Saturday, December 22, 2007

Quality as Tool of Thought

I can foresee doing a whole series of posts on this topic. Here is a sort of general beginning. Subsequent posts on the topic may not appear sequentially.

The world of philosophy, like the world itself, is such an enormous prospect that to discuss even a tiny part of it is quite a daunting piece of work.

It is not difficult to observe regularities and patterns in the sky – the constellations and seasonal movements – from whence we get astronomy. Nor is it difficult to understand how the earliest movements of human thinking were connected to the observation of the heavens. Actually it is a little difficult to understand – in terms of the worldliness of the modern mind-set, there are so many problems in the here and now, why look to the skies? – but this is not the question I wish to address today. We accept the cosmic tilt of our ancestors without giving it too much thought, though it is indeed an orientation of staggering importance in human destiny. Still, I must leave this interesting question aside for the moment.

It is again a natural step – well, somewhat natural – to move from spotting regularities in the sky to noting them on earth. These regularities we call the "laws of nature" – a phrase which, interestingly, means something quite different from "natural law." Natural law means something like the moral core in the human being, whereas the "laws of nature" are commonly viewed as having nothing to do with morality.

It is another step again to note regularities in history. This phase of the game is still in play, so to speak. The ancients did it to some extent, but it really got going as an intellectual discipline in later times – perhaps beginning with the rise of modern philosophy. We had Vico, and then later Spengler and Toynbee, who may be taken as the peak of this kind of activity. Post-Toynbee, historical commentary is so bound up with every other kind of commentary, from science questions to clashes of civilization and political arguments, that it is a little hard to discern its original impulse.

In historical commentary we see, I think, the incipient beginnings of the movement of intellect to become conscious of its relation to society – a movement that Pirsig has clarified in his distinction between Social and Intellectual Quality. As for spotting regularities in Intellectual Quality – forget it! We have not even begun. Our sense of the inward and intellectual character of the world today is a type of chaos. On the ‘outside’ of our world, that is to say what holds this intellectual chaos in some kind of precarious equilibrium, is a dominating economic system and the political ideologies that serve this ruling power.

The question that occupies me today is how Pirsig’s tool of Quality can be of service to the elucidation of certain intellectual problems. Ultimately and actually it is more than an intellectual problem, if it is true, as I suggested, that Force is the counterweight to Chaos. Force vs. Chaos is a terribly unbalanced system, as we are learning to our dismay in every experience of life. No Quality in nature or the arts of life can make the slightest headway, but gets sucked into the pressurized void formed by this polarization of forces. The unaddressed problem of the subject-object polarization, which is the fundamental source of this Force vs. Chaos paradigm, has created a true "black hole" on earth which threatens to swallow us all.

Thoughts and things, consciousness and phenomena, spirit and matter, subject and object, are in mutual coexistence and correlation. The financial debt of the global money system is spreading throughout the world - this is the outward, phenomenal, or 'thing-aspect' of the polarity. In a more inward sense this globalized modern man lives in a perpetual spiritual indebtedness to the past - to religion, history, law, customs, courtesies, arts and systems of thought which have all been developed by human beings living in previous ages. This past endowment has made possible the development of that modern science which has proven to be such a boon to the exploitation of nature's resources, particularly the extraction of oil. [1]

My point being that the black hole which is at the center of the Force vs. Chaos paradigm has spun off another set of polarizations, namely, debt, comprising both a material and spiritual aspect.

In order to steer society away from falling into the black hole of debt, it may become necessary to reinstate the gold standard - to back up financial credit with something of real and tangible worth. Likewise on the spiritual plane the search for Quality, the desire for Quality, the understanding of Quality as tool of thought. Only this search, desire and understanding can bring us the wherewithal to develop a new paradigm.
[1] Which William James, for one, saw very clearly: "The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present, and all the power of science has been prostituted to this purpose."