On Quality: Thesis by Ian P. Hornsby


On one particularly sunny morning in the August of '95' I was scanning the shelves of Southampton University Library when I happened across a book entitled Pragmatic Philosophy: An Anthology, edited by Amelie Rorty. In one section of this book I discovered with interest an overview of Peirce's deliberation about the function of philosophy and the role of aesthetics. This piece not only contains a kinship to Pirsig's ideas within Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila, but also led me to scribble down my own rough and simplistic thoughts about philosophy, ethics and aesthetics, as an idea for an MPhil Thesis. My scribble went something like this:

The genuine philosopher through the tool of poetry shall construct the stage for the normative scientist; not by way of dialectic truth but as a consequence of rhetorical 'good.' The scientist's logic will provide the rules for valid thought within a self-corrective field of study. In addition, because science involves the self-discipline of thought this makes it a branch of ethics, in that it provides the rules for all habitual and controllable behaviour. In turn, ethics is a branch of aesthetics because the rules of ethics are directed towards intrinsic values and intrinsic values are comprehended aesthetically.

On reaching the final section of this thesis you will find a Revised Version of the above text, written in the light of my extensive post-structuralist readings. I hope this will help to indicate the changes within the course of my thinking journey."

I also trust that this will go some way towards explaining why I have chosen to write my treatise using a journey as a narrative device, in much the same way as Pirsig has done for both of his novels. I felt that a ramble along the edge of the winding stream of consciousness followed by a drink from the pub of Post-Modernism, best suited the Enlightening odyssey I travelled whilst writing this thesis. I felt that as I travelled along this path I gained a whole new perspective upon the world and the human condition and my thesis is an attempt to illustrate this journey.

My meeting with post-structuralism has been a positive experience in that it has enabled me to be far more critical of claims to Truth, with a capital 'T', and values. Yet, most unexpectedly, from a personal point of view, it has also enhanced my interest in Zen Buddhism, which, like deconstruction, avoids using words and concepts as though they were expressions of some great beyond.

I feel that there are many similarities between post-structuralism, Pirsig and Zen Buddhism. Take for example the Zen Buddhist Koan, a sort of illogical riddle; many Zen Buddhists use these Koans to deconstruct painful emotional patterns of the mind, such as anger or loss, therefore highlighting the 'emptiness' and seizure one suffers within these emotional states. In a reflexive post-structuralist way, Zen Buddhists set about deconstructing static intellectual patterns such as 'emptiness' by highlighting that emptiness is itself a created concept to be used simply as a tool for deconstructing emotional seizure and then discarded like all other static patterns of the mind. In the ways of Zen Buddhism, emotional seizure and its parent, intellectual seizure can lead to the worst forms of suffering. Through reading Pirsig, Zen Buddhism and post-structuralism one begins to understand that there is no underpinning structure for any emotion, experience or intellectual viewpoint, and with nothing to seize the mind, it is set free.

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