LS Re: Explain the subject-object metaphysics

Donald T Palmgren (
Tue, 28 Apr 1998 04:17:48 +0100

On Sat, 25 Apr 1998, Bodvar Skutvik wrote:

> Recently an aspect of my understanding of the so-called
> subject-object metaphysics has surfaced. My thesis has always
> been that the events described in the last part of ZMM (page 366
> onwards in the Corgi paperback. "But now, as a result of the growing
> impartiality of the Greeks to the world around them, there was an
> increasing power of abstraction..etc.) was the birth of
> subject-object metaphysics. I still think so, but the term SOM is not
> used in ZMM at all, the said shift is merely represented as the
> emergence of the idea of truth as different from opinion. Lila on the
> other hand starts with subject- object metaphysics as our present
> outlook without specifying its origin. Either this is so obvious that
> Pirsig did not care to mention it specifically or I have taken a
> short cut? I will not plead any case for my view, but just ask your
> opinion on this matter.

        Hey, Bo,
        I'm glad that you posted this because I think you and I are
approching the same thing from two different directions -- You, probably
moving in a straight path, and I taking my usual eliptical approch. :)
Take another look at my post from the 20th and tell me if this is in
w/ where you're headed.

        But, before I go further that way, let me respond to
Diana's question:
        No, I don't think SOM means dualism because that would limit
things down to Decartes and a few others. A dualistic ontology is one
says "There are two and exactly two types of being: X and Y. Everything
either one or the other or some combination." So that's the classic
Cartisan Mind-Body. But you could be a Materialist, Positivist monist
says: "What really exists is the field of the time-space continueum.
'Stuff' is created from vibrations in this field; particals are little
wave peaks (energy bunddles)... but it's all made from this same field."
(As near as I understand it, that's the current picture painted by
cosmology and partical physics.) So do we exclude Materialist from SOM?
        Or you could be an Idealist monist like the Buddha. Do we
Buddhism from SOM?
        Clearly if MoQ is just to replace dualistic ontologies then
not spectaculer because very few people support such things.
        (Remember the distinction I made between SOM ans SO-thinking?
SO-thinking obviously involves lots of dualities -- pairs of opposites.)

        Okay, let's see...
        For the past few days I've been thinking about how to crystalize
my thoughts into a system. Here's a rough wack at such a thing:
        First we all begin in SO-thinking, or SO-consciousness. You
say we 'instinctivly' divide the world into I-this. But this isn't an
ontology. Metaphysics begins in 6th century BCE Greece/Ionia. So, Bo,
can at least say metaphysics begins then -- the question remains whether
SOM begins then or later.

        What is SOM?
        A "what is-" qusestion taken naturaly is a "How do you pick it
out?" question. How can you tell a SOM from all the other
(Silly, no?) Well, first you'd have to know what metaphysics is.
        Last time I said metaphysics is the skeptical deconstruction and
reconstruction of the worldview. But that's not satisfactory because
could also include physics and chemistry... what Aristotle clasified as
Second Philosophy. First Philosophy (Metaphysics) isn't the same thing.
        One way to look at maetaphysics is to say it doesn't catalogue
existing things, but rather it tells you what existance is -- what it
*means* to ask, "Does X exist?" ("Do quarks exist?" "What do you mean
        Another handy definition would be to say Metaphysics doesn't
costruct the correct picture of the world, but rather it asks what
as having a correct picture of the world -- shifting from asking "What
true?" (proving) to asking "What is a proof?"
        But these "handy" definitions are not absolute facts because
don't *have* meanings; they aquire them. Philosophy being an activity
form or content, "metaphysics" can and has been various things, and so
definition needs to be contextualized. My thoughts reflect the track
runs from Aristotle through Hegel and culminates (more or less) in
Hiedgger. I think this represents the highest understanding of what
metaphysics is all about because otherwise you end up, like the
Positivist, just handing the whole thing over to the chemists and the
physicists (degrading 1st Phil. into 2nd Phil.).
        Well, I can think of lots of other things to say about "What is
metaphysics?" (and "What is REAL meataphysics?"), but lets let that rest
for now. Let's settle on: Metaphysics is the study of *the condition*:
existance. What does it mean to exist? For example: The Materialist
"What does it mean to exist? It means to be spacialy extended. Which,
presently, means to be made up of little vibrations in the time-space
field." That's the dominating view in Anglo-American philosophy today

what's called Positivism.  You can contrast that with Transendental
Idealism (like Kant or the Buddha) which says time and space are
-- they exist only for us but not in the world itself; the real world is
unity that trancends time and space and all the pairs of opposits.

BUT... Buddhism isn't a metaphysical theory; it's a "religion"

really a kind of mental theropy designed to alter/expand one's
consciousness.  In other words:  The pay-off in Buddhism is to close the
S-O distinction (I-this) for consciousness -- meaning, to actualy do it.
Contrast that with Kant or Hegel or Schoppenhaure.  They we're pursuing
metaphysical theories, not trying to alter counsciousness.  Metaphysics,
by nature -- by definition! -- is a theoretical, literary activity.
("Literary" because the presumed result is a book, or an encyclopedia.)
That's one way to chatacterize metaphysics, and to characterize the
difference between Eastern and Western Phil. (Really the East doesn't
have Phil.  The literary tradition of intellectual skeptacism we
from the Greeks doesn't even exist over there [for reasons examined in
last post]).

So that would be step 1: What's metaphysics? But the question "What's SOM?" still demands, "How can you pick out a SOM from all the other metaphysics-es? How do you know when you've got one?

This falls a good bit short of being a systamatic presentation of my thoughts. The basic problem is: I'm moving two ways and thwarted at both ends. On the one hand there's this: One way to characterize RM Pirsig's Phil. is to say that he ties together Eastern and Western Phil. HE doesn't ever claim this, but I think it's clearly thereright from the first title: Zen + motercycle mantinace... think about it. So a natural responce is to map Pirsig onto Western, and then Eastern philosophical history. If you exmine both strings and find Pirsig waiting patiently at the end... well, that's a f***ing miraculous feat for Mr. Pirsig, I must say. This mapping/string following is what I've spent the last... oh, 4-5 years doing. Difficulty: Pirsig himself warns us about the low-quality of "philosophology." And I've come to agree w/ him (having had a few collage Phil. courses and found that mostly all they are is literary history). So you need a way to map a Phil. w/o falling into the literary game. I think I've finaly found one, but it involves a shift from answer-thinking to question-thinking (or "spacial thinking" which has "a position" to "temporal thinking" which has a movement of thought), but it requires a radical break from logocentric school thinking, and when you lay it on people they say, "Well you're just keeping from saying what you're answer is so that we can't prove you wrong."

On the other hand: Given that we want to DO philosophy and not just talk about other's doings (they're books), this involves what I metaphorically call "looking over the fence." It's one thing to master Pirsig, but it's another to do the after-Pirsig. I'm more interested in the more dynamic (and actually philosophical) after-Pirsig. After Pirsig begins here when you say, nobody ever got to nirvana by reading Kant, Hegel, or Schoppenhaure... or Pirsig either! So what is the pay-off? In the MoQ in particuler, and in metaphysics in general? What does it mean to "have a philosophy" and what good is such a thing? Difficulty: Once you begin the after-Pirsig you get hit w/ "Look, this is an MoQ/RM Pirsig discussion, so stop going off the subject."

So you move first into the liturature to map Pirsig out, but your blocked as a philosophologist (not to mention, probably, essoteric and boring). So you move away from the liturature and you're off the subject. Compund this w/ the problem that severl of us have expressed their disintrest in "What is SOM?" ('Pirsig leaves it alone and so will I.') I think this is kind of ashame because, as someone said, every question in Phil. can be turned into a version of the problem of the self. I think Diana picked the best of all opening questions because from "What is SOM?" you can get anywhere not only in Pirsig's Phil. but anywhere in any Phil. The trick is to stop answering questions and start by transforming one question into another -- beter question.

Well, I'm going to go back to my own restless shifting and see what crystolizes and if I can slip it in here. I think I've got an idea about the pay-off of ZMM that makes some sense out of that book, this listserv, metaphysics and Phil. And, on the other pole, I've got some ideas for continuing What is S-O? What is the self? What is a person? ...ultimatly, What really exists? But to get them "on task" and to make them of intrest to you who don't care about the S-O question... that's a trick.

TTFN (ta-ta for now) Donny

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