Dean Summers Pragmatism

Dean’s BA Dissertation “Pragmatism and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: A study of Robert Pirsig’s contribution to the Pragmatism of Peirce, James and Dewey.” is excellent. It points out explicitly how Pirsig’s MoQ adds constructively to Peirce, Dewey and James’ “American Pragmatism”, and more than that reminds us how far the “anything you like” caricature meme of pragmatism couldn’t be further from the moral reality of the matter.

As well as looking backwards to recent philosophers, I’ve been trying to link Pirsig to current writers too. I was struck by a number of things, about which there really seems little room for argument …

Pirsig is pragmatic.
Morals are pragmatic.
The “static” is only temporarily so, it’s evolving.
It’s the “dynamic” that drives the evolution.

Dean (1994) summarises “MoQ is a philosophical movement which aims at reunification of philosophy with life …. in a sense [Pirsig’s] texts may be seen as a demonstration of the pragmatic intention. In them he does unify philosophy with everything else that goes to make up a persons life …. evolutionary morality follow[s] logically and without contradiction.”

Which is uncannily close to intentional pragmatist Dennett who (in DDI 1995) said “In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law …” The best idea ever, bar none.

32 thoughts on “Dean Summers Pragmatism”

  1. haven’t read the whole thing, but will. What is freaking me out is that after I read ZMM, I wrote to you suggesting a connection between the pragmatists and the sophists.

    Also, why does Pirsig think that because we are no longer so concerned with eating and clothing ourselves that our philosophies are no longer adequate? What’s the connection?

    Maslow’s hierarchy?
    See now you have me doing it.

  2. “Now, to take that which has caused us to create the world, and include it within the world we have created, is clearly impossible.”

    is this the same as the set of all sets is not included in the set of all sets?

    This is from the dissertation (which I am still reading, I really like it!)

  3. First point – see, you’re ahead of me again. I knew rhetoric was more than an “dirty word” but I guess I’d not made the sophist-pragmatic connection.

    Second – More difficult. I’d wind back a step. “I” think our logic is inadequate. (My main thesis right ?) I think it’s because once you’re above the physical, and purely biological into the socio-cultural and intellectual, life is “complicated enough” to demand something better than set-theory and logic, something more like psychology and rhetoric.

    Maslow (you know right ?) is definitely a clear parallel to Pirsig, no doubt, and many others have documented this too – Heylighen for one. (Remember my discussion with Georganna ?) Although it’s not simple set-theory and logic, this stuff really isn’t rocket science.

    My paper from the MoQ Conference is now on-line, and I will put up the slides I used too – including Maslow’s pyramid.

  4. Ooops, real-time commenting … our comments passed in the ether …

    Absolutely – metaphysics and set-theory (or Russell’s paradox / Godel’s theorem) all pretty closely related – why I liked Hofstadter.

  5. “The problem that drives Pirsig to this position is, in the first instance, his recognition of the paradox involved in science’s claim of objectivity. “Which facts are you going to observe?? he asks, “There is an infinity of them.”

    This is so good.

  6. I’m sure Dean would be pleased to hear that.

    You’ll find Dean’s current e-mail at the top of the paper – I already mailed him yesterday.

  7. “It seems that Pirsig’s contribution to this reasoning has been to show the way in which “nature fecundates the mind of man with ideas.”

    this is the central idea in Pinker’s “the Blank Slate, It is so interesting that these ideas are beginning to coalesce. Pinker, a neuroscientist, however, abstains from giving any acknowledgement to the idea of spirituality although he doesn’t denounce it. In fact he gives up the whole last chapter to questions science may not be able to answer…or that man may not be capable of answering.

  8. “My paper from the MoQ Conference is now on-line, and I will put up the slides I used too – including Maslow’s pyramid.”

    I’d love to read it. How do I?

  9. All the papers including Dean’s that you are reading, and mine are, here ….

    (David Buchanan’s is magical BTW – brings tears of emotion to my eyes each time I read it. Richard and Gavin’s are good too, Jeez, they’re all good 🙂 .)

    I’ll try to put up a link to my slides this evening, local time.

  10. BTW

    Coalsecence – Alice
    Consilience – E O Wilson
    Crystallisation – Pirsig
    The Great Convergence – Dawkins
    Unification – Dennett

    You’re up there with the greats 🙂

  11. The problem I have, and which I’ve expressed before,is that in this realm it is so easy to get fooled by charlatans. So many religions have been invented and so much money and emotional currency is going to the unscrupulous from unsceptical people.

    caveat emptor

  12. Ian, I need to get to work, but I did start to read your presentation. I like it already. One thought I had immediately was an experience I had when I taught woodworking for five years at a local high school ten years ago. I came at the thing having done it, but having never taught it.

    I remember trying to write a lesson plan or a procedure sheet. I would start out then I would have to go back and add this step or that and all of a sudden the whole thing got jumbled. More than half the time I would just “wing it”. Those kids were coming from so many directions and backgrounds that I couldn’t possibly speak to each one in a single set of instructions. Not only that, but they had different interests and I didn’t want them all to have to make the same boring project.

    I have always felt disappointed that I never learned the art of lesson preparation. Instead, my shop/classroom was a sort of contained chaos with me running from student to student helping them with the phase they were in…or getting someone who had already mastered(?) the task help. I really was only functioning intuitively.

    I always felt like I failed because I saw how professional teachers did it and they seemed so much more organized than I did.

    Also, my husband was involved in TQM back in the eighties. Oh, God, how he hated it!!!
    “Just leave me alone and let me do my job the way I’ve always done it…well”, he’d say.

    He always got nicked in his evaluations about dealing with his “internal customers”. But his projects always came in on time and in-budget, even when they hacked half of the budget away from him.

  13. I have now read Summers, Buchanan and Glendinning (irish?). I will finish them all. I must say I am struck by the differences in approach.

    You remain, for me, hard to discern. Of course I see this as my failing and not yours. As a young girl, I was good at math, hated science (taught in Catholic school as an aside) and did well in my college logic class, so I think I do possess a logical mind. But I get lost in a lot of it. I think it has to do with all of the narrowing, qualifications, siting of sources… You write very very well, I just felt a little over my head.

    Whereas Summers and Buchanan have a more holistic? narrative? approach. That’s what I meant about ZMM as concerned my daughter. I thought she would enjoy certain parts and get bogged down in others.

    Maybe it’s because I am a girl ( would that be true). maybe it’s just personality types.

    But at the end of it, the ideas concerning quality are becoming clearer to me.certainly much more so than when you first mentioned it on EC. Little did I know the world which awaited me!

    BTW, I loved Buchanan’s bit until he mentioned John Lennon. Somehow mentioning a flesh and blood real person broke the spell. I don’t like heroes.

  14. ian, It may be strange that I’m posting so much, but if something occurs to me, I ask. sorry.

    What is your explanation of your reference to “hypocrisy”. I never quite found an explanation in your essay. the dictionary defines it as a pretense, which certainly would apply.

    sorry for the overuse of 1’s and 0’s.

  15. I did put a ceveat at the front … it’s not the style I would have chosen. I was asked to do a potted history, and I had a lot to cram in, and not enough space to explain all the technicalities raised, other than to point to references where expansions would be found. (The reason I was asked to do that is I think precisely because my situation / angle is a bit “hard to discern”.)

    Later on there is the further caveat – there is no coherent thesis here – same as the blog, so far.

    “Hypocrisy” is one such reference (via my dissertation to Nils Brunsson at the Stockholm School of Management.) Unlike individual humans, who would tend to be defensive if accused of hypocrisy, organisations engage in it all the time as an essential means of balancing conflicting demands. Makes oreganisations even harder to analyse as rational objective agents, than individuals. (It’s important that left and right hands don’t know what they’re doing.) I’m not condoning / justifying this, just pointing out a fact, like Brunsson.

    Glendinning is Scottish.
    Stop doing yourself (and women) down will ya.
    Lennon ? – you have to remember the location, and the “fun with blasphemy” title. Not mention the mythical hero that Dave was planning to construct out of the best bits of all heros, Lennon is just a placeholder.)

  16. Thanks for your response. I kind of thought maybe Scottish (the dinning thing) I just love names.

    I really wasn’t thinking women are less, just different in outlook and ways of processing. It stands to reason, you know. I will continue the readings. they are a rich resource about an amazing subject.

    and about heroes. It’s more of the same for me. Big people telling little people. I just don’t like to be told.

  17. Actually, don’t know if you ever read my dissertation, but one thing I pointed out was the under-used resource of the female point of view. It was detectable in my survey. (I agree it’s an important difference in perspective).

    You seemed to have been suggesting it was a cause of less understanding – which couldn’t have been further from the truth.

    I think David’s paper is about your final point; When heros (and the rituals associated with them) become mis-used, then they are just like any other “big brother”. If someone doesn’t appeal as a hero, then they’re not a hero.

    Clearly we need to find one for you 😉

  18. BTW an earlier point …

    “Being fooled by charlatans.”

    I think the issue is to form your own judgement about who is or isn’t a charlatan, rather than received cultural wisdom, which is always motivated to some end (not yours).

    I know you know that, but it’s a point I wanted to bring out and use later (related to the Josephson / Cold-Fusion story.)

  19. “Every so often in the course of human affairs, a man (usually it is a man) steps forward on the stage of life and outshines everyone around him and becomes a star in his own time”

    First line in Loggins paper…. usually it is a man.


  20. Amusing observation too I hope …

    (I wonder if you’d have noticed if he hadn’t put the aside in parentheses ? Like Orpheus and Lennon were men too in David’s paper.)


  21. yes, I would have noticed. I notice everything… that is important to me. Hero instead of heroine. It’s always about men. It used to piss me off in the seventies. I’ve matured.

    Loggins rocks. I also have amblyobia, but it only affects my eyes, I think. In other words, I don’t have binocular vision. but my brain has accomodated quite nicely. He has a very interesting perspective.

    I also own a copy of Strunk and White.

    Next paper, please

  22. actually what I’ve realized that is that the static form of “man” flows quite well into the form of “woman” and vice versa.

    But I do know that man is the archetype.
    I am no longer uncomfortable with that. Maybe because I have known (not in the biblical sense) many men. they really need us. in fact, I would go so far as to say, we make life worth living.

  23. Maxwell’s paper

    “Sometimes a static pattern becomes so powerful it prohibits any Dynamic moves forward”

    this is political. I feel like the US’s idea that we are the watch dog of the world is a static position which is causing no end of resentment. We are in a huge mess, people are dying and there seems to be limited possiblity of movement forward.

  24. I’d say you are right – political / national is largely “social” rather than “intellectual” in MoQ terms, and when it gets in the way of dynamic quality – it’s bad news.

    Mark was talking in more fundamental terms than the global scale issue, but … There’s a raging debate on the MoQ-Discuss site going on since 7/7. I try to keep out, but keep dropping in smartass one-liners.

    Breaking the deadlock, by evolution, rather than revolution is my hope.

  25. fundamental terms rather than global? isn’t it all the same thing (with a hierarchy) according to MOQ?

    tony blair made some pretty bold statements today which I applauded. to paraphrase..”if you are going to live here, live by our rules and don’t threaten our way of life”. I don’t know how enforcable that will be, but I like the sentiment.

  26. Wow that is truly (my favourite word) spooky.

    I’ve just posted an original post to MoQ-Discuss, not 15 seconds ago, that emphasised that the point of MoQ based change is that it encourages evolution without threatening existing social structures. (I was actually prompted by David’s reference to Bill Hicks as the “Agent of Evolution”)

  27. Fundamental vs Global – two different axes ?

    Strangely the subject of the same MoQ-Discuss post …

    The point about MoQ, whatever level physical / intellectual, is that it focusses on the individual in the world, not the global structures themselves.

  28. Tony Blair’s sentiments – great, no argument.

    The trick is in the set of values you use to enforce them. No-one is squeeky clean, but read Pirsigs own words about the difference between the UK and the US, at the Liverpool conference.

  29. I read Pirsig’s intro. my recollection is that he said that the English are “fair”. which contrasts, in my opinion, with americans’ attitude of being “right”. notice that we call ourselves americans when we only inhabit part of the two continents which are call the americas. Are venezuelans americans?

    “The point about MoQ, whatever level physical / intellectual, is that it focusses on the individual in the world, not the global structures themselves.”

    individual what?

    Atom, molecule, cell, organism, but after that the individual becomes a collection of individuals so that the “global structures” are an individual set of individuals.( also a set of atoms, molecules and cells).

    what is an individual anyway?

  30. I was just using the every-day common-sense human individual sense, but I guess it’s literally “any individual conscious experiencer”.

    I’m not sure I buy inanimate objects “experiencing quality” beyond the metaphorical (his iron filings example ?)

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