Robert Pirsig
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Publish Date
Jun 28, 2021
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Robert Pirsig was an American writer and philosopher best known for his philosophical novels Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila. Both of these books are based in his underlying philosophy that centres around the idea that quality is the core element or force in the universe. He called this philosophy the
Metaphysics of Quality


One of my favourite
s that Robert Pirsig made in his book Lila was that of
He liked the word ‘philosophology.’ It was just right. It had a nice dull, cumbersome, superfluous, appearance that exactly fitted its subject matter, and he had been using it for some time now. Philosophology is to philosophy as musicology is to music, or as art history and art appreciation are to art, or as literary criticism is to creative writing. It’s a derivative, secondary field, a sometimes parasitic growth that likes to think it controls its host by analyzing and intellectualizing its host’s behaviour.
Literature people are sometimes puzzled by the hatred many creative writers have for them. Art historians can’t understand the venom either. He supposed the same was true with musicologists but he didn’t know enough about them. But philosophologists don’t have this problem at all because the philosophers who would normally condemn them are a null-class. They don’t exist.
Philosophologists, calling themselves philosophers, are just about all there are.
You can imagine the ridiculousness of an art historian taking his students to museums, having them write a thesis on some historical or technical aspect of what they see there, and after a few years of this giving them degrees that say they are accomplished artists. They’ve never held a brush or a mallet and chisel in their hands. All they know is art history.
Yet, ridiculous as it sounds, this is exactly what happens in the philosophology that calls itself philosophy. Students aren’t expected to philosophize. Their instructors would hardly know what to say if they did. They’d probably compare the student’s writing to Mill or Kant or somebody like that, find the student’s work grossly inferior, and tell him to abandon it. As a student Phædrus [Pirsig’s alter ego in the book] had been warned that he would ‘come a cropper’ if he got too attached to any philosophical ideas of his own.
Literature, musicology, art history, and philosophology thrive in academic institutions because they are easy to teach. You just Xerox something some philosopher has said and make the students discuss it, make them memorize it, and then flunk them at the end of the quarter if they forget it.
Actual painting, music composition and creative writing are almost impossible to teach and so they barely get in the academic door. True philosophy doesn’t get in at all. Philosophologists often have an interest in creating philosophy but, as philosophologists, they subordinate it, much as a literary scholar might subordinate his own interest in creative writing. Unless they are exceptional they don’t consider the creation of philosophy their real line of work.
I think the reason this resonates with me is that captures the difference between knowing and doing and between participating and spectating. Both of these are important distinctions in the field of Meaningful Participation.
Mitch Olson

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Mitch Olson