Monday, January 04, 2010

Discussion With Dave Buchanan

Dave Buchanan (or "DMB" as he often goes by in the discussion group) and I have had several long-standing disagreements for over seven years now. I think it might be fair to say that we've had the longest running dialogue between two self-perceived Pirsigians, hands down. If one had all the time in the world, you could follow the history of our conversation in the archives (which oddly enough begins right at the cut between the old '98 to Oct. '02 archive and the Nov. '02 to '05 archive--right in November 2002 we have our first spat, though the real fight doesn't begin until December). I look back and cringe at how silly and arrogant I was then--oh, youth: some things never change.

The arguments have continued off and on all these years, on and off the list. Lately we've each become more reserved, taking on an aloofness more appropriate to the professional stances each of us wishes to take. Well--at least I have, though even through the professed swagger that Dave still takes pleasure in taking (below he refers to his "rudeness," which is more a nostalgic allusion to our history together than what usually goes on nowadays), I can tell he's changed, his style becoming more, well, professional--as much as he continues to articulate an overt aversion to "professional philosophy" that Pirsig makes central to his philosophy (most succinctly in his epithet "philosophology"), Dave is becoming a professional philosopher (which would be hard to help a little bit of in a graduate program), whereas I remain, and increasingly become more overtly in style, an amateur.

These are interesting changes for us, though probably only to us (and maybe only to me). A few years ago we stopped spending so much time on the discussion lists, and our engagements became less and less, though I think that's partly because we've found less and less new to talk about. Our positions have become fairly entrenched, and I think if one were to read our pieces towards each other over the last few years, one would find each of us at a loss for new words more than anything else. We fluctuate reasonably with the tide of new information, as our studies continue, but neither one of us has moved much on what has underlied each of our understandings of philosophy since the very beginning, December 2002: Dave's dislike and distrust of Richard Rorty and my tepid interest in mysticism-proper.

We've remained in contact off and on these last few years, sometimes at, sometimes via personal correspondence, sometimes here, on my blog. A few years ago, after a note from Dave about his experience with Prof. Hildebrand, I was moved to write "Dewey, Pirsig, Rorty, or How I Convinced an Entire Generation of Pirsigians that Rorty is the Devil: An Ode to David Buchanan," a kind of double apology--in the contemporary sense of an "I'm sorry" to Dave, and others, for giving Rorty such a bad reputation when I was getting the hang of him, and in the old sense of "I'm still, though, an unrequited Rortyan." It runs over more detail of how I was back in the day, and what I think divides us, and I think it's still up-to-date as far as my thinking goes. What follows, below, is our most recent dialogue, carried out in the comments section of "Heidegger, Dewey, Pirsig."). The main reason I'm posting it separately is because the response to his reply that I wanted to leave in the comments section there was too big. But, too, I've enunciated some things that I think are worth preserving in a more up-front format, about the Emersonian, antiauthoritarian strain of pragmatism (something I hope to write about a little bit more soon). I should remark that Dave, for his part, was held to the same kinds of space restrictions (which, not being his blog, he didn't have any other recourse but to adhere to) and that it's a comment section, he didn't ever plan on putting these up for show or anything. For a more patient articulation of his view of Rorty and James (and implicitly me), see his "Clash of the Pragmatists."


Hello Matt:

Pirsig's claim, that the MOQ is "more empirical" than traditional empiricism, is best understood by way of William James' radical empiricism. (Dewey and Pirsig both subscribe to this brand of empiricism while Rorty finds nothing of value in it whatsoever.) The radical empiricist's claim to be more empirical than his opponent is not to claim "that there are obvious, neutral features of reality that his opponents are repressing". For a radical empiricist, there is no such thing as a neutral feature of reality. In fact, SOM and the correspondence theory of truth are rejected by radical empiricists and so the claim to be more empirical has nothing to do with traditional dualism like mind and matter, appearance and reality. What makes him more empirical than his opponents is the method of radical empiricism.

Basically, this method says that experience sets the limits for philosophical debate. It says that all experience must be accounted for and that anything that can't be known in experience must be excluded. The provision that excludes "trans-experiential" entities is the provision that puts the brakes on metaphysics, by the way. This method excludes theoretical entities such as Hegel's Absolute, Kant's things-in-themselves and Aristotle's substance. On the other end, the claim to be more empirical than even traditional empiricists is made on the basis of what James calls "the continuity of experience" or the "conjunctive relations" within experience. He calls attention to these transitional types of experiences because the epistemic gap between subject and object, he says, is a fake philosophical problem created by the failure to take them into account. By taking notice of these conjunctive relations, it can be seen that thoughts and things are just the terminal ends or pivotal features of experience and they are connected to each other already within the tissue of experience. Thoughts and things more or less correspond in a practical sense, not a metaphysical sense. James makes quite a big deal out of these conjunctive relations because, he thinks, they plug up a hole through which all the metaphysical fictions of philosophy would otherwise come pouring in. So the radical empiricist is also rejecting all the various attempts to cross the gap between appearance and reality by saying that experience and reality amount to the same thing.

Also, I'd argue that this empirical stance is not at all inconsistent with the claim that our understanding of reality is an evolved web of analogies. As is the case with the discrepancy between metaphysics and reality, between concepts and reality, it is simply a matter of distinguishing between static and dynamic. This is not to say that static forms such as concepts and the other analogies are unreal or outside of experience but they are still distinguishable from dynamic quality, 'immediate experience' as Dewey calls it or 'pure experience' as James calls it.

This would certainly be another area where Rorty is very much at odds with these other pragmatists. You could say they all took the linguistic turn but Rorty took his at a different angle. I mean, where some would say it's language all the way down, the radical empiricist says it's experience all the way down and there is a pre-verbal, pre-intellectual kind of experience that can only be ignored at a philosopher's peril.

Finally, this incorporation of the non-conceptual features of experience is part of a larger effort to re-integrate the affective domain within philosophy, within science and within rationality itself. This sort of philosophical mysticism hardly constitutes any kind of easy escape. Quite the opposite. It's an effort to broaden and deepen the intellect.

For whatever it's worth...

Dave Buchanan

December 20, 2009


That's really creepy--I just started to rewrite some stuff on the "more empirical" claim in the hot stove passage. What a weird apropos.

I don't think I understand enough James to talk about radical empiricism as a method very well. It just doesn't sound right to me as a good philosophical stance (I'll concede to you what James really thought). For instance, I'd feel better if you said, "'more empirical' was a bad way of putting this other point he was making...," and then filling in the ellipsis with the radical empiricism as method thing. Because, as you say, everything is experience for these guys--so at the level of abstraction these guys are playing at, why does making a claim about X being more empirical than Y look attractive? It's all empeiria, right? But you don't seem very bothered by the "more empirical" claim, which suggests to me there's a distinction between "experience" and "empirical" lying around somewhere that I don't understand.

But even then, radical empiricism as a method looks very unattractive to me. Once everything is experience, how can anything be cut out at that level? Do we not experience theoretical entities through our experience of books? That seems really nit-picky, but take Aristotle's substance/form distinction: wouldn't an Aristotelian argue that, though we overtly experience only forms, because of a nettle of logical problems, there is also a substance underneath the form that we experience concurrently, though we are not overtly aware of it. We detect substance by inference (like most entities in physics). To reject things like Kant's noumena and Aristotle's ousia, which we might say were created because of inferential requirements based on the rules of logic, would seem to suggest that logic can't tell us anything about reality. That doesn't seem right. Wouldn't, too, logic need to be rejected as a theoretical entity that we don't experience? Because if one rejects junk you learn about in books and through inference, wouldn't that just tear down all of science and knowledge since the invention of writing (paper being where all these syllogisms got written down and thought about)?

As I see it, any entity is no more or less theoretical than any other (the "theory-ladeness" claim that attends the Kuhnian revolution), and the ones that we call fictive are the ones that aren't very useful. I don't see the need for a method to tell us ahead of time, or to principally demarcate a holding pen for, which kinds of things are real and fake. Call this my greater appreciation of Pragmatism than the posthumously collected Essays in Radical Empiricism, but it is unclear to me why I need a method, rather than regular ole' experience of what works and what not.

I also still don't understand enough about what you mean by "direct experience." I outline in "Notes on Experience, Dewey, and Pirsig," my last apprehension of what I think Dewey meant, but that still seems at odds with the interpretation you want to give it (the main claim is that Dewey shifted from "concepts" to "habits").

On the relationship between "language all the way down" and "experience all the way down," which I still don't think are antithetical, I wrote this a little while ago, probably based out of a conversation I had with you: "Quine, Sellars, Empiricism, and the Linguistic Turn."

And hey, don't blame me for the phrase "easy escape of mysticism"--that's Pirsig. I dare say there's nothing easy about mysticism.

Good to hear from you Dave.

December 20, 2009


Hey Matt:

It's not that you've overlooked a distinction between "experience" and "empirical" but rather a distinction between two categories of experience. The common sense meaning or ordinary definition of "experience" is contrasted with abstractions, theories, concepts and such. Logical inferences and deductions are known in experience too, of course, but this fact does not defeat the distinction. The difference is between primary and secondary experience and is does not entail the claim that abstractions are not known in experience. It simply calls attention to the difference between conceptual and pre-conceptual.

This doesn't tear down all of science and knowledge but it certainly has a way of showing both the value and limits of our intelligible world. It puts that big pile of analogies in perspective. Cutting things up this way says that the world as we understand it is drawn from or derived from a richer, thicker, more primordial experience. You know, it's like the difference between all the sand on all the beach and that little handful we call the world. It's like the difference between a fun day with friends and the black and white snapshot you have of that one moment. The photo is real and it is known in experience too, but it was derived from something much richer than any 5" by 7" piece of photographic paper could ever be. Ironically, this richer, more basic form of experience is exactly the one that overlooked by philosophers and so it's not that surprising that you're having trouble with it. This bias toward anything intelligible and against everything that's not goes all the way to Plato. This bias doesn't seem like such a crime to those who can't see the difference between ineffability and mere stupidity.

Or think of the distinction the way Jill Bolte Taylor likes to put it. (She's the Harvard brain scientist who had a stroke and experienced nirvana.) She says the difference between these two kinds of experience is on display in the divided structure of our brains, in the fact that we have two separate hemispheres that process experience in very different ways. Sadly, people have to suffer a medical emergency, take drugs or take meditation lessons to even realize there is more than one way to be. It's almost literally true that we think with half of our brains tied behind our backs. Similarly, meditative practices center on this distinction between primary and secondary experience.

Imagine if the Rhapsode had said to Socrates, "Man will please quit with all those $25 questions and just dig it?." Imagine if that Rhapsode had convinced him that his demands for intelligibility only showed that he was an uptight asshole incapable of appreciating art as such. That's pretty much what Nietzsche says and I think he's right. Imagine if the Sophists had answered similarly. We wouldn't need James or Pirsig if Gorgias had been as rude as I am.

Happy New Year.

December 30, 2009


Yeah, but I don't think I do have a bias against unintelligibility. I think I have a better way of describing it (e.g., as metaphor), and I don't think my way slights or puts down unintelligibility, where it's appropriate, in the least (always leaving open the possibility, of course, that things might initially be inappropriate before becoming common sense for the next generation). In fact, I follow Rorty (argued most famously in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, but also at the end of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature) in thinking that unintelligibility is necessary to cultural progress.

I don't think I'm your enemy. I don't think Rorty's the enemy you want him to be. Or at least, I don't think Rorty is usefully rolled up with the Positivists and Platonists as you want.

For the last, geez, probably two, three years now, our conversations have taken on a remarkable consistency. You say, "Radical empiricism something-something, pre-intellectual something, and Rorty's just one more variation of positivist." Then I say, "Well, something-something, Davidson, Sellars, Myth, scheme/content something, and radical empiricism is basically the same as psychological nominalism." Then you say, "No, I'm just talking about two categories of experience something-something, what I'm talking about are just all these somethings [delineation to follow] something, and this way explains the world so much more beautifully." And finally I say, "Well, something-something, I'm happy with my way just now something, and it's unclear to me why I should pick up these distinctions you're offering."

I mean, you're right--saying, "No, Matt, I'm just talking about two categories of experience," does avoid my admittedly simple, artless and somewhat obtuse argument about it "all being experience--so what's the deal?" But the elemental motivation behind this silly-looking, endlessly reiterable argument is the monist-insight that James was attracted to, about half the time. James didn't want to be labeled a monist because British Hegelianism was still really big, but once you make the central pragmatist argument that there is no Way the World Is, that there's no "transcript of reality" or that in this area of philosophical discourse "everything here is plastic" (to steal a couple Jamesisms from "What Pragmatism Means"), once you do that you level the field of eternal dichotomies--which is the same thing the monistic idealists were doing. And James knew this--he wanted to be called, in "The Present Dilemma," a "pluralistic monist." His avoidance strategy was to say, "yeah, there are no metaphysical dichotomies, but we can make as many pragmatic distinctions as we want." (Putnam makes this distinction between dichotomies and distinctions early in his Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, a book I've tried to promote in the brief "Putnam and Pirsig.")

I like this strategy. I would be glad to call myself a pluralistic monist. (I've suggested here and there in posts over the years that pragmatism is a metaphysical monism, an idea I've never gotten further in describing than at the end of "What Is Quality?", though it was to be an entire subsection in an elaborate piece that began as an essay-length reply to your essay on Rorty, but billowed in the planning stages to a projected lengthy-monograph, before finally collapsing under its own weight of ambition. I had to put out to pasture, and I still sigh heavily over its cremains.)

Where was I? Pluralistic monism--whenever you, or Pirsig, or James, or Dewey, (or Whitehead, or Bergson, or Emerson, or Santayana, or Hildebrand, or John McDowell, or Steve Hagen, or etc.) start talking about the kinds of distinctions we can make within the flow of experience--I don't immediately start thinking about monism. I understand that the people in my list, by and large, are pragmatic distinction-makers. By and large. It's the "away and small" I worry about, particularly when those parts are the ones being played up.

I start leaning towards the monistic-solvent when pluralistic-distinctions are being made when I don't know why those distinctions are being made, but are being proffered anyways on their own merits alone rather than by what they can do for me. Because, as I understand pragmatic, pluralistic monism, the one thing that can't be said about them is that they are correct, that "I say there are two categories of experience because there are two categories of experience." As a pragmatist, that doesn't make any sense to me when it comes from another pragmatist. That only makes sense coming from a Platonist of some kind.

So, with your line of explicative examples, your "You know, it's like the difference...," I read them and I go, "Yeah, but I never had a problem with them." I never had a problem handling the sand on the beach vs. the stuff in your hand analogy, nor the two halves of the brain. I don't think I need your distinction to handle them quite well. And what we are talking about is an attempt to get me to think your distinctions are indispensable--you're trying to sell me on the utility of these distinctions. What I'm not sold on are: 1) the difficulty of using my instruments and 2) the ease of using yours.

In a lot of instances, I have no problem with you (or James and Dewey) using "experience-instruments" and me using "language-instruments" (to create two categories I have great qualms about). Once each of us takes on a whole raft of pragmatist theses, I think either one of us gets the job done on a whole host of philosophical problems. Intramural conflict involves pointing to problems where you suspect the other person's tools will rattle and shake under the pressure of getting the job done. The reason I don't move to an experience-only-toolbox is because 1) I don't see why I have to use only them, 2) I have a vague, nagging suspicion that there are certain jobs the experience-tool will have trouble with (which will cause problems for me if that's my only tool), 3) these suspicions are exacerbated when it seems like the experience-tool is being suggested, even demanded, for jobs that I think it's inefficient at best for (and really--it's the demand that exacerbates), and 4) I don't have any persistent doubts about my capacity to use language-tools to handle pointed-out jobs.

I don't see myself in your broad canvas--when you point to Greek Intellectualism, I don't see myself there, so I merely shrug: "yeah, I agree with Nietzsche, too. I don't see our differences yet." When you talk about a "richer, thicker, more primordial experience" I raise my eyebrows and say, "No, thank you. I don't really feel the need to say anything like that in a philosophical context. The metaphor of primalness is a big reason why I stay away from 'primary' as a term of endorsement." When you say, "Sadly, people have to suffer a medical emergency, take drugs or take meditation lessons to even realize there is more than one way to be," I just think you're wrong. I think people realize for themselves that there is more than one way to be in all kinds of ways, and apparently a lot more often than you think (one way people suffer this realization is through the reading of other people's articulation of other ways of being).

What I do think is more rare than the realization itself is the decision to become some one other particular way to be. And that's what I read your "sadly" as. Because I'm more Emersonian than prescriptionally-philosophical, I like to flaunt the negative inducements to self-realization (what Emerson called "self-reliance," Nietzsche "becoming who you are," and Socrates "dialectic"), but downplay the positive steps I've taken on my own path. My steps, I like to think as a full-fledged Emersonian individualist, are but one of many kinds of steps one might make after the deconstruction of what Dewey called the "crust of conventionalized and routine consciousness." I like to think that the "pluralistic," positive, constructive side of pragmatism is too personal a project for it ever to coalesce as the stable center of a tradition called pragmatism. It is, rather, the "monistic," negative, destructive side of pragmatism, which simply consists in parasitic arguments against the past and exhortations to remake the future, that might only ever serve as the ramshackle commonality of individual pragmatists. Pragmatists, therefore, will always be fighting amongst themselves about how free of the past their individual proposals for new tools are.

I don't mind that other pragmatists are not fans of Rorty or Davidsonian/Brandomian philosophy of language (the latter being the only thing I can figure to be meant by what I referred to as "language-tools" in contrast to "experience-tools," which is just shorthand for variations on "pre-conceptual/conceptual experience distinctions"). I don't mind if they are retro-pragmatists, combating the excesses of the present professorial malaise (something every generation will find) by returning to a (somewhat reconstructed, retooled, and slightly imagined) "Golden Age" of pragmatism. I don't mind if they are practicing Buddhists, or Christians for that matter.

What I do mind is when other pragmatists do mind what, exactly, other people are. I do mind when it's suggested, if ever so subtly, that I need to be a Buddhist. I do care, and become a little annoyed and full of the Emersonian-pragmatist spirit of individualist self-creative free choice, whenever anyone makes such arguments about what others should self-realize as. I listen carefully but am reasonably skeptical of suggestions that I've run afoul of pragmatist edicts against Platonism, but I do become annoyed when I can't tell what I'm running afoul of. And I become full of righteous pragmatist anger, the kind of piety that can only occur when there's a center to be hypocritical of, when self-professed pragmatists tell other pragmatists how they should create themselves.

As I see it, you have a choice as a pragmatist: 1) you could throw Rorty out of the pragmatist pantheon (thus avoiding hypocrisy), 2) stop telling people what kinds of experience are "richer," and other kinds of laudatory epithets expressive of what you like--at the abstract level of philosophical discourse that you're letting these fly, I think you're running afoul of the "create yourself" plank in the pragmatist platform, or 3) throw out the "create yourself" plank that is common to Emerson, Nietzsche, James, Dewey, and Rorty.

I read your commentary on Rorty, and me, as implicit versions of (1)--you haven't explicitly thrown him out, but you suggest that "real pragmatism" is "X, Y, and Z" (just as I do in my own way)--centered around the classical pragmatists, radical empiricism, and the pre-conceptual/conceptual experience distinction--and then criticize Rorty for having fallen outside the circle. This is fair enough as far as it goes, but I think you need to say more about the Emersonian side of pragmatism I've hightlighted above, the side of pragmatism I spend most of my time promoting (and Rorty spent his). It is one thing to see Rorty as backsliding into Platonism (which is a reasonable criticism), but it is another, I think, to make Platonic-like authoritarian claims about how things are. You technically avoid them in the Emersonian spirit by telling me how beautiful things look from your perspective and how much sense of the world your distinctions make, but you have a problem on your hands if I reply, "Meh--I'm good." Such odes to your personal experience that opine the richness and freedom of tradition-weighted problems your way of being afford you are all fine and dandy as far as they go, but they are exhortative, not argumentative. If they were argumentative, they'd likely run afoul of Platonist intellecutalism--straight-jacketing the kinds of nonsense I want to make. You move from argumentative-criticisms of Rorty (which are permitted) to exhortative-songs of your freedom in such away that make me think that you think they are arguments--arguments that if I were a reasonable philosopher I would need to rebut or submit to. But I don't know how to rebut your affection for the way of being known as Buddhism without being a Platonist, and that's the only thing I know I don't want to be.

My suspicion is that if you tried to sing the song of Emersonian self-creation alongside your song of mysticism (which I still perceive as quasi-argumentative, as authoritarian edict), you'd run into problems. I suspect you'd find that you wouldn't be able to sing the song of mysticism in just the same way as you have before to hold the harmony of self-creation while remaining in tune. I suspect that the notes that would be modulated to stay in tune would be just those same ones that were previously the ones critical of Rorty. Which is to say: I don't think the modulated song of mysticism would have anything critical to say to Rorty's way of being, or his philosophy.

That's my suspicion. And for my own part (and from my own perspective), the disagreement we've had is that you think I'm singing notes that criticize your song of mysticism, whereas I don't think I am. Or rather, the song I'm singing only criticizes just those notes in the song that I think would have to be modulated away if you sang it in harmony with a song of self-creation.


  1. "...Similarly, meditative practices center on this destiction between primary and secondary experience."

    Far be it for me to intrude upon years of argument, but I couldn't disagree more. No ammount of polishing a brick will make a mirror of it. No doubt Dave is a much more intelligent man then I (and I don't think I'd wanna argue with him), but throwing such metaphysical (or in this case seemingly "real") dualisms into buddhism is no more buddhism then the opposite. Of course I assume that Buddhism is being talked about here considering the use of meditation, and Buddhism being thrown around here and there.

    I like what Huai-jang says in response to the uselessness of sitting quite, and what one should do instead:
    "It's like driving a cart, when it stops, what is the driver to do? To whip the cart, or to whip the ox?"

    Yeah, now that's groovy. I can just imagine Rorty's face giving that little twitch, and then those words coming out of his mouth.

  2. Well, the sense of "primary experience" that Dave, following James, wants is scrubbed of representationalism. Dave agrees that representationalism is a load of bullocks, but he also thinks that it is important to make a distinction between our conceptual conduct upon experience and a prior experience. Where we disagree is whether we need that distinction (and, I think, how one would need to look to avoid representationalism). So it's not as if Dave is innocent of these issues--he desires to be as much an antirepresentationalist as Rorty, he just disagrees how it needs to be done. Who's doing the most backsliding is just where our disagreements lie.

    One of the problems retro-pragmatists have with people like Rorty and Hilary Putnam is that they look like they're denying the mere appearance of something nonlinguistic--they look something like hyper-positivists (though Putnam might be saved with his late turn towards "direct realism"). Sellars' slogan for psychological nominalism ("all awareness is a linguistic affair") annoys the piss out of them, and combine that with Rorty's affection for Derrida ("Il n'y a pas de hors-texte: often misleadingly translated as, "there's nothing outside the text") and you have a recipe for a latter-day solipsist who says that no one needs to use arguments.

    Of course, Rorty never said we don't need to use arguments, but his occasionally excessive prose has a way of lending itself to the excesses of his opponents. I've read a lot of people talking about Rorty, and I've very rarely thought they've understood his real point. (Oddly enough, Putnam might be the worst. The best are still David L. Hall and Bjorn Ramberg.) I find it hard to talk about the primary/secondary experience distinction because I don't know what I'm talking about exactly--I feel like I'm being cowed into bad representationalism by being told that I'm leaving out whole quadrants of reality. I keep trying to field terminology and ideas about what the nonlinguistic looks like in a Rortyan vocabulary, but it isn't persuasive. I have a blindness to the problem Rorty's vocabulary creates. It has something to do with mysticism, and Dave's suggested that I have a Platonic disease that sweeps over it. That's a potent weapon, but the trouble is that any language-user--and particularly the philosopher--runs the risk of Greek rationalism. The problem of both understanding the world and avoiding pernicious forms of intellectualism is an on-going one, I would think, and it's certainly not a problem I want to be insensitive to.

  3. I think that my contention is to stay away from the idea that things like meditation, drugs, etc. are keys/doors to the mystical and/or primary experience – that there is a recognized duality and something to be attained. I tend to believe there was a time in Buddhism (and I’d have to look up the details) when it was all about this distinction, and meditation was seen as ones connection to this other more primary world of experience. But this to me just looks like more Platonism.

    As well, it seems to me (and I’m simply drawing upon the books I’ve read) the sense in which I see “primary experience” being used looks a lot like Heidegger’s Dasain. Like Buddhism (of which, Heidegger would comment of Suzuki [paraphrase] ‘if I understand this man correctly, this is what I’ve been trying to say’) the point is to experience Dasain as a mode of experiencing and living life in general. The problem is, again, to make a distinction out of it is to confuse it for something we attain (through meditation and the like) as apposed to something we just naturally are.

    To put it in another way, we may naturally be able to speak of it philosophically as a nice distinction, but from a Buddhist perspective (and indeed relative to the Dasain) it must be necessarily cast aside in order to ever understand it through living. I suppose what I’m saying is, the distinction is a handy tool for philosophical discourse, but I don’t think it bares any fruit beyond that (i.e. you end up whipping the cart your whole life)– which is why I’ve become so fond of Rorty.

    But, that’s my Tuesday morning, at work, first cup of coffee comment – for what it’s worth. Kinda preachy really.

  4. So is the idea that our "conceptual conduct upon experience" is an analog to Pirsig's static quality, and "prior experience" is related to Pirsig's dynamic component? i.e. pre-intellectual reality.

    And is this pre-intellectual dynamic reality also a pre-liguistic one? I assume it must necessarily be. I think this get's into Pirsigs analogy of the tiny stretch of time that exists between seeing something, and your mind going to work on it.

    Just so I understand, you used "Primary experience", "conceptual conduct upon experience", and "Prior experience". I assume primary and prior are he same things? maybe not?

    Dave is using "primary" and "secondary". It would seem to me, if I understand correctly, perhaps "prior experience" is not the correct language to be using here.

    All that being a bit fuzzy in my mind - I still feel that I can see the usefullness of this in a philosophical sense, but not in a practical sense.

    I don't know.

  5. Hey, I'm with you in being suspicious of the articulation as looking like a dualism, I just would hold off in being so cavalier in leveling it at Dave.

    In regards to your questions about the Pirsigian terminology, they are all good ones, and not ones I can answer easily. Is the "intellectual" necessarily linguistic? Probably, but that doesn't answer where language begins, which is itself contentious. Is "conceptual conduct" an analog to static patterns? Kind of--the trouble is that DQ is "pre-intellectual experience," but the static patterns themselves are not all, themselves, intellectual experiences. It's a knot that can be sorted out, but how one does so will have large effects on how to read Pirsig's philosophy.

    I did line up all those phrases as analogous, but Dave and my differences might lie in those distinctions between, e.g., "primary experience" and "prior experience." I don't know.

  6. Matt,
    as to my cavalier nature, that's sort of personality quirk that I have, and it's completely instinctual (I'm no professional). Honestly, I like emotionally driven responses that get to the heart of why I might be completely wrong with something I say. Yeah, I suppose I could ask, but for some reason I typically don't (there's a certain enjoyment I get from it. Not in a bad way....) Good or bad, that's just me, it's nothing personal.

    Shouldn't one stay away from the question, "Where does language begin?" Sounds a bit foundational?

    And why be so explicit (staying with Pirsig) and say that DQ is pre-"intellectual" experience? I agree that not all static patterns are intellectual, but then that means that we're not really talking about a true dichotomy here, and begs the question of a third sort of Quality. It seems to me that if we split open the DQ a bit we could tuck that non-intellectual static quality quite nicely in there - which is exactly where I think it should be. I'm not prepared for a big response to that right now though, but I have some blossoming ideas. I think that's partly my problem with the whole idea of primary experience; it's simply that, there isn't anything there, so, big stinkin' deal.

    Bottom line, I think direct primary experience can be either dynamic (pre-intellectual) or static (non-intellectual). From a Buddhist perspective (and indeed a proper Christian perspective, although I'd have to unpack that) it is that act of "intellectualizing" that muddies the primary waters. But, I'm not ready to unpack that thought quite yet either, it's seems to me intellectualizing has a cleave of it's own it can go through... I'll have to think about this for a day or 6.

    I don't know, I smell a smelly smell.

  7. It seems to me that the differences you and Dave center not around a certain philosophical apparatus, but rather what the point of the/a philosophical apparatus is, or what it's goal should be.

    You put forth your philosophical apparatus, and Dave puts out his. From here the argument doesn't sorround whether or not the apparatus is valid, per se, but whether or not it's talking about, or getting to the bottom of what one wants to get to the bottom of, or useful for what one wants it to be useful for. All the while you both ignor just what it is one should be "getting to the bottom of". At least that's my sense...

    I would think you guys need to stop and define just what it is you're talking about - so far, I don't really see that. Dave seems to be justifiying a sort of "mysticism" that he has, and defining it in a metaphisical way. His point doesn't have anything to do with practical use per se, but more with "state of mind". Which I think was Pirsig's point, e.g. "The only Zen that exists at the top of mountains is the Zen you Bring with you." Any talk about Zen is useless, pointless, meaningless, etc. The conversation is simply an expercise in primary mind.

    I actually find myself agreeing with Dave, with the caveat that once we've understood where he's going, we get rid of it entirely... But I'm prone to mysticism. On the other hand, it's a useless philosophy as far as philosophy goes, and doesn't create conversations so much as it introduces a sort of metaphysical preaching [about]. Which, to me, was ZMM; Zen for the analytical mind.

    On the other side of the coin, you could care less about mysticism(I'm being hyperbolic). So what? Mysticism to me is a bit like Camus' question in that, it's a conversation stopper. If that's your goal, great (sometimes it's mine).

    Anyway - point is (I guess) what's the point of philosophy, or better put, what's the point of the philosophical appratus? Is Dave serving his cause? Are you properly serving yours? Is Dave wrong because he doesn't serve your cause and visa versa?

    Andrew Louis

  8. Well, part of it revolves around both of us thinking we are each best serving Pirsig's cause. That's the commonality, except we both read Pirsig differently, and the classical pragmatists for that matter. Dave's biggest beef with me on that score is that I have the annoying (Rortyan) habit of ignoring all the parts of hero-philosophers I don't like and then identifying what's left with the part that should be served.

    Dave and I's arguments have treaded just about every topic, including the metaphilosophical topics of "what is philosophy for?" We look like we're talking past each other sometimes because we can't have a conversation about everything every time, but in this case Dave was explaining how radical empiricism can sustain a "more empirical than thou" attitude towards other philosophical positions, and I was more or less wondering why one would even want to. That's two different levels of conversation, and perhaps neither one of us was concerned to move to the other this time.

    Actually, neither one of us wants to talk about what the other wants to talk about, and we are both very stubborn.

    Dave's project is to develop a "philosophical mysticism," something that I suppose would bridge mysticism with your sense that "it's a useless philosophy as far as philosophy goes." Dave has a different sense of what mysticism is good for, and indeed thinks it might heal a number of philosophical/spiritual rifts that are riven in modern thought.

    I have a sense that mysticism is a genre of poetry. But then, I think everything's a genre of poetry.

  9. Sure... Everything is a genre of poetry, no doubt I agree with you there. Thinking about it along those lines, one can certainly see how ridiculous it is to argue which poetic method is best. But again, best for what?

    So what's going above the fire place, Matt, the Giorgio de Chirico, or the Gustave Courbet?


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