Essays is an excellent source of material about Robert Pirsig, including essays and letters of his you cannot find elsewhere. It has within its confines an online discussion group (the "MD"), made up of amateur philosophers, like myself, that traverse the scope of philosophy and politics, all with an eye towards Pirsig (though not as much of an eye as some would wish). It also houses an Essay Forum, which is where I first began posting my amateurish entanglings with philosophy.

Those essays are:

Phenomenological-Existentialism and the Metaphysics of Quality — this is a very early essay, and quite bad. It seeks to deploy some terms from Husserl and Sartre and apply them to Pirsig.

Absurdity and the Meaning of Life — this is also an early essay, and still quite bad. It treats Camus' notions of philosophy and ethics, and attempts to gear in Pirsig.

I've written a retrospective on the above two wrestlings with existentialism, particularly the latter, in "Second Thoughts on Existentialism."

Mechanistic Philosophy and the Yellow Brick Road of Science — this was my first, true attempt at amateur writing: most of the essay was written, not for a class, but because I wanted to write it. It's still pretty bad. It attempted to treat mechanistic philosophy and reductionism, and took up a piece of the debate between science and intelligent design (I discuss Michael Behe here). It was my last attempt to try and breathe life into "teleology," which I took to be opposite mechanistic philosophy. I now perceive my principle problem to have been seeing mechanism, and not reductionism, as the problem. If mechanism is simply the metaphor of causation, then science as the inquiry into physical causes (based on its ability to predict and control) is just what science as an inquiry is. The trouble was rather reducing all inquiry to that sole inquiry. My instincts about reductionism not being an enemy weren't entirely wrong, however, and more update thoughts are in "The Parable of the Reductionist." There's a good bit at the end of "Yellow Brick Road," however, that sketches the rise of anthropology (particularly Franz Boas' role) and how it tied into certain fears of philosophical positions. It's a good example (well, good enough) of how philosophical positions interact with a larger frame of reference than just the internal dialectic among philosophers arguing with each other.

Confessions of a Fallen Priest: Rorty, Pirsig, and the Metaphysics of Quality — this was written entirely for and was my first attempt to synthesize Richard Rorty and Robert Pirsig. This essay marked a turning point in my frame of reference to Pirsig, and led to some overzealous criticisms that pretty much killed my reputation at (See some retrospective comments in "Dewey, Pirsig, Rorty, or How I Convinced an Entire Generation of Pirsigians that Rorty is the Devil: An Ode to David Buchanan.") The question of whether I'm ruining Pirsig or not by bringing him into orbit with Rorty is a difficult question for me—I don't see what the big deal is, which means a lot of energy is spent on articulating why, but in relationship to what the big deal might be. There are a lot of different feelings that can be hidden in the very different styles of these two philosophers. The essay is a fairly pedantic summarization of Rorty's philosophy and Pirsig's philosophy, including a defense of Rorty's and a critique of Pirsig's. The summary of Rorty is fairly straightforward, though the summary of Pirsig, apparently, is quite contentious.

Philosophologology: An Inquiry into the Study of the Love of Wisdom — this is my most extensive interrogation of my troubles with Pirsig. I believe (and still do) that most of the noises that sound "metaphysical" (defined in a certain manner) are attributable to Pirsig's relationship to professional philosophy, which is to also say its history. I take Pirsig's coined word of derogation for professional philosophy, "philosophology," and telescope it into a general critique of a certain class of noises we find in Pirsig's extant writing. I think it is, sadly, still one of the only pieces of reading Pirsig as a philosopher that takes seriously the writtenness of his articulation of philosophical positions. One does not always need to do so (I don't), but I think a lot of ink is spilt without doing so that tends to distort the product we take to be finished and "Pirsig's philosophy." One could read the middle section of the paper ("Birth of a Philosopher") and get the gist of the argument. I still think this is the finest piece of extended writing I've done.

Review of "Herds of Platypi" — this was a review of a small essay by Thomas Op de Coul ("Herds of Platypi? A Critical Reading of Chapter 8 of Lila"). I thought it showed a lot of promise in it's manner of engagement with Pirsig, and I had hoped at the time to write many reviews of essays that I thought good (essays like Sam Norton's "The Eudaimonic MoQ" and John Beasley's "Understanding Quality"), in the hopes of highlighting them and, in particular, in fostering the kind of communal negotiation and dialogue that marks a vital community of inquiry. The full completion of the plan never materialized, partly because I became increasingly discouraged with the possible success and institution of such a community at I realized I couldn't simply will it to happen, no matter how hard I tried, and that there just wasn't a lot energy for that kind of thing. Amateur philosophy is what it is, and not professional, partly because it is entirely driven by the random cavalcade of personalities that happen to convene. My review basically contains more warmed-over Rorty, and my first use of Donald Davidson, but is mainly a smallish encapsulation of my reading of Pirsig.

Open Letter to New Participants of the Discussion Groups — after writing "Philosophologology," I became increasingly interested in the relationship between amateur and professional, a topic I haven't ceased to think about and one I consider a central philosophical issue, particularly for the amateur. Because, for the amateur in particular, it raises the question of "What the hell do you hope to get out of what you are doing?" Professional philosophers can let that question fade to the back (as Rorty has noticed wryly) since they get, at least, paychecks for it. But what about the man on the street? Why ponder a certain style of question? What, especially, do you hope to accomplish by writing about it? Good questions it is sometimes helpful not to think about, but ones that can help you determine what you want, which is a good step towards staving off disappointment. This "Open Letter" was designed for that reason—to help people ease themselves into the MD by describing what amateur philosophy is and what generally happens at the MD. So-called "dialogue" can sometimes become quite vitriolic, and if people aren't prepared, they can sometimes become unduly turned off. The MD isn't for everyone, but I think a certain preparation and selectivity in approach to others can make for a better experience (though, of course, the practical advice I give is merely a reproduction of the kind of style of presentation I like—I would never tell a person that they have to compose themselves in a certain manner, but I tend to think that some people combine a "take me as I am" desire for authenticity with a "and you do have to take me" demand for attention that allows them to avoid the rhetorical consequences of chosen stylizations—like being a dick).

Review of "Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality" — this was a review of Anthony McWatt's short presentation, and the title of my review (reproduced as I wanted it here) was supposed to have a double-meaning—it wasn't really much of a review of McWatt, as a philosopher or interpreter of Pirsig, at all, so much as another opportunity for me to set up my interpretive conundrum: Pirsig can be read as a Platonist or pragmatist. But for various reasons, the title got changed and the double-meaning was lost.

Pirsig Institutionalized: More Thoughts on Pirsig and Philosophology — this was basically a re-doing of the main argument of "Philosophologology." As I continued to think about the issues of professional and amateur, particularly in relationship to Stanley Fish's pragmatism, I began to also see better how rhetoric informs behavior. This recapitulates the main argument against the rhetoric of philosophology, and turns its eye to the kinds of patterns of argumentation one finds in the MD. If the MD contains people working out of Pirsig's philosophy, how are they doing? And as far as I can tell, the pattern of antiprofessionalism is still a big pattern. Which is too bad—it never made sense to me how one could both spurn the professionals and be pissed at them for not including someone you like. I think the best equilibrium for an amateur is a healthy respect for the kind of knowledge accrued by the professional (who, say, knows Greek and spends all his time just thinking about Plato) balanced against a keen eye on just how far the authority of that knowledge extends (not, say, to the way I personally lead my life). It's the difference between Leo Strauss's very keen insights into the Platonic text and Allan Bloom's cross-eyed approach to American education.

There was supposed to be a second sequel to "Philosophologology" to follow "Pirsig Institutionalized," about the relationship between history, static patterns, and Dynamic Quality, but I lost early notes for it and became less interested in restoring balance to Pirsig's system (part of the consequence of caring less and less about system generally, I suppose). The kernel of the idea, which was later crystallized in reading Mark Maxwell's interpretation of Dynamic Quality (in "The Edge of Chaos"), was that Dynamic Quality was a rupture of static patterns (in opposition to Maxwell's clarification of DQ as optimal coherence between static patterns), and that the difficulty of interpreting Pirsig here is between the notion that a Dynamic moment is one of broken patterns (DQ as newness) and the notion that a Dynamic moment is one where you are in touch with pre-intellectual experience. In the latter case, there is something there beforehand with which one can cohere with. When you add the further conflation of "newness" and "betterness" housed within the concept of Dynamic Quality, you get a very confusing mess of knowing when and how to apply the intellectual apparatus Pirsig adumbrated. The wonderful diversity of conceptual items and experiential intuitions contained in the notion of DQ make it a very attractive notion, but the effort of putting it to use in a systematic manner is daunting, let alone my own feelings about the general utility of any particular philosophical system qua system. I like to think that amateur philosophers, much more so than professionals, don't care as much about systematicity, since to be systematic is to be professional. I'd like to think that amateur philosophers are just out for some extra tools of thought to help them through the day.

And though the issue of amateur and professional is around in the background a lot, there is a sort of coda to my arguments about philosophology in "Philosophical Antiauthoritarianism"—a fellow amateur takes up some issues in one of my papers, and I try to clarify what I mean by "antiauthoritarian" in response.