[MD] Good and Truth in Platonic system

118 ununoctiums at gmail.com
Tue Dec 4 10:10:43 PST 2012

Hi John,

Thank you for your questions.  I can provide my opinion as input to this
discussion.  I will address both your topics below, inserted into the text
you provided.

On Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 8:16 AM, T-REXX Techs, Inc. <trexxtechs at bellsouth.net>

In ZMM Pirsig clearly asserts that In Plato's system arete is "the Good",
and it is subordinated only to "the True", but "truth" is that which is
arrived at by the method of dialectic, this subjecting arete to debate and
definition in the dialectic method.  This subordination of arete to truth is
critical to Pirsig's insistence that Quality must remain undefined and

             But other sources affirm that Plato's ethical system affirms
"the Good" as the highest form of knowledge.  One writer refers to "the
Good" as "Agathon", not "arete".  He says, "The transcendence of the Agathon
makes immanent propositions about its content impossible."  That sounds very
much like arete.  Can anyone sort this out for me?

Mark's comments:

Pirsig is using the story of Plato as a metaphor for a bigger issue.  This
analogy is meant to point one towards the singular path which the West has
taken.  One can see from Pirsig's own assertions that he was not an expert
on Plato, and did not claim to have read the body of work from that
author.  Since he had just started in graduate school, he was able to view
Western philosophy from the vantage as an outsider which freed him from the
ongoing academic discussion and rigid interpretations.  He was clever and
found flaw in the teachings he was receiving.  Therefore, the specifics of
what Pirsig presents must be put into the context of what he was trying to
present.  From my readings of Plato, Pirsig and Plato were describing the
same thing.

The context in which Pirsig is providing the Plato analogy can be
considered as a "turning point in Western thought".  In my opinion, Pirsig
is saying the same thing as Parmenides did in his poem, which was written
before Plato, (which indicates that this Western Sensibility started before
Plato).  At the time of Plato's writings there were many of the mystical
persuasion, Socrates being one of these.  He could "space out" for many
hours and be in touch with Quality without the conversations surrounding
it.  This was a form of awareness.  Because of this ability, he attempted
to put reason in its place, and was therefore on the side of Pirisg.  He
could show people the inadequacies of logic an reason and demonstrate that
we are ignorant.  In my opinion, a better protagonist would have been
Aristotle who misdirected the West until the Renaissance and beyond.  Even
today we are of the mindset of Aristotle with all our naming and

Pirsig is pointing to the false elevation of a depiction of reality as
overriding reality itself, and he chooses Plato to explain this.  Within
this depiction there is the truth as imparted by words.  This can also be
called reason.  This "reason" has a bewitching aspect on our thinking that
was understood by the mystical.  Pirsig points to the elevation of reason
above Quality.  He does the same thing in Lila by creating the DQ/SQ
dichotomy, where SQ dominates our culture.

This same dichotomy is referenced in terms of the dialectic and rhetoric.
The dialectic suggests that a truth can be arrived at through opposing
forces enabled by reason.  Rhetoric is different in that its aim is to
convince.  An analogy here could be that dialectic is math, and rhetoric is
music.  In rhetoric, the manner in which things are presented override the
truth within.  The Sophists were good at rhetoric, apparently.

What Pirsig is pointing to in terms of Arête (again, my opinion) is the
awareness of a directionality in the universe.  This directionality is
towards the Good as presented by Plato.  Arête is not a series of actions,
but a place from which those actions stem.  While it can be presented
through examples, Arête in no-thing, it is an attitude (something which
Pirsig spends time presenting).  I would go so far as to suggest that
attitude is yet another way to explain DQ.  From attitude comes the
discrimination of thought.  Different attitudes lead to different thought

In summary I don't think it is extremely useful to perseverate on the
example which Pirsig presents.  What is important is to become aware of the
"tone" in which these examples are presented.  Flaw can be found in any
description, which is why any discussion should not focus on these
specifics but rather the attitude providing them.  When we go down to the
specifics "as truth", we are going in the wrong direction.

Previously from John:

I need some practical assistance here.  I know that we all operate day to
day with a paradigmatic set of unexamined beliefs or assumptions about the
nature of reality.  These beliefs seem to me to derive implicitly from some
culturally pervasive metaphysics that may have been specifically articulated
in the past and has since become diluted and absorbed into current society.
Would I be wrong to say that a metaphysic is an articulated system of
assertions about the nature of reality, while one's paradigm of reality is a
socially inherited and unarticulated operational framework?  Please let me
know your definitions of metaphysics, paradigms, and their relationship.

Mark comments:

I can provide an opinion here within the context of MoQ as I understand it.

As Socrates suggested, the unexamined life is unlived.  Ignorance is the
basis for all suffering (My words of course, but not new).  It is
interesting how all these great thinkers came around the same time, and
said the same thing although they were located far apart.

I agree with the culturally pervasive metaphysics, which is why I consider
Science to be a metaphysics.  That it is not recognized as such is the
result of this "dilution" you speak of.  I would put this dilution
differently by saying that cultures have forgotten the nature of
knowledge.  This Pirsig refers to as SQ.  What was once an idea has become
a credo.

I find it difficult to separate ones belief system into the categories you
present.  Any metaphysics is shaped by culture.  The difference, I believe,
is in the attitude on takes towards this metaphysics or framework.  By
creating his example of DQ/SQ, Pirsig has suggested that there is more to
existence than the operational frameworks that is worked within.  SQ does
not exist alone.

It is incumbent on the individual to question the paradigm (operations
system) he is working within.  For only then does one escape from the
paradigm and act freely.  The bewitchment of any paradigm as being reality
is strong.  Not everybody needs escape, and the mystic would say that such
people remain asleep.  This is of course part of the mystical paradigm.

Through his books, Pirsig suggests a new paradigm, or a paradigm switch.
What Pirsig presents is not new and is simply a different way of saying
what has been said many times before; to view the universe as Quality as
moral is a manner of awareness.  What do we think the heart of religion is
all about?  Quality is then nothing more than this awareness.  As with any
awareness frameworks are constructed.  However, these constructions (MoQ)
should not be confused with the awareness that brought such structure
forth.  The awareness of this awareness (as it were) keeps one free from
the bewitchment of SQ.

A note on awareness.  Awareness must not be confused with thought.  Thought
is shaped by awareness.  Awareness is more of a "setting".  Awareness
cannot be pointed to except through thought.  Thought can illuminate
aspects of awareness like the sun shines on objects.  However, the sun does
not shine on all objects all of the time.  Therefore what is illuminated by
thought is like carrying a flashlight around in the dark while finding
one's way through a forest and seeing trees.  Awareness is the walking and
the forest as a whole.  This is an interactive phenomenon.  While awareness
provides the foundation for thought, thought can influence awareness, by
providing a reason to switch.  To enter into Quality, one must dismiss the
current awareness and enter into a new one.  This switching can have
disastrous effects as presented by Pirsig through his autobiographical
honesty.  It is not trivial to grab Quality, but one certainly knows when
that happens.  It is no different to Zen enlightenment.  Everything stays
the same, but the awareness changes.

Hope you find these opinions interesting.

Best regards,


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