wants to be fooled again.

Pirsig's path is a bit different. We might describe Pirsig as a recovering metaphysician. Pirsig sees something worth rehabilitating in the area that both he and Rorty want to vacate. The difference may be that Pirsig saw something ailing, something dying that needed help, whereas Rorty sees much ado about nothing. Pirsig's reaction to his experience in scientific study suggests that Pirsig took it as very important that somebody mount a response to the problems in the philosophy of science he inadvertantly discovered (which eventually leads to larger problems about reason). Rorty, on the other hand, thinks that for the most part we get along just fine in day to day life, and that the only short-term importance in mounting these responses are for those philosophers that are plagued by them.

What typifies both of them is a fall. Rorty fell after attempting to be a Platonist, to find the One, and Pirsig fell after attempting to be a realist scientist. My difference to the two is that I fell from nothing to nowhere. I went from mumbling about God to mumbling about Reason or Science, not really believing in either, so my conversion to Rortyan pragmatism didn't resemble a rejection of anything, or really a conversion at all, I simply felt like I was better able to articulate what I had been believing and acting for quite awhile.

I'm not quite sure what the difference is between the feeling of conversion or articulation. I have a feeling it amounts to what a person becomes obsessed with or fearful of. I find further enunciation of pragmatism to be interesting, but I have a feeling I'd be far more reconciliatory to those who think Rorty goes too far than Rorty might be. I'm less likely to become engrossed in subsidiaries of the epistemology industry. And much the same goes for Pirsig. I think his fear for the fate of the West, its spiritual crisis, is too overblown. I think it grows out of his own biography and creates an hysteria over the problems he considers. Things are neither as bad in the old framework as Pirsig thinks them, nor better in the framework Pirsig suggests. What Rorty helped me enunciate is the sense that just not that much hinges on what philosophers talk about--at least it looks that way compared to the scope at which most philosophers talk.


  1. I have been reading your essays Matt, but found not too much to comment about until today.

    It is nice and refreshing to read some of your thoughts about your own thoughts instead of your thoughts about other's thoughts.

    Hope you won't think I assuming anything about you, cause I'm not

  2. "he wanted as a child to have that kind of state of bliss that is associated with religion and Platonism"


    Did you see this post?

  3. Sam, I didn't look closely at it the first time, but I read it again. I certainly side with you about the emotions. I take heed of Hume's notion that reason is the slave of the passions, roughly that if it weren't for passions/emotions we wouldn't have anything to reason about (no premises, no arguments).

    I'm currently writing a slightly different version of "The Difference" to talk about three different impulses, religious, philosophical, and literary (parallel to the ones I copped off of Rorty at the end of "Confessions"). Like all schematics like this, counter-examples are easily enough found, but I think interesting things will pop up (hopefully).

    And by the way Alice, I actually don't see much of a distinction between one's "own thoughts" and "thoughts about other's thoughts". The only difference I see is one of degree of explicitness. For instance, see Philosophy and Biography and Bloom and Criticism.

  4. "I actually don't see much of a distinction between one's "own thoughts" and "thoughts about other's thoughts"."

    That's OK Matt. I fear that the banality of my commentary is matched only by my enthusiasm for making it.

  5. AnonymousJune 24, 2006

    If you don't see much of a distiction, then do you refuse to be cold, and feel not the hot? Or do you just not know what you mean? No attack intended.

  6. Anonymous,

    I'm not really sure what you mean, what refusing to be cold, and feeling not the hot have to do with what I was talking about.

    I was just repeating the point familiar to my posts that creativity is a contest with past poetic masters over ourselves--we are our predecessors until we can kill them off, an activity involving immense strength.

    And barring mortal combat, which I don't typically engage in, all of our thoughts are commentaries on the thoughts of others. Even in mortal combat they are. It is the system of commentaries that produces traditions of meaning.

    Perhaps if you explained a little bit more of what you meant, I could then construe it as an unintentional attack and comment on it.

  7. AnonymousJune 26, 2006

    Thoughts of others thoughts are much like the dirty cloths hamper you hid in as a child during a game of hind and seak. It's a mixed bag of smells and filth that sorround you and hide your face not only from others, but to yourself as well.
    The distiction between your thoughts and the thoughts of others is enormous, it's such a huge casm that within the art of philosophy it's easy to get lost in... Simply because, philosophy is a disease that leaves most of us in the retorical dark for a better part of our lives.

  8. Anonymous,

    Well, thanks for writing in with your thoughts. Obviously most of what I write sets its face against the common view you're espousing, but if you'd like to engage some of the particular arguments I deploy, I suggest reading "Philosophologology" located at (there's a link on my mainpage). There I develop the arguments in relation to Pirsig's distinction between philosophy and philosophology.

  9. AnonymousJune 26, 2006

    Ok, sorry Matt, I don't want to muddy the waters, you sound like a pretty good guy. I simply don't think your any different then anyone else, that is, your looking for something?

  10. You're right, I don't think I am any different than anyone else, at least in general demeanor (though possibly not in philosophical outlook). I apologize for giving the impression that I was. 'Cuz, sure, I'm looking for something. I follow my nose and look in any direction it points me.

  11. AnonymousJune 26, 2006

    Ok, so alright, I think that's exactly what Alice was originally hinting at, and what I was trying to expand upon - I just went with it. Even though it was quite a ways off topic and perhaps a bit out of line. I think the problem is we do exactly that, "follow our noses". Have you ever been in a dark room, and somewhere off in the corner there's a dim spec of light - what's interesting is, you can never seem to see it if you look directly at it, it only comes to light when it's in your peripheral, when your not looking directly at it. Searching for truth is this way, sometimes you gotta look away.

  12. Oh. Well then I totally missed what Alice was saying.

    I thought she was cheering on me talking about me rather than me talking about Pirsig, Rorty, MacIntyre, Taylor, Baier, etc., etc.


Want to get in touch with me but are too scared to universalize and eternalize your comments for all everywhere and always to see? Just e-mail me: