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PhD Commentary

An Open Letter to Sam Harris

Art & the MOQ by Robert Pirsig

An Introduction to
 Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality

An MOQ Summary by Robert Pirsig

Khoo Hock Aun's Paper

David Buchanan's Art & Morality Paper

Pirsig Annotations on Copleston

Gavin Gee-Clough's "Brisbane Winter" Paper 

 Henry Gurr's MOQ presentation

 

Sneddon Thesis

- Part One

 

Sneddon Thesis - Part Two

David Buchanan's 2006 Paper

Observer Interview

Selections from the 1993 AHP transcript

Notes on the tetralemma

The MOQ & Time

The MOQ & Education

Pirsig & Pragmatism

Chai at the Lazy Lounge

 

 

 

“THE HEART OF THE MATTER:

VALUES FOR A WORLD COMMUNITY”

 

July 29th - August 1st, 1993

 

San Diego, California

 

ASSOCIATION OF HUMANISTIC PSYCHOLOGY

PRE-CONFERENCE INSTITUTE

 

Excerpts from “Metaphysics of Quality: A New Paradigm for Values & Healing”

Robert Pirsig with Leland ‘Chip’ Baggett

 

“I’ve been on this MOQ for thirty-three years now and things that seem enormously clear to me just baffle other people sometimes and I may have made a lot of omissions in what I’ve written in LILA and these omissions are deeply angering to a lot of people who are genuinely trying to figure out what I’m saying.”

“When you write a book you are expected to go from point A to point B to point C to point D in a rather linear fashion. You are allowed, if you want to get intellectual, to proceed in a hierarchic fashion, or a ‘fishbone’ fashion, where you can go to point A, branch out on subtopics of A and come back, go down to point B, branch out and come back, go to C, branch out an come back and so on. But, generally, you’ve got to have that spine in your fishbone that takes you from the beginning of the essay all the way to the end.”

“When you get into the kind of problems that Maslow was getting into, and the problems of the MOQ as I have seen them, you get into another kind of structure completely which I would call a ‘web.’ You go from point A to point B and you find you have three choices – go straight ahead, to the right or the left – and you take one. You go to your next node and you have three choices, and you go the right, the left and so on and after several nodes you say, ‘Hang on, this looks like a node I’ve been at before.’ And you find that all of a sudden you’re making a circle even though you intended to make a straight line path.”

“A lot of the trouble that I think Maslow had, and a lot of the trouble I’ve been having in the seventeen years that I’ve worked on the MOQ, is to keep from spinning around endlessly in this web and try to come out with something in the end.”

 

“ZMM has, in some ways, what is the most important part of the MOQ which is the build-up, it is an inductive book. LILA is a deductive book.”

“ZMM is a build-up from the inductive experience of the narrative into this final word - ‘Quality’ - into what is the essence of the MOQ.”

 

“‘Right’ artistically is quite different from ‘right’ scientifically, as we now use the terms. The ‘right’ is a wholeness, it’s not an analytical process.”

 

“In a sense, the MOQ is an acceptance of this fact, that Quality is here, and that if we can’t explain it, you’re not going to get rid of the quality. We have to adjust our system of explanation in such a way that we can incorporate Quality into a rational system of thought.”

“Quality is not going to go away and if our system of thought cannot comprehend what quality is and lay it out in a rational, orderly form then we must modify our whole system of thought to accommodate this existence of quality or value in our lives. The MOQ is that attempt to completely up-end and change the entire theory of the universe from a subject-object theory of the universe, which has existed in the past, to a value-centered universe in which suddenly you have a system of thought in which ‘Quality” is a real, usable, rational term and in which no destruction is made to subjects and objects as they are conceived in our present metaphysics.”

 

“Two words came up to me that I learned in German class long ago; they are the words ‘kenntnis’ and ‘wissenschaft.’ Both words mean ‘to know.’ We use the word in English, ‘to know,’ the same way. The two meanings of ‘kenntnis’ and ‘wissenschaft’ are ‘to know as one would know one’s own mother’s face,’ that’s ‘kenntnis.’ ‘Wissenschaft’ would be ‘to know as one knows Mesopotamian history.’ To us they are just both forms of ‘knowing’ but in German I am told that they are very different and that they are regarded as two entirely different entities. As different as blue and green or as different as ice and snow which the Hindi language confuses as one word.”

“It then occurred to me that Quality is not easily understood by wissenschaft, the knowledge by which you understand ancient history, but you can understand it so quickly through kenntnis, by acquaintance, because you don’t even have to think about it. So this very interesting split is one which divides on the word ‘Quality.’ Quality you can know by kenntnis. You say it’s good – ‘yeah it’s great, I like it’ – you don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to analyse it, you don’t have to sit down. But if you say ‘why do you like it? Give me the specific reasons, lay out your framework for understanding it,’ you’ll find that it is a very, very difficult task.”

 

“[Phaedrus] began to think that we can’t have a three-termed universe. At least, from a metaphysical point of view it’s kind of ugly. You have a lot of metaphysical monisms, you have a lot of metaphysical dualisms, but you don’t have many metaphysical triads. He just didn’t like it. To have three things walking around – subjects, objects and quality – doesn’t make anything simpler, it just makes things more complicated. So he became very interested in thinking, ‘What is the relationship between subjects, objects and quality?’ He said that it doesn’t occur separately in the subject exactly, it always has a referent; and it doesn’t occur exactly in the object because you can’t isolate it in the object in any scientific way. He noticed that it always occurs when a subject and object come in contact with one another and he made a single change. He said, ‘We presume the subject and the object are causing the quality,’ but he said, ‘No. It’s the other way around. Quality is producing the subject and the object.’ And that is the nucleus, the focus of the entire MOQ. There you have it, right there.”

 

“A non-representational artist has an easel in front of him, he has paint in front of him, he has a brush, he puts it in, and he’s staring at a blank canvas. Where does he put it? Where does he put that brush down on the canvas? Who’s going to tell him? How is he going to know? Are there any rules? There are no rules. If he is a real artist he is going to operate on pure value and say, ‘There.’ It will be a non-mediated, non-intellectual process; he’ll just go, ‘There.’”

“The reason I’m quite sure this is so is that what’s true for a painter is also true for a writer and has occurred all along, all these years in my work on these books. I don’t have any way of writing these books except to sit there in my chair and wait for something to come that has value. A word comes up and I say, ‘Okay, that’s good,’ and I write it down. A sentence comes around the word and I say, ‘Okay, that’s good.’ Then I look back and I say, ‘Wait a second, that wasn’t so good!’ My Dynamic sense of quality is moving on and this sentence which I’ve just created has become static and all of a sudden there is a clash between the two and I have a choice – do I stick with the static or do I move on to the Dynamic? In my case it’s taken me seventeen years because all the time I throw out the old and try the new.”

 

“The Dynamic aspect of Quality is that Quality which I associate most closely with Zen Buddhism. When I was talking about Quality in ZMM I was referring primarily to Dynamic Quality. Then, in LILA, at one point I said, ‘Well, I could beat my gums on this forever (in fact many people have) and nobody is going to know what I’m talking about so why don’t I talk about what it isn’t?’ Sometimes you can define something in terms of what it isn’t rather than in terms of what it is. Dynamic Quality isn’t everything in the encyclopaedia – that’s all static. Everything that we can name, everything that we can think about, everything that we can conceptualise, or all our rituals, whatever we are as a living person is static.”

“Dynamic is this upwelling….well it isn’t anything I can tell you. And this is what you’ll hear every minute from the Zennies. But you can discover it if you work on it. But you won’t discover it by conceptualisation and this is a huge problem that Zen teaching has. You see it over and over again and this is why they sound so screwy, in their koans and everything. What they’re trying to do is get you to stop conceptualising and start experiencing. But even that’s wrong because I’m giving you a concept!”

“There is the Quality of Zen and there is the Quality of the MOQ and they are not the same thing anymore because the MOQ is an intellectual static pattern and already it’s been polluted plenty to get into that pattern. And all of a sudden you’re taking sides and things... You’re picking and choosing and in Zen you’re not supposed to do that! I’ll give you that koan: ‘the way is not difficult but it avoids picking and choosing.’ That’s a famous koan: the quality that is Quality is arrived at not by picking and choosing.”

 

“We started with the experience in the classroom and started asking questions about the central idea of Quality which was arrived at in ZMM – the idea that Quality is the source of all things and is not subordinate to anything. In LILA we shift into another kind of book entirely. We are getting into a deductive book. Instead of working from experience to principles we’re working from principles back down to experience.”

 

“ZMM was a rather inspirational book; it made everybody feel better in the end. LILA is a confrontational book; everybody in it dislikes everybody else; nobody understands anybody else; everybody’s fur is constantly getting rubbed the wrong way including the fur of many readers. Phaedrus has changed from a romantic mystery figure to a rather disagreeable intellectual. The setting is grotesque and depressing and so is the plot. So why, you may wonder, did I write it that way?”

“Originally the intent was to forget about quality and write about Indians but books have a mind of their own, they tell you what they want. For some reason this book just wanted to be cross and depressing. I never knew why when I was writing it but I think now that maybe I subconsciously felt that the MOQ was way too important to be sugar-coated. Its primary concern is not what is popular – popularity is a social goal – its primary concern is truth. When you say two times two is four you should not have to say it in a way that is pleasing to an audience – it’s four no matter how crossly you say it. The feeling as I wrote LILA was, look, this is what I believe, take it or leave it, and it was just that kind of declaration all the way through and a lot of people have left it.”

 

“The structure of LILA is that of a philosophic discourse contained within a narrative. Although people think of it as something I originated it’s not new at all. Aesop’s Fables are a mixture of narrative and moralising. The Mahabharata, India’s most sacred book, is a mixture of narrative and moralising in which the entire action of a battle is stopped while Krishna and Arjuna argue about how moral the whole battle is. There is also a kind of Japanese play called a Noh play, which influenced me very strongly in my undergraduate days, in which moral issues are embedded in the narrative of the play. Those of you who have seen the play Rashomon, and were impressed by it, realise that a huge part of its strength was the moral issue of what is truth? Who tells it? How do we know?”

“In ZMM the narrative tends to dominate the intellectual part of the book - the metaphysics - but in LILA the metaphysics clearly dominates the narrative. The three main characters are metaphysical chess-pieces. Lila embodies biological values, Richard Rigel embodies social values, and Phaedrus embodies intellectual values. The reason none of them get along is because their values are mismatched.”

“Within LILA there are two huge divisions which are not very apparent to the reader. The first part of the book, up to about Chapter 13, is what would be called high-level exposition in which we start with the basic ideas, the basic philosophy of the MOQ. In the second part of the book we get to low-level exposition in which concrete examples appear of how the world is when these high level principles are applied.”

 

“Dynamic Quality is the only part of Quality described in ZMM. It is the part of Quality about which everyone agrees. The experience of Dynamic Quality is the same for everyone, it is only the experiences and objects which are mentally associated with the experience which are different. There is no difference in the liking when the liking is independent of the things liked.”

“Dynamic Quality is universal. No-one says that his liking for beans is any different to someone else’s liking for carrots independently of the beans and carrots involved. When the differences occur they are the result of the static patterns which vary from one person to another.”

 

Question from audience: “Is Dynamic Quality changeless?”

Pirsig: “There’s nothing there to change. This is getting to a level of abstraction where the words become kind of meaningless. This takes me back to Benares, India, where they would debate whether it was all ‘one’ or all ‘nothing.’ The Buddhists say it is all nothing and the Hindus say it is all one and they both mean the same thing. Whether Dynamic Quality is changeless or changing is, at the level of Dynamic Quality, irrelevant. That’s about the best answer I can give you.”

 

“The multiplicity of mind is accommodated by the MOQ. It says you can have many mental patterns and many people do. The characteristics of the narrator of ZMM are one pattern that was in my mind. The characteristics of Phaedrus were an entirely different pattern in my mind and those two patterns hate each other. The MOQ says that you can split a person out in lots of ways and that the patterns which we call our minds are the result of separate paths of karmic history and we don’t really reconcile them very much.” 

(Transcribed by Paul Turner with minor amendments by Robert Pirsig

& Anthony McWatt, January 2006)

 

 

To read the full transcript of Pirsig's AHP session (which is in four parts on this website), please start at the following link: 

 

 

AHP Full Transcript - Part 1

 

 

 

 For more details about Chip Baggett's humanistic work and the AHP, please visit the following websites at:

 

www.ahpweb.org & www.ahppress.org

 

 

 

The complete discussion The Metaphysics of Quality: A New Paradigm between Robert Pirsig & Chip Baggett can also be purchased on tape at:

 

www.conferencerecording.com