Category Archives: Pirsig

NL XLIII: The Second Barbarism: The ‘Albigensian Heresy’

Index to this series

Suppose your society has certain rites and customs, perceived as essential to its functioning. When some persons among you reject those rites and customs, what are you going to do? Persecution would be the normal response of a society that aimed to preserve itself. In the example to be considered here, the society is medieval Christendom, where

  • buildings called churches were customarily the abode of friendly spirits, and
  • the rite of swearing an oath was a sign of special commitment.

Oaths and churches were rejected by persons called Paulicians, or Bogomils, or Albigensians. Their beliefs were Manichaean. These persons were persecuted so successfully that we do not understand them very well. Therefore we must leave open the question of whether they were barbarists.

Here I am going to review, among other things,

  • what it means to fight barbarism;
  • the response to German bombardment described in Goodbye, Mr. Chips;
  • what Jesus Christ says about swearing;
  • how the United States accommodates various beliefs about oath-taking;
  • the threat of a lying President;
  • the threat of ignoring climate change;
  • the etymology of heresy;
  • the discussion of mythos and logos in Pirsig.

Fire temple, Yazd, Iran, September 2012. See “Duty to Nature

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A New Kind of Science

Executive summary: There are sciences called descriptive, empirical, or natural; and there are sciences called prescriptive or normative. A third kind of science studies the criteria as such that a thinking being, such as one of us, imposes on itself as it tries to achieve success. Collingwood developed the concept and coined the term criteriological for such a science. Logic, ethics, aesthetics, and economics are Collingwood’s examples; I propose also linguistics as an example. Pirsig effectively works out rhetoric as an example. Getting these things straight may be of political use.


Some sciences are not recognized for what they are. The sciences themselves are not new, but a proper understanding of them may be new to some of us, including myself.

Here I supplement and update “Strunk and White,” a post in which I took issue with a professional linguist’s attacks on The Elements of Style. This book was William Strunk’s “little book” (53 pages), made slightly less little (71 pages) by E. B. White. In an essay called “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice,” Geoffrey Pullum suggests that Strunk and White give a prescriptive account of English grammar, though they fail to understand it; in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (1842 pages), Pullum and Rodney Huddleston claim to present the same subject descriptively. Continue reading

What Philosophy Is

With my presumptuous title, I imitate Arthur Danto’s What Art Is (2013), mentioned in my last post, “Some Say Poetry.” The book is fine, and I have learned from it; but Danto could have learned from Collingwood’s Principles of Art.

Picasso, The Tragedy (1903), National Gallery of Art, Washington Continue reading

Victor Vasarely

Tophane-i Amire
Tophane-i Amire, 2017.03.25

Last week I wrote about the Turkish Impressionist Feyhaman Duran, born in 1886. Now my subject is the Hungarian-French Op Artist born twenty years later as Győző Vásárhelyi. His “Rétrospective en Turquie” is at the Tophane-i Amire Culture and Art Center in an Ottoman cannon foundry.

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Beykoz, Istanbul

After five years in Istanbul, we continue to learn how much there is still to discover here. Now we have been to the Asian borough of Beykoz. Much of what we saw there was rural, and the topography and flora reminded me of Appalachia. I have nothing to say about the poverty and ignorance that might be suggested by this term; for me, Appalachia was always a locus for holidays, mostly at my late uncle’s place in West Virginia, but also in the form of bicycle tours. Travelling now to Beykoz, Country roads, I could think, take me home, to the place I belong! We got there by public bus from our European borough of Şişli.

Polonezköy, Beykoz, 2016.08.14

Polonezköy, Beykoz, 2016.08.14

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All You Need Is Love

Here are some meditations on education from the summer of 2016, when Donald Trump was threatening to become President of the United States. Education cannot be forced on unwilling students. Neither need students know just what they are accepting; they may be enticed or beguiled into learning. Whether they have learned cannot be directly tested. I include some memories of racism (as an observer, not a victim) and of my own liberal education. (Note added May 31, 2018)

Would education solve the world’s problems? A meaningfully positive answer would imply that the appropriate education could actually be supplied to us, or enough of us; and yet education is not a drug that can be administered willy-nilly.

Tables for art entrance exam, MSGSÜ, 2016.08.02

Tables for art entrance exam, MSGSÜ, 2016.08.02

My thoughts here are occasioned by a friend’s remark yesterday (Istanbul time, August 1, 2016), to the effect that the current presidential election cycle in the United States shows the need of liberal education, of learning to think: and this learning should start in grade school. I responded as follows (this was on that social medium that I loathe):

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One & Many

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This essay—these notes for an essay, this draft of an essay—is inspired by Robert Pirsig’s first book. I have made sectional divisions where they seemed to occur naturally.

zen

While we who work at universities may be employed by the state, our true work is to serve not the state as such, but what may be called knowledge, or science, or reason. This is a theme of Pirsig, which I take up here. Continue reading

Surgery & Recovery

On June 7, 2016, I underwent surgical repair of an inguinal hernia. I did not know what to expect. I did not know that I did not know: I did not consider that there was anything in particular to be prepared for. But there was.

Clock tower of Şişli Etfal hospital, from the fourth floor

Clock tower of Şişli Etfal hospital, from the fourth floor

The surgery itself was not such a big deal. It was a fascinating experience, but not one that I found myself wishing I had known more about ahead of time. Recovery has turned out to be something else. If a medical website says of recovery, You may experience some discomfort, it is practically lying. Discomfort was what I experienced, waiting in a chair, or on a gurney, for the surgery to take place. What I experienced afterwards was searing pain, at least in getting out of bed, with the rather insistent help of a nurse. Continue reading

What I loath about Facebook

I wrote the polemic below as a comment on Facebook, in both senses. I was responding to a Johnnie friend’s comment, “David Pierce loathes fb as a forum for real discussion.” “Johnnies” are alumnae and alumni of St John’s College, the one with campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe. My own view of our College is expressed in an article called simply St John’s College published in the De Morgan Journal in 2012. Since then, I have written about the College in the present blog, Continue reading

Thoreau by the Aegean

In a session of the 1986–7 senior laboratory at St John’s College in Santa Fe, for reasons that I do not recall, our tutor asked us students whether we had any heroes: for it was said that young people of the day no longer had heroes. None of the students at the table named a hero. I myself refrained from telling how I had once named a hero, when asked to do so in a high-school French class. This hero was the Buddha.

In recent times, I have listed my favorite writers as Somerset Maugham, Robert Pirsig, and R.G. Collingwood. I might add Charlotte Brontë and Mary Midgley to the list. I cannot add the Buddha, because he is not a writer. If my list were of writers and thinkers, I still could not add the Buddha: I cannot know him or any other thinker well enough, except through his own writing. But now I would add Henry David Thoreau. Continue reading