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Pirsig PhD Introduction


MOQ Textbook Introduction


Other MOQ Conference Papers:

Robert Pirsig's Welcome Speech

Dr McWatt's Handout

Henry Gurr's Handout

Ian Glendinning's Paper

David Buchanan's Paper

Gavin Gee-Clough's Paper

Khoo Hock Aun's Paper


Other papers on this website:

The 1993 AHP transcript-Part One

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

David Buchanan's Art & Morality Paper

Pirsig Annotations on Copleston

Gavin Gee-Clough's "Brisbane Winter" Paper 


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


Potential Implications of utilizing the MOQ for Research:
Why we need more Sherpas
Mati Palm-Leis, Ed.D

“Phaedrus had once called metaphysics 'the high country of the mind' – analogy to the 'high country' of mountain climbing. It takes a lot of effort when you arrive, but unless you can make the journey you are confined to one valley though all your life. This high country passage through the Metaphysics of Quality allowed entry to another valley of thought in which the facts of life gets a much richer interpretation. The valley spreads out into a huge fertile plain of understanding.”  (Pirsig, 1991, p. 172)

As a call for papers for this conference was made, it was noted that the papers could be a “personal account” or a “proper academic paper”; this paper will perhaps be a hybrid of both. Having spent considerable time exploring the metaphysical “high country”, I have come to appreciate the value and accomplishment that Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ) is. As a potential research tool in the social sciences, it is my opinion that THE MOQ can provide a broader, more comprehensive and more accurate accounting of research methodology and interpretation and correct many of the short comings of current research approaches. These shortcomings to a large degree are based on a Subject/Objective Metaphysical (SOM) foundation. In fact, the possibility of THE MOQ as a potential research tool, may provide a linking of the “high country” to the “valleys” below.

This paper will briefly explore the potential implication I believe that THE MOQ offers as a research tool as well as some of the hurdles I faced. I was eventually unable to incorporate THE MOQ in my initial research proposal. This paper is not intended to provide specific directives for research but rather provide an initial discussion point to explore this topic.

There are three areas this paper intends to explore. This will begin with some personal comments regarding THE MOQ and philosophy. These comments will be very general but I wish to stress the value of philosophy and value of using THE MOQ on a broader spectrum. Next I will share some of the personal experiences I faced in struggling to incorporate THE MOQ in the doctoral research I proposed and finally suggest recommendations for improving the possibility of using THE MOQ in future research.

As a disclaimer I don’t contend to be an expert in the studies of philosophy or those studies related to research methodologies. My perspective is that of a practitioner who recently completed his doctorate and attempted and failed to initially incorporate THE MOQ as a research tool. As a practitioner in the field of educational administrative leadership, I am interested in looking at THE MOQ as a potential metaphysical paradigm that can be utilized to better understand, through research, the many varying aspects related to education, leadership and a creating effective reform. This perspective includes exploring the value of linking the “high country” philosophical perspectives with those of the “valley” below. In my own experiences I have found many individuals in the proverbial valley intrigued by the philosophical understanding offered through the perspectives of Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality. I find myself in a role like a sherpa’s, sharing my basic knowledge in order to guide people that maybe struggling with various philosophical issues both personally and professionally. It is my opinion that research can assist in blazing meaningful trails from the high country to the valley below.

Personal Comments Regarding THE MOQ and Philosophy

In the introduction to 'Lila’s Child', Robert Pirsig introduces the contrasting concepts of philosophology and philosophy, noting, “Philosophy itself is opinions of the speaker himself about the general nature of the world, not just a classification of some else’s opinion.” This statement gives thoughtful license not only to explore THE MOQ but also to explore the world around us and extrapolate new meanings in the lives we lead.

As a lay person in the world of philosophy I tried to boil down the basic essence or meaning of what philosophy is. From a personal perspective I would suggest that philosophy is at the most basic level, a reflection of experiences in order to attain deeper meaning through the interpretation of those experiences and deliberate the possible implication of these new meanings. No thoughtful reflection itself can accurately reflect the actual experience and there are various distortions that any philosophical perspective may create. As Pirsig in 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' (ZMM) so acutely shows Subject/Object Metaphysics (SOM) creates one such distortion. However as suggested by Bodvar Skutvik’s concept of Subject Object Logic (SOL), there is a strong case to be made that SOM was the birth and continued basis for intellect. SOM may be considered the first true intellectual reflection and has served mankind well over the ages. But as Pirsig points out, it is time to expose SOM limitations and in 'Lila: An Inquiry into Morals' (LILA) he goes on to provide a far more accurate philosophical reflection of how life really is with THE MOQ. If THE MOQ really is a more accurate philosophical reflection of reality, and I would suggest that it is, then its value may reach a broader scope than the world of philosophical academia.

As a general comment, philosophical and issues are mainstays of everyday common life. Whether it is personal, or professional, these issues are a natural intellectual tendency to understand ourselves and the world around us. Many times people tend to gloss over these issues, failing to have the skills to understand them. Some individuals become apathetic toward these issues altogether and others use established social patterns such as religion or other doctrines for guidance. In addition there are those individuals who seek research and data to assist in working through issues in order to make inform decisions.

One of the virtues of research is an attempt to enhance our understanding of the world around us with reliable data and thoughtful interpretation of that data. When one examines the process of interpretation there commonly can be found a philosophical foundation. One of the limitations of research in the social sciences has been a reliance of approaching research from a strictly objective or positivistic viewpoint. Pirsig in LILA a illustrated quite clearly the limitations of using strictly objective in approaching the social science related to anthropology. These limitations seem far less problematic when approaching research.

An Attempt of Incorporating THE MOQ in the Doctoral Research

My introduction to Pirsig was reading ZMM after completing my undergraduate degree. I was most intrigued by the assertion that quality could not be defined philosophically. Then during my graduate work in educational administration there was a leadership course in which the professor asserted that leadership could not be defined. This raised the question of whether or not there might there be a connection between quality and leadership, specifically educational administrative leadership? Eight years ago, this curious question started a my own personal struggle, which in part, has brought me to this conference.

Three years ago I started my doctorial program looking to see if there was a way to advance a solution to the question of leadership and quality. My only progress was recognizing that this problem required a value based solution. At that time I searched for a values paradigm, philosophical or otherwise, that would further the understanding of leadership. During the literature review I read Pirsig’s second book LILA, and found in it a philosophical paradigm based on values that made sense.

In an initial application paper of THE MOQ and educational leadership entitled “The Metaphysics of Leadership” it outlined a number of beneficial implication from approaching leadership and education, specifically using THE MOQ. This paper was presented at the “Values in Leadership” at Penn State University in November of 2004. The paper was very well received. In my estimation this was not based on the quality of the paper, but rather a real interest in the profession in approaching leadership of a philosophical perspective and many attending individuals were intrigued with the ideas of THE MOQ and its potential in offering a new perspective on educational administration and leadership.

With such a positive response, I had a renewed motivation in further pursuing this topic I declared my doctoral research topic as A Metaphysical Interpretation of Superintendents Perceptions about Quality Education.” This was to be a qualitative study in which college superintendents would be interviewed about their perceptions about how quality education is determined from their leadership perspective and issues they saw in attaining quality education. Then using THE MOQ, interpret responses and identify common values, themes and issues. It was the hope that these interpretations would provide new insight into the leadership role of superintendents and issues surrounding leadership, quality and education.

With hind sight in mind I would like to make a few comments about this research topic and the subsequent failure to pursue it. First, this was perhaps an over ambitious project. Having successfully completed a doctoral research project on the Current Status of a Philosophy of Educational Administration in Administrator Preparation Programs in the State of Wisconsin, I can appreciate the broad scope I was attempting with my initial topic. And second, I want to be as clear as possible that my failure to pursue this topic in no way is should be associated with the accomplishment of Pirsig work and the potential validity of THE MOQ. Rather it was my inability to overcome a number of research obstacles in a limited time frame. As such, I would like to now share some of the personal hurdles that I encountered from my doctoral committee and provide some recommendations to possibly support future research projects.

Issue #1 - Has Pirsig’s work been used in similar research study?

As the initial research proposal was being drafted, the doctorial committee was concerned with using Pirsig’s work, which was largely unknown, however two committee members claimed to have read both of Pirsig’s books. I did make a request on discussion and personally to Anthony McWatt inquiring about what other research may have been done using THE MOQ. No other research projects were identified. I spent a considerable amount of time educating the committee members about the MOQ and how I intended to use THE MOQ as an interpretive tool (This will be further discussed in issue two and three). One committee member, my advisor at the time, who had a degree in philosophy, also failed to see the end value in the study I was proposing. At the time, I strongly suggested that this was new ground and in the current field of educational administration a philosophical approach to leadership and research was greatly ignored. By approaching this research topic from a philosophical perspective it may have provided new information in understanding the superintendent leadership role and quality education.

The following recommendations are designed to further enhance the ability to access Pirsig’s work in academic research settings.


1. Identify university or colleges, with philosophical or research departments that would be receptive to Pirsig’s work. This could potentially provide a resource of individuals who could provide some support to others interested in using THE MOQ in research in a variety of fields.

2. Begin a catalog of academic and non-academic references that cite or more importantly provide new insights as to how might THE MOQ might be used for research or provide additional insights into THE MOQ as it is applied to other fields.

3. Begin developing a possible research protocol when using THE MOQ for research purposes. It is suggested that a committee of individuals in the field of philosophy and research as well as practitioners work together to identify appropriate utilization for THE MOQ in research. This may include the advantages of using THE MOQ for research as well as the future challenges.

Issue #2 – There was a level of isolation in pursuing THE MOQ that made it increasing difficult to overcome.

The idea of leadership and quality having an important relationship is one that I had personally invested over seven years. When I discovered Pirsig’s second book I was extremely motivated in using it as part of my doctoral research project. As I began the dissertation process I thought I was extremely clear as to what I wanted to do. I met with the doctoral committee over a four month period. During each meeting with my doctoral committee it became increasingly difficult to overcome the questions that the committee would raise. I would try to answer questions raised in one meeting and in the next, the number of questions would grow. Also my own advisor began to distance himself from me. In addition the doctoral program director was growing increasingly doubtful of the study suggested that if I were interested in pursuing a philosophy dissertation that their program was not really designed to facilitate this type of research.

With seven months to complete the entire dissertation, I started to review the growing number of obstacles to overcome and I came to the realization that it would take, if I were lucky, another four to six months just to complete the proposal. There was an increasing sense that if I were to pull this off, I would be doing it on my own and a great deal of energy would be used validating the use of THE MOQ for research purposes. Already mentally exhausted, I had a growing feeling that I did not have the time, money or energy to continue. With extreme disappointment I abandoned the topic altogether to pursue another topic with more traditional research methods.

There are many unique aspects in pursuing a doctoral degree. The dynamics involved with the dissertation committee and one’s advisor is one of the aspects. The people on my committee were good people. The questions and objections they raise were valid, and the ability to overcome these obstacles was a burden I could not do alone. The following recommendations are made to possibly address this issue of isolation among individuals interested in using THE MOQ for research.


1. Related to recommendation #1 from the first issues, again identify a group of academic individuals that would either serve as mentors to individuals using THE MOQ for research or possibility of serving on doctoral committees for individuals interested in pursuing research using THE MOQ. This would also address the need for assurances that research using THE MOQ be used appropriately as well provide needed guidance in the research process.

2. Perhaps develop forum, similar to the discussion groups such as found at (MD) again designed those individuals interested in using THE MOQ for research, and offering an opportunity not to work in isolation. Also this could invite other individuals with academic backgrounds to learn and participate in the development of THE MOQ being used in other academic fields and research.

Issue #3 – There was difficulty in operationalizing the social and intellectual levels of THE MOQ.

One of the major issues that resurfaced repeatedly was the operationalizing of the social and intellectual levels for interpretation of data collected. Social values tended to be fairly straight forward; however, trying to differentiate the social and intellectual values became increasing difficult. One example was describing the social values in respect to the social culture of a school or school district. This may include traditions, folklores, and related community/social values that impact the perceptions of their schools. When identifying possible intellectual values such as equity and excellence it started to become to difficult to differentiate for the committee. At one point in hopes that I could assist committee members, I created a list of possible social and intellectual values that might be encountered in interviews with school superintendents. Unfortunately this list created more questions than answers.

Currently on MD the discussion again has turn to the intellectual level and specifically the idea posed by Bodvar Skutvik that the Subject/Object split is the basis for the intellectual level. Personally, I currently support his idea on the basis that it has the most merit from a lay person’s perspective of explaining intellect and avoiding many of the distortions that SOM itself has created. Regardless of what definition might be presented as a defining intellect, a process needs to be developed to determine which of the possible definitions that might be provided, including those comments and thoughts presented by Pirsig and therefore determine what might be the best definition until a better or more refined definition might be found. Otherwise this raises a concern that without a functional or operational definition, further advancement of THE MOQ for research might be hindered.


Create an academic forum in which an operational definition for the social and intellectual levels definitions might be presented and evaluated. Through this process a definition or definitions might be selected with future opportunities to review and refine definitions.


Again I want to stress two things. First, these issues and recommendations were based on my experiences and may not represent all issues or possible recommendations but rather provide a starting point from a where discussion might be initiated. Secondly these limitations have more to do with overcoming the established and current social and intellectual considerations for research. These limitations should not be seen as limitations of the accomplishment that Pirsig has achieved with THE MOQ.

A primary goal of philosophy is to provide a greater understanding of humanity and does so by reflecting on the values it deems most important and that suggest the greatest quality of life. Pirsig’s MOQ does a great deal to advance this endeavor. Unfortunately, there is a multitude of individuals who are unaware or fail to understand the implications of both ZMM and LILA. Conferences such as this represent a first important step in bringing together a small community of like minded individuals. I would charge all of us in the responsibility to take these important ideas revealed by Pirsig and find thoughtful avenues to further advance them. This is a call for the role of “sherpa”, as a shared responsibility to not only share the path to the “High Country”, but also provide and create a meaningful understanding to those in the “New Valley Below”. 


The informal talk that Dr Palm-Leis gave after the above presentation can be viewed in the "Arrive Without Travelling" DVD available here:



"Arrive Without Travelling" DVD


This DVD is for sale at $20/£12.99   

(NTSC Version for $20)

(PAL Version for £12.99)


This was the first ever DVD to feature Robert Pirsig on film.  Using professional quality footage and excerpts from Pirsig's own home movies, here you will find him in conversation with students of his work and in more informal moments filmed largely during his visit to Liverpool in 2005. 


To purchase a copy of this DVD for $20 (or the sterling equivalent), please press either of the buttons above depending on what format (NTSC or PAL) you require. 


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