LS Re: PROGRAM Explain the subject-object metaphysics

Donald T Palmgren (
Wed, 15 Apr 1998 09:42:32 +0100

O-kay, I'll play.

        Everyone who was around when I joined the LS has seen this but
here's for the newcommers:

        By the s-o distinction Pirsig conflates at least 3 different

        1) Primarily he indicates what is essentualy the distinction
codified by Decartes in what he (Decartes) called Mind-Body. Body is
something spacially extended, Mind is whatever is not -- whatever has no
body in space. For his part Decartes thought *both* M and B exist, but
for many reasons this theory dosn't hold up.
        Most metaphysitions move to one side of the dichotomy and say
that the other side is illusory, mere appearance or "less real."
        On one end we have the Materialist (sometimes "realist") who say
that only spacial bodies exist. This is the position associated w/
Positivism -- metaphysical 'science appologetics' ("Given the fact that
SCIENCE IS TRUE! whatelse can we say?"). I don't consider this real
metaphysics because you've obviously already given the whole thing away
to someone else's juristiction from square one. Metaphysics is First
Philosophy -- it preceads physics or mathimatics (second and third
        On the other end we have Idealism -- a very broad catagory,
indeed. Weastern Idealist include Plato (What really exists are perfect
Ideas/Forms), most Christianity, and the German Idealist who said what
really exists is a transendental "being" beyond time-space and beyond
all rational distinctions (the "knife" in ZMM).
        Almost all Eastern metaphysics is Idealist: Hindu (ananda),
Buddhist (anatman), Taoist, Zen, etc. All of these are forms of
transendentalism -- placing primary reality outside of time-space in a
transendent Unity or Nothing (they're actually the same thing).
        Pirsig rejects the above thinkers (though, he does this while
strangly flirting w/ Eastern Idealism) and trys to set up something
entierly different. ...odd
                                ? ? ?

        2) Sometimes when Pirsig talks about s-o he means Subjectivity
vs. objectivity. This is a rather different distinction. While the first
distinguaishes between how X exists w/ relation to space, this is a
distinction between two modes of behavier. Objectivity is a posture, a
role one employes -- that of the objective observer. So you go into the
lab, put on your white coat, be objective, then you go home, turn on the
game and stop being objective. The perfectly Objective observer is an
ideal, of course, and never actually achieved, but big whoop; that's not
the point of it. This is a social distinction between two modes of
behavier and in itself is w/o any metaphysical position (it doesn't say
anything about what really exists -- well except that sociaty and
morality must exist since objectivity is a social value, but

        3) Pirsig doesn't use this much, but in phil. in general it is
the most common meaning of s and o (mostly because of the German
Idealist). "Subject" means "knower" and "object" means whatever stands
over against the knower -- in other words, the known. This is your
basic I-this distinction. Now it's not the same as Distinction #1
(Mind-body) because what is known, of course, can be a thought, an idea,
a mental picture or something like that which is not a spacial body.
Both German Idealism and much of Eastern Phil. is thaken up w/ the
pursuit of closing off the I-this distinction and realizing a state of
(what the *Upanishads* call) *Tat Twam Assi* -- I and the other are one.
(The resulting Oneness/Unity drops us backe into the much broader
catagory of Idealism -- which is a VERY broad and VERY loose grouping,
in deed -- the only thing these positions have in common is that they
are not Materalism.)
        The purpose of the s-o distincton here is to highlight The Self
The self -- what I am -- stands out as a 'negative unity' -- in other
words, I am whatever I don't encounter, for I am what's doing the
encountering. So in "Object counsciousness" I go about saying I'm not
that, not that, not that... I stay the same by not being any of these
things (whether ideas or solid objects or other selves) that I
encounter. So when I break object consciousness then I become this and
this and this... and off to Nirvana w/ me.

        All three of these distinctions are conflated in P's use of S-O.
think he does this w/o realizing it because I haven't found a place that
justifys this.
        So what does P mean by S-O?
        Well we can say he *primarily* means #1... but sometimes #2, and
once or twice it sounds like #3.

                                TTFN (ta-ta for now)

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