brief introduction to the MOQ is provided at the end of this
Q1: Are there right and wrong answers to moral questions?
must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious
creatures. If there are more and less effective ways for us
to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world—and
there clearly are—then there are right and wrong answers
to questions of morality.
The MOQ (Metaphysics of Quality) would
rather state that there are good and bad answers to moral
the MOQ suggests that there are different kinds of
moralities and, as such, there are different answers
depending on the perspective taken.
For example, this allows us to see that a hungry wolf
killing its prey is taking a moral action (from its
biological perspective) or a Muslim society’s code of
covered dress for women is moral (from its particular social
and critically, the MOQ also takes a wider perspective that
places questions (and answers) of morality within a broad
cosmological, evolutionary framework which assists us to see
the best answers to certain moral dilemmas.
For instance, consider the simple moral
issue of the germ, the patient and a doctor:
more moral for a doctor to kill a germ than to allow the
germ to kill his patient? The germ wants to live. The
patient wants to live. But the patient has moral precedence
because he’s at a higher level of evolution.
(Within the MOQ, the germ is a combination of
inorganic and biological pattern of values while the patient
also includes social and intellectual patterns).
may be obvious (even though there are certain religious
cults against inoculations on moral grounds!) but from a
(value centred) MOQ it is absolutely, scientifically moral
for a doctor to prefer the patient.
This is not just based on some arbitrary social
convention but is a moral pattern of reality as real and
solid as the moral pattern that holds a rock together.
As such, it applies to all doctors, in all cultures.
examine the issues dealing with ‘vice’ and the
Church’s moral response to these.
Vices such as drinking, sex, dancing, drugs etc.
these are all biological pleasures which the Church, with
its (social) morality tries to put the brakes on.
And, of course from an evolutionary moral
perspective, the Church is correct in this.
It is asserting social values over biological values.
For example, excessive drinking undermining family
stability, job retention etc.
However, the MOQ
argues that it is not an exclusive (social) Church morality;
it also contends that it is scientifically moral for social
patterns of value to dominate biological patterns of value.
If we examine the
historical struggle between the Church and Science we see
that scientific truth (intellectual patterns of value) and
orthodox theological dogma (largely social patterns of
value) have always been at loggerheads because the
discoveries of science often undermine the Church’s dogma.
The persecution of scientists such as Galileo by the Church
is well documented. The MOQ holds that the Church’s
motivation to persecute or even condemn or ignore scientific
advances is immoral because this asserts social moral
dominance over a (higher) intellectual moral value.
It must be made clear from the outset
that the MOQ is not a panacea for all questions concerning
values. Rather, by placing value (or, as Pirsig often calls
it, Quality) at the forefront of the evolutionary process,
you are left with a metaphysics that has an explanatory
power far exceeding any previous conventional scientific or
The MOQ holds that
the world is composed of nothing but moral value and one of
the main difficulties which the MOQ has overcome is the
assigning of issues of morality to their proper evolutionary
Q2: Are you saying that science can answer such
Harris: Yes, in principle. Human well-being
is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many
factors—ranging from genetics and neurobiology to
sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific
truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world.
Wherever we can act so as to have an impact on the
well-being of others, questions of morality apply.
Yes, science can assist us
in answering moral questions. As noted above, it is the
scientific theory of evolution which underpins the MOQ’s
moral framework. Additionally,
new scientific discoveries are integrated by the MOQ to
continually refine the answers it provides to moral
such, the knowledge that science provides can no longer
remain aloof to not only the origins but also the
consequences of its own discoveries as they are applied to
and integrated into ‘everyday’ social and intellectual
“Some critics will make serious
objections to the suggestion that science can say anything
meaningful about values or moral questions. Science is
supposedly ‘objective’ (meaning value-free) and its
subject matter is the finding of facts. However, the idea
that science and its offspring, technology are value free,
that is ‘quality free’ has got to go.” (ZMM, p.252)
It is as though there are two quite
different realities presumed here: on the one hand, the
objective real reality based on ‘facts’ and on the other
a subjective reality consisting of ‘opinion’. How we
would like the world to be is just subjective
‘wishy-washy’ thinking. It has nothing to do with the
real world. Facts pertain to objective reality and values
are just subjective states of mind.
“What, however, are scientific
‘facts’ and how are they ‘found’? Are ‘facts’
just sitting ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered? Do
they exist as a fixed part of man’s consciousness,
independently of experience and uncreated by experience?
Poincaré, the French mathematician,
thought not. He concluded that ‘facts’, ‘axioms’,
‘truths’ are conventions, the verity of which can
be hierarchically arranged: ‘The more general a fact, the
more explanatory power it has, the more precious it is.’ (ZMM, p.258)
quality intellectual value it has.
But there are an infinity of
‘facts’, so which facts are you going to observe? Which
hypothesis are you going to construct?
In ZMM (p.260), Poincaré’s story of
how he thought of (what he later) named the
‘Theta-Fuchsian Series is related:
“He was about to enter a bus, and at
the moment he put his foot on the step, the idea came to
him, without anything in his former thoughts having paved
the way for it, that the transformations he had used to
define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of
non-Euclidian geometry. He didn’t verify the idea, he
said, he just went on with a conversation on the bus; but he
felt a perfect certainty.”
“He concluded that the selection is
made by what he called ‘the subliminal self’ or, in MOQ
terms, ‘pre-intellectual awareness’. Poincaré states
that mathematical solutions are selected by the subliminal
self on the basis of ‘mathematical beauty’, of the
harmony of numbers and forms, of geometric elegance. ‘This
is a true esthetic feeling which all mathematicians know’
Poincaré said ‘but of which the profane are so ignorant
as often to be tempted a smile’. But it is this harmony,
this beauty, that is at the center of it all.” (ZMM,
As Charlene Seigfried, an eminent James
scholar, says: ‘What is (metaphysics) cannot be
designated apart from how we know it (epistemology). Neither
can it be grasped apart from what we value’.
traditional distinctions between ontology, epistemology and
ethics breaks down so that knowledge and will, facts and
values are fused and this is how the MOQ unites facts and
values. (David Buchanan
email to André Broersen, dated 12-12-2010)
MOQ the activity known as science is an intellectual
activity. Its aim is the seeking of ‘truth’ which is one
of the high quality intellectual patterns. In the MOQ, the
pretence of science itself to consider itself
‘objective’ (meaning value free) is simply not true. The business of science IS one of
the most important moral activities that human societies can
This so called ‘value
freedom’ has been the result of two developments:
Firstly, we need to go back
to ancient Greece, to such figures as Socrates and
Pythagoras who paved the way for the fundamental principle
behind science: that truth stands independently of social
in its traditional historic defence against church
domination and control it was argued that science is
unconcerned with social values and morals, particularly
church values and morals. This was probably done initially
to protect fledging scientific ideas from religious
the MOQ makes clear that this battle of science to free
itself from domination by social moral (religious) codes is
in fact a moral battle. This battle is still continuing. It
is the battle of a higher, intellectual level of evolution
to keep itself from being devoured by a lower, social level
separation of science and its reasoning, from its social
context is a fallacy, an absurdity which is just as silly as
arguing that a society does not have to take account of
biological patterns. It is an impossibility.” (LILA,
Thus, it is
correct to state that a ‘human well-being is not a random
phenomenon’ nor is the activity known as science a
‘random phenomenon’ either.
What a value-centered metaphysics (such as the MOQ)
indicates is that science is not value-free or outside the
realm of morals or individual expression. Quite the
opposite! The best physicists and motorcycle mechanics are
artists in their own respective fields. In the MOQ, truth is
a species of the Good; it is an intellectual pattern, the
most moral level of static quality. The central idea being
to improve and expand both philosophy and science; to expand
our notion of rationality by incorporating Quality or Value
as a central feature.
Q3: But can’t moral claims be in conflict?
Aren’t there many situations in which one person’s
happiness means another’s suffering?
are some circumstances like this, and we call these contests
?zero-sum.? Generally speaking, however, the most important
moral occasions are not like this. If we could eliminate
war, nuclear proliferation, malaria, chronic hunger, child
abuse, etc.—these changes would be good, on balance, for
everyone. There are surely neurobiological, psychological,
and sociological reasons why this is so—which is to say
that science could potentially tell us exactly why a
phenomenon like child abuse diminishes human well-being.
we don’t have to wait for science to do this. Dynamically,
we already have a very good idea of what is good.
The intellectual level just provides the reasons
for why mistreating children is bad or why a novel is well
written. Rational thinking based on the scientific evidence
of cosmological evolution shows such claims are not whimsical
or merely something our culture has conditioned us to believe.
placing morality in an evolutionary frame, as the MOQ does,
most quarrels or conflicts can be traced to evolutionary
causes and this tracing can provide a rational basis for
classification of the conflicts as well as a rational basis
for the provision of solutions.
there were moral codes that established the supremacy of
biological life over inanimate nature. Second, there were
moral codes that established the supremacy of the social
order over biological life- conventional morals-
proscriptions against drugs, murder, adultery, theft and the
like. Third, there were moral codes that established the
supremacy of the intellectual order over the social order-
democracy, trial by jury, freedom of the press. And finally
there’s a fourth Dynamic morality which isn’t a
again, this shows that, from a value centered metaphysics,
child mistreatment is not some arbitrary social convention
but applies to all instances of child mistreatment in all
Q4: What if some people simply have different notions about
what is truly important in life?
has different ideas about what is important. This is due to the different
(static) life experiences that each person has and how they
rationalise and incorporate these experiences for future
Firstly, it’s the
person’s choice of what is important (what is Quality)
that defines him or her.
Secondly, people differ
about Quality not because Quality is different, but because
people are different in terms of experience.
he said, ‘Quality [i.e. the Tao, the Buddhist
‘Nothingness’, the Ineffable] is shapeless, formless,
indescribable. To see shapes and forms is to
intellectualise. Quality is independent of any such shapes
The names, the shapes and
the forms we give Quality depend only partly on the Quality.
They also depend partly on the a priori images we
have accumulated in our memory. We constantly seek to find,
in the [Dynamic] Quality event, analogues to our previous
experiences. If we didn’t we’d be unable to act. We
build up our language in terms of these [static] analogues.
We build up our language in terms of these analogues. We
build up our whole culture in terms of these analogues’.
The MOQ provides a framework
to resolve differences rationally by analysing what are the
best worldviews i.e. the ones that work best from an
intellectual and artistic point of view.
However, it should be remembered that such comparison
can often be complex especially with relatively different
is why texts, such as F.S.C. Northrop’s The
Meeting of East & West, are useful in providing
guidelines in how such comparisons can be successfully
Unfortunately, some individuals and
cultures are socially (rather than intellectually) dominated
and, as such, beyond rational argument.
In such situations, it will be likely that conflict
will be unavoidable.
The MOQ places any activity
in pursuit of ‘what is truly important’ within a broad
moral framework, and can be used to ascertain the low or
high quality endeavours as well as those deemed immoral.
Q5: How could science tell us
that the actions of the Taliban are in fact immoral when the
Taliban think they are behaving morally?
I discuss in my book, there may be different ways for people
to thrive, but there are clearly many more ways for them not
to thrive. The Taliban are a perfect example of a group of
people who are struggling to build a society that is
obviously less good than many of the other societies on
offer. Afghan women have a 12% literacy rate and a life
expectancy of 44 years. Afghanistan has nearly the highest
maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. It also
has one of the highest birthrates. Consequently, it is one
of the best places on earth to watch women and infants die.
And Afghanistan’s GDP is currently lower than the
world’s average was in the year 1820. It is safe to say
that the optimal response to this dire situation—that is
to say, the most moral response—is not to throw battery
acid in the faces of little girls for the crime of learning
to read. This may seem like common sense to us—and it
is—but I am saying that it is also, at bottom, a claim
about biology, psychology, sociology, and economics. It is
not, therefore, unscientific to say that the Taliban are
wrong about morality. In fact, we must say this, the moment
we admit that we know anything at all about human
The MOQ would suggest that
Western culture is intellectually dominated while groups
such as the Taliban are socially dominated.
The West sees the latter as evil in its repression of
intellectual values (e.g. discouraging girls from reading)
while the Taliban sees the West as evil due to its
promiscuous expression of various forms of biological
quality (e.g. sex, drugs and
MOQ explains why the West and the Taliban take their
respective views within
their respective levels.
Moreover, the MOQ also
places intellectual and social values on a wider, universal
framework that indicates (with the support of the scientifically
based theory of evolution) that intellectual values are
absolutely superior to social ones.
This indicates that the promiscuous expression of
various forms of biological quality is morally acceptable as
long as it doesn’t undermine the higher intellectual and
social values. The
MOQ would therefore support the Taliban in its concern with
the dangers of uncontrolled biological forces but, at the
same time, also
support the West’s condemnation of the Taliban in the
latter’s repression of intellectual values.
‘We must understand that
when a society undermines intellectual freedom for its own
purposes (by, for example, refusing women to gain an
education, denying human rights, denying democratic reforms
etc) it is absolutely morally bad, but when it represses
biological freedom for its own purposes it is absolutely
morally good.’ (LILA, p.315)
justification of the repression of biological freedom by
society is given, in a value centered metaphysics, a solid
intellectual, scientific foundation and not a social,
religious one open to the whims of whomever comes along with
varying interpretations of some sections in some book, be it
the Bible, the Qu’ran or Mosaic Law.
Q6: But what if the Taliban simply have different goals in
Harris: Well, the short answer is—they don’t.
They are clearly seeking happiness in this life, and, more
importantly, they imagine that they are securing it in a
life to come. They believe that they will enjoy an eternity
of happiness after death by following the strictest
interpretation of Islamic law here on earth. This is also a
claim about which science should have an opinion—as it is
almost certainly untrue. There is no question, however, that
the Taliban are seeking well-being, in some sense—they
just have some very strange beliefs about how to attain it.
my book, I try to spell out why moral disagreements do not
put the concept of moral truth in jeopardy. In the moral
sphere, as in all others, some people don’t know what they
are missing. In fact, I suspect that most of us don’t know
what we are missing: It must be possible to change human
experience in ways that would uncover levels of human
flourishing that most of us cannot imagine. In every area of
genuine discovery, there are horizons past which we cannot
that strangeness is no basis to decide whether or not a
belief is a good one to hold it is hoped, at this point,
that the MOQ’s division of Value (Quality, Morality) into
the evolutionary hierarchy sheds a better light on how to
view differences in people’s striving towards
‘happiness’. The Chinese, the African peoples, the
Russians, the Inuit, the American peoples all strive towards
Quality, Betterness, Improvement, Excellence, Freedom.
an excellent expose of world cultures, see F.S.C.
Northrop’s ‘The Meeting of East and West’)
are after some form of ‘good’. The world’s different
ideologies, political persuasions, economic arrangements etc
are all inspired by this striving. Constitutions may be seen
as static intellectual expressions of evolutionary gain to
stop a society falling prey to degenerative forces.
the MOQ shows is that morality is not a simple set of rules.
It’s a very complex struggle of conflicting patterns of
value out of which arise concepts of good and evil.’ (LILA,
when it comes to looking at possibilities to ‘change human
experience in ways that would uncover levels of human
flourishing’ the MOQ is quite clear. Question 5 already
touched upon this issue when it is argued that:
culture that supports the dominance of social values over
biological values is an absolutely superior culture to one
that does not, and a culture that supports the dominance of
intellectual values over social values is absolutely
superior to one that does not’. (LILA, p. 317)
it could be argued that cultures dominated by conservative
religious, theistic considerations at the sacrifice of
intellectual values, such as a the Taliban, the orthodox Jew
and many different fundamentalist Christian groupings in
other parts of the world, are not interested in ‘changing
human experience in ways that would uncover levels of human
flourishing that most of us cannot imagine’. They seem
Q7: What do you mean when you talk about a
Harris: This is the phrase I use to describe the
space of all possible experience—where the peaks
correspond to the heights of well-being and valleys
represent the worst possible suffering. We are all someplace
on this landscape, faced with the prospect of moving up or
down. Given that our experience is fully constrained by the
laws of the universe, there must be scientific answers to
the question of how best to move upwards, toward greater
is not to say that there is only one right way for human
beings to live. There might be many peaks on this
landscape—but there are clearly many ways not to be on a
Metaphysics of Quality is also biography. It connects the
individual deeply within a metaphysical orientation. Man is
the measure, man is the participant in the creation of the
world and not some passive observer of an incomprehensible,
meaningless reality ‘out there’.
nice way to approach this is to compare the levels of static
patterns that compose a human being to the ecology of a
forest. Different patterns sometimes in competition with
each other, sometimes in symbiotic support of each other,
but always in a kind of tension. Evolution doesn’t only
take place within societies, it takes place within
individuals too. A human being may thus be seen as a complex
ecology of patterns moving toward Dynamic Quality. In
general, individuals [and some experience peaks, some
experience valleys] are in an evolutionary battle against
the static patterns of their own lives. This battle is the
if you eliminate suffering from this world you eliminate
life. There’s no evolution. Those species that don’t
suffer don’t survive. Suffering is the negative face of
the Quality that drives the whole process. All these battles
between patterns of evolution go on within suffering
MOQ sees the wheel of karma as attached to a cart that is
going somewhere - from quantum forces through inorganic
forces and biological patterns and social patterns to the
intellectual patterns that perceive the quantum forces. In
the sixth century B.C. in India there was no evidence of
this kind of evolutionary progress, and Buddhism,
accordingly, does not pay attention to it. Today it’s not
possible to be so
uninformed. The suffering which the Buddhists
regard as only that which is to be escaped, is seen by the
MOQ as merely the negative side of the progression toward
Quality (or, just as accurately, the expansion of quality).
Without the suffering to propel it, the cart would not move
forward at all. (Robert Pirsig to
Anthony McWatt, March 23rd 1997.)
Q8: How could science guide us on the moral
Harris: Insofar as we can understand human well-being, we will understand the
conditions that best secure it. Some are obvious, of course.
Positive social emotions like compassion and empathy are
generally good for us, and we want to encourage them. But do
we know how to most reliably raise children to care about
the suffering of other people? I’m not sure we do. Are
there genes that make certain people more compassionate than
others? What social systems and institutions could maximize
our sense of connectedness to the rest of humanity? These
questions have answers, and only a science of morality could
scientific paradigm in its rational method, in its present
conventional form (i.e. a subject-object mode of reasoning)
cannot guide us on the moral landscape. It cannot do this
because it has (for historical reasons starting with Plato
and Aristotle and enforced by Descartes) become detached
from the Good, from Quality, from Morality.
this recognition which led Pirsig to argue for an expanded
form of rationality, a ‘spiritual rationality’.
The MOQ’s expanded form of empiricism
(radical empiricism) and the pragmatic theory of truth fit
quite neatly with the levels and codes and are part of the
overall expansion of rationality too. Truth is re-conceived
as a particular kind of good, as a species of the good, and
there is room for many truths. The primary empirical reality
is DQ, not the physical universe. Instead of a metaphysics
of substance, the MOQ says the primary empirical reality is
not a thing at all. It is an event, the ongoing flux of
life, the cutting edge of experience itself. SOM says
reality is a thing. The MOQ says reality is a process and
that quality or value is at the center of that process.
The MOQ says rational thought would be
wiser and smarter if it had a heart. It’s about adding
some aesthetic sensibility and moral sensitivity to our ways
of thinking. It’s about reclaiming the passions, which
were imagined as the wild horses of the soul in Plato’s
picture of the human soul.
And as “Dynamic Quality is a higher moral order
than static scientific truth... it is as immoral for
philosophers of science to try to suppress DQ as it is for
church authorities to suppress the scientific method.
However, Dynamic value is an integral part of science. It is
the cutting edge of scientific progress itself.” (Lila, p.
Buchanan, post on MD, 06-07-2010)
In this way, as seen above in the
example of Poincaré, science can guide us on the moral
is it taboo for a scientist to attempt to answer moral
Harris: I think there are two primary reasons why
scientists hesitate to do this. The first, and most
defensible, is borne of their appreciation for how difficult
it is to understand complex systems. Our investigation of
the human mind is in its infancy, even after nearly two
centuries of studying the brain. So scientists fear that
answers to specific questions about human well-being may be
very difficult to come by, and confidence on many points is
surely premature. This is true. But, as I argue in my book,
mistaking no answers in practice for no answers in principle
is a huge mistake.
The second reason is that many
scientists have been misled by a combination of bad
philosophy and political correctness. This leads them to
feel that the only intellectually defensible position to
take when in the presence of moral disagreement is to
consider all opinions equally valid or equally nonsensical.
On one level, this is an understandable and even noble
over-correction for our history of racism, ethnocentrism,
and imperialism. But it is an over-correction nonetheless.
As I try to show in my book, it is not a sign of intolerance
for us to notice that some cultures and sub-cultures do a
terrible job of producing human lives worth living.
simply; because science (and the ‘doing’ of science) has
considered itself to be value-free, as this is in many ways
considered to be a measure of its ‘objectivity’…of its
‘truthfulness’…its ‘purity’. It has built around
itself an almost impenetrable immune system to the exclusion
the perspective of a conventional subject-object science
(and for that matter philosophy, whose insights are
[usually] based on scientific ‘discoveries’) the world
is a completely purposeless, valueless place. Nothing is
right, nothing is wrong. Everything just functions.
We find the logical positivists who say that only the
natural sciences can legitimately investigate the nature of
reality and you have the empiricists, most of whom deny the
validity of any knowledge gained through imagination,
authority, tradition or purely theoretical reasoning. They
regard fields such as art, morality, religion and
metaphysics as unverifiable and therefore ‘nonsensical’.
1 has already dealt with the historical reasons for science
staying out of the moral debate, a debate fostered by social
(Church) morality. But the MOQ has also shown that the
social level represents but one type of morals. There are
four more types as also discussed in the Introduction and
the MOQ varies from this by saying that the values of art
and morality and even religious mysticism are verifiable.
That they have been excluded because of the metaphysical
assumption that all the universe is composed of subjects and
objects (call it mind/matter, body/soul) and anything that
cannot be classified as a subject or an object isn’t real.
There is no empirical evidence for this assumption at all.
It is just an assumption. (LILA, p.102)
other words, discussions about values (i.e. morality) by
scientists is considered to be tainting the ‘objective’
nature of the scientific enterprise.
MOQ agrees that there are ‘some cultures and sub-cultures
[doing] a terrible job of producing human lives worth
living’. Since cultures are not the source of all morals,
cultures can be graded and judged morally according to their
contribution to the evolution of life. A culture that
supports the dominance of social values over biological
values is an absolutely superior culture to one that does
not, and a culture that supports the dominance of
intellectual values over social values is absolutely
superior to the one that does not.” (LILA, p.317)
recap: It is
hoped that it is clear by now that the MOQ, as an example of
a scientifically based approach, has many answers in
principle and in practice.
is the difference between there being no answers in practice
and no answers in principle, and why is this distinction
important in understanding the relationship between human
knowledge and human values?
are an infinite number of questions that we will never
answer, but which clearly have answers. How many fish are
there in the world’s oceans at this moment? We will never
know. And yet, we know that this question, along with an
infinite number of questions like it, have correct answers.
We simply can’t get access to the data in any practical
way. There are many questions
about human subjectivity—and about the experience of
conscious creatures generally—that have this same
structure. Which causes more human suffering, stealing or
lying? Questions like this are not at all meaningless, in
that they must have answers, but it could be hopeless to try
to answer them with any precision. Still, once we admit that
any discussion of human values must relate to a larger
reality in which actual answers exist, we can then reject
many answers as obviously wrong. If, in response to the
question about the world’s fish, someone were to say,
‘There are exactly a thousand fish in the sea.’ We know
that this person is not worth listening to. And many people
who have strong opinions on moral questions have no more
credibility than this. Anyone who thinks that gay marriage
is the greatest problem of the 21st century, or that women
should be forced to live in burqas, is not worth listening
to on the subject of morality.
MOQ agrees with this and says: “At present we are snowed
under with an irrational expansion of blind data-gathering
in the sciences because there is no rational format for any
understanding of scientific creativity… We have artists
with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic
knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at
all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly.” (ZMM,
the MOQ espouses is a root expansion of scientific
rationality. Ethics and science should be united at a basic
level. As Pirsig argues:
been necessary since before the time of Socrates to reject
the passions, the emotions, in order to free the rational
mind for an understanding of nature’s order which was as
yet unknown. Now it’s time to further an understanding of
nature’s order by re-assimilating those passions which
were originally fled from. The passions, the emotions, the
affective domain of man’s consciousness, are a part of
nature’s order too. The central part.” (ZMM, ibid).
MOQ would say that value (Quality) comes first and this
Quality, this search for ‘betterness’ is what drives the
whole process. Values determine the what (we find important
to know) and gives it direction. This IS the relationship
between human knowledge and human values.
result IS a Metaphysics of Quality.
do you think the role of religion is in determining human
Harris: I think it is generally an unhelpful one.
Religious ideas about good and evil tend to focus on how to
achieve well-being in the next life, and this makes them
terrible guides to securing it in this one. Of course, there
are a few gems to be found in every religious tradition, but
in so far as these precepts are wise and useful they are
not, in principle, religious. You do not need to believe
that the Bible was dictated by the Creator of the Universe,
or that Jesus Christ was his son, to see the wisdom and
utility of following the Golden Rule.
The problem with religious morality is that it often
causes people to care about the wrong things, leading them
to make choices that needlessly perpetuate human suffering.
Consider the Catholic Church: This is an institution that
excommunicates women who want to become priests, but it does
not excommunicate male priests who rape children. The Church
is more concerned about stopping contraception than stopping
genocide. It is more worried about gay
marriage than about nuclear proliferation. When we realize
that morality relates to questions of human and animal
well-being, we can see that the Catholic Church is as
confused about morality as it is about cosmology. It is not
offering an alternative moral framework; it is offering a
MOQ would tend to say that the Catholic Church is offering a
poor moral framework as this is predominantly based on
traditional social values rather than the latest scientific
ideas. The MOQ
instead places morality and moral questions in an
evolutionary perspective which show the limits of
conventional social, Church inspired, morality and the
latter’s answers to moral dilemmas. As Joseph Campbell
suggests: ‘Religion is a misinterpretation of myth.’
MOQ is anti-theistic and offers a scientifically based moral
framework; it is offering a higher intellectual quality one.
However, it also implies that religion is better than having
no social conditioning at all i.e. leaving people to the
“Law of the Jungle”.
people don’t need religion to live an ethical life?
Harris: No. And a glance at the lives of
most atheists, and at the most atheistic societies on
earth—Denmark, Sweden, etc.—proves that this is so. Even
the faithful can’t really get their deepest moral
principles from religion—because books like the Bible and
the Qur’an are full of barbaric injunctions that all
decent and sane people must now reinterpret or ignore. How
is it that most Jews, Christians, and Muslims are opposed to
slavery? You don’t get this moral insight from scripture,
because the God of Abraham expects us to keep slaves.
Consequently, even religious fundamentalists draw many of
their moral positions from a wider conversation about human
values that is not, in principle, religious. We are the
guarantors of the wisdom we find in scripture, such as it
is. And we are the ones who must ignore God when he tells us
to kill people for working on the Sabbath.
The MOQ agrees with this. To put a finer
point on it, the MOQ argues that we already live an ethical
life, that we are in fact a result/representation of
Quality, the moral ‘force’ driving the whole thing. Man
is the measure, man is the active participant in the
creation of the world. However, a subject-object metaphysics
obscures this fact. The Marxist notion of ‘alienation’
is useful here to look at the processes which contribute to
man’s separation from identification with his work and a
resultant psychological separation from himself.
It is interesting when talking of
‘religion’ to go back to the root meaning of the word,
‘re-ligare’; ‘that which binds together’, (Darryl
Reanney, ‘Music of the Mind’, p.144) and follow Phaedrus
in his quest to find the root word of arête (a
synonym for Quality) which the Sophists in ancient Greece
had taught. It leads him to the Proto-Indo-European morpheme
‘rt’ or ‘rta’:
of Phaedrus’ old school texts contained a good summary:
‘RTA, which etymologically stands for “course”
originally meant “cosmic order’, the maintenance of
which was the purpose of all the gods; and later it also
came to mean “right” so that the gods were conceived as
preserving the world not merely from physical disorder but
also from moral chaos. The one idea is implicit in the
other; and there is order in the universe because its
control is in righteous hands.’ The physical order of the
universe is also the moral order of the universe. Rta is
both. This is exactly what the MOQ was claiming. It was not
a new idea. It was the oldest idea known to man.”
“Dharma, like rta, means
‘what holds together’. It is the basis of all order. It
equals righteousness. It is the ethical code. It is the
stable condition which gives man perfect satisfaction. Dharma
is duty. It
is not external duty which is arbitrarily imposed by others.
It is not any artificial set of conventions which can be
repealed by legislation. Neither is it internal duty which
is arbitrarily decided by one’s own conscience. Dharma is
beyond all questions of what is internal and what is
external. Dharma is Quality itself, the principle of
‘rightness’ which gives structure and purpose to the
evolution of all life and to the evolving understanding of
the universe which life created.” (LILA, Chapter 30)
will admitting that there are right and wrong answers to
issues of human and animal flourishing transform the way we
think and talk about morality?
I’ve tried to do in my book is give a framework in which
we can think about human values in universal terms.
Currently, the most important questions in human
life—questions about what constitutes a good life, which
wars we should fight or not fight, which diseases should be
cured first, etc.—are thought to lie outside the purview
of science, in principle. Therefore,
we have divorced the most important questions in human life
from the context in which our most rigorous and
intellectually honest thinking gets done.
truth entirely depends on actual and potential changes in
the well-being of conscious creatures. As such, there are things to be
discovered about it through careful observation and honest
reasoning. It seems to me that the only way we are going to
build a global civilization based on shared
values—allowing us to converge on the same political,
goals—is to admit that questions about right and wrong and
good and evil have answers, in the same way the questions
about human health do.
one perspective, the MOQ can be seen as an example of the
broad philosophical framework that Northrop claimed was
necessary to underpin international understanding (see his
‘The Meeting of East and West’).
MOQ shows that morals have a scientific basis and this basis
is predicated upon Quality. Quality encompasses science and
not the other way around.
said, ‘Truth is one species of good, and not, as is
usually supposed, a category distinct from good, and
coordinate with it.’ He said, ‘The true is the name of
whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief.’
TRUTH IS A SPECIES OF GOOD. That was EXACTLY what is meant
by the MOQ. Truth is a static intellectual pattern WITHIN a
larger entity called Quality.” [Emphasis is Pirsig’s]
long as the dominant political-economic interests are
focussing their efforts at maximizing profits, i.e. economic
interests dominating social level values, sanctified by
Protestant ethics, the profane will continue to dominate. So
long as the vast majority of the scientific enterprise
continues to be used in the service of narrow
political-economic and commercial interests its answers will
not contribute in a constructive way.
can’t function normally because they have been declared
intellectually illegal by the subject-object metaphysics
that dominates present social thought… The end of the
twentieth century in America seems to be an intellectual,
social, and economic rust-belt, a whole society that has
given up on Dynamic improvement and is slowly trying to slip
back to Victorianism.” (LILA, p.310)
MOQ lays bare the profanity perpetrated every moment of our
lives whilst at the same time giving hope to those feeling
root expansion of rationality argued for in ZMM and
developed in LILA provides a scientific basis for a
‘spiritual’ rationality, upon which political, economic
and environmental goals can firmly be reformulated. Science
can play a significant role in this entire process.
what is good Phaedrus,
what is not good-
we ask anyone to tell us these things?”
- A brief introduction to the MOQ:
those unfamiliar with Pirsig’s work, he makes the unusual
postulation that the world is composed of (patterned and
unpatterned) value (or
that every day of our lives is spent empirically verifying
that something has higher value than something else.
(Lila’s Child, annot.121)
Metaphysics of Quality is a continuation of the mainstream
of twentieth century American philosophy. It is a form of
pragmatism, of instrumentalism, which says that the test of
the true is the good. It adds that this good is not a social
code or some intellectualised Hegelian Absolute. It is
direct everyday experience.’ (LILA, p.373)
MOQ employs the term ‘Dynamic
Quality’ (or ‘unpatterned value’) to denote the
continuing stimulus that the environment put upon us.
It is the changing flux of immediate reality and is a
synonym of F.S.C. Northrop’s ‘undifferentiated
aesthetic continuum’, the Buddha’s
‘Nothingness’, Lao Tsu’s ‘Tao’ and William
James’ ‘ immediate flux of life which furnishes the
material to our later reflections with its conceptual
MOQ employs the term ‘static
quality’ (or ‘patterned value’) for any patterns
abstracted from this flux.
Static patterns of value are best understood as
‘conditioned’ (in the Buddhist sense of the term) and as
‘repeated arrangements’. They are not static as in
‘physically fixed or still’ but static as in
its attempt to clarify philosophical issues, the MOQ divides
static reality into four, distinct types of static value
patterns ordered by their cosmological evolutionary history.
These static moral patterns (or sq) refer to any repeated
arrangement whether it is: inorganic (e.g. chemicals,
quantum forces), biological (e.g. plants, animals), social
(e.g. cities, government laws) or intellectual (e.g.
thoughts, ideas). (McWatt PhD, 2004, p.71)
MOQ would say that inorganic objects experience events but
do not react to them biologically, socially or
intellectually. They react to these experiences inorganically,
according to the laws of physics. (Lila’s Child, annot.30)
patterns at the organic level react to their experiences
according to the laws operating at this level studied by
geneticists, microbiologists, botanists and zoologists.
Instances of biological quality include physical health and
pleasure. This is the morality of the ‘law of the
jungle’ where biology triumphs over the inorganic forces
of starvation and death.
at the third level consist of social patterns of value.
These evolved from the organic level and include
institutions such as family, church and government which
seek to control biological behaviour. These are the patterns
of culture that the anthropologist and the sociologist
fourth level (which emerged from the social level) consists
of intellectual patterns of value including such disciplines
as science, theology, philosophy and mathematics.
intellectual level is the ‘highest’ evolved static
pattern and includes such values as the seeking of truth,
justice, the ideas of democracy, human rights, trial by jury
and freedom. The placement of the intellect in this position
makes it superior to society, biology and inorganic patterns
but still inferior to the Dynamic-static code of Art. The
latter is not a level but a ‘code’ which says
‘what’s good in life isn’t defined by society or
intellect or biology. What’s good is freedom from
domination by any static pattern, but that freedom doesn’t
have to be obtained by the destruction of the patterns
themselves.’ (LILA, p.307)