RIP Robert Pirsig (6 Sep 1928 – 24 Apr 2017)

Sad to hear of yesterday’s passing of Bob Pirsig, aged 88, at home after a period of failing health. Thoughts are with Wendy and the family.

Bob was my seed-crystal – the catalyst that triggered all manner of connections between the super-saturated collection of issues and thoughts that already had me on my “What, why & how do we know?” agenda, here at Psybertron. That is I’m not one of those originally inspired by reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” on a post-hippie lifestyle-seeking journey. There can be no doubt the culture-bearing zeitgeist of reconciling romantic yearnings with the classical yoke of industrial technology is probably what connected with and inspired his millions of readers.

If you’re looking for an obit, this New York Times piece is better than any obituary or overview of Pirsig’s work I could do here. (It probably contains some factual inaccuracies, but is nevertheless much more original and authentic than the Guardian piece, linked below.)

For me it’s more personal and I told my own Pirsigian story in this conference paper and these slides back in 2006. And, for all my Pirsigian resources see the Psybertron Pirsig Pages which includes a Robert Pirsig Biographical Timeline and many, many more links.

[Post Note: Did my own retrospective Pirsig round-up here.]

Pirsig’s philosophical work is criticised as naive in the sense that he never attempted the “philosophology” necessary to set it and develop it within the orthodoxy of mainstream philosophy. He wrote rhetorically about his own instructive experiences and his readings of the Greeks, Kant and James, take it or leave it. Of course, if you do choose to take it, it comes with two great novels, US road-trip / buddy-movie, father-son baton-passing, tormented madness as enlightenment, even a little engineering, motorcycle-maintenance and boat-rigging interwoven with his philosophical Chautauqua on quality, virtue, ethics and morality. You name it, all human life is in there.

In 2008 I effectively signed off on my own Pirsig research with this retrospective post, prompted by publication of Mark Richardson’s Zen and Now, and Mark E. Lehnertz review (on that page). My last significant reference was when reviewing “Shop Class as SoulCraft” by Matthew Crawford in 2009.

I’m quoted as claiming:

“The Metaphysics of Quality
is the best framework
for the whole of reality”

Although I don’t often write about Pirsig, or even refer specifically these days to his work, I do still hold his MoQ as “the best framework for the whole of reality“. I really do mean that. One way or another, everything I do, I hang off that mental picture. All the other great philosophers, like Hume and Wittgenstein, and even the latest and greatest works from Dan Dennett and Carlo Rovelli to name but two.


[Post Notes:

More thoughts and pieces reflecting on the passing of Pirsig in and below this post a month or so later.

And so many mainstream media pieces, too many to link to, but here a formal obituary from the Guardian. Great swathes of this piece lifted verbatim from my biographical timeline. Hat tip to David Morey.

Talking of Philosophology (Comparative Philosophical Criticism) which Pirsig rejected and thereby excluded himself from mainstream philosophy, it was only a few days ago I picked-up on this tweet quoting Lewis Gordon speaking at #APAPacific17

Hat tip to Chris Meyns.]

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