Category Archives: Pirsig

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

Liberation

This article is based on quotations from three writers, of three different nationalities, who share a spirit with which I am in sympathy:

Fukuoka
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
Pirsig
“The real cycle you’re working on is the cycle called ‘yourself.’ ”
Collingwood
“I thought that the democratic system was not only a form of government but a school of political experience coextensive with the nation.”

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Body and Mind

Does consciousness have a “physical basis” or “material basis”? I am provoked by the suggestion that it does; for the question itself is misleading, if not simply meaningless.

In the September, 2014, issue of Harper’s magazine, Edward O. Wilson begins an essay called “On Free Will” with the following paragraph. Continue reading

The Istanbul Seaside

The original purpose of this article was to display and explain two photographs by me: one of a seaside park, the other of an abandoned car. I do this, and I talk about the stresses and compensations of the big city. I continue with the theme of Freedom from an earlier article of that name.

It is now early December in Istanbul, 2014. We have hardly seen the sun for weeks. Some rain falls almost every day. One has to learn to go out when one can. Last Saturday was cloudy, but dry, so we walked down to the Tophane-i Amire—the “Cannon Foundry Imperial.” The name is romantic, because it dates from Ottoman times, and because, like Koh-i-Noor, it is in a Persian grammatical form that is obsolete in Turkish. Today’s name of the cannon foundry would be Amire Tophane.
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Freedom

How do our thoughts age?

Having written recently that natural science was not history of nature, I looked back at Collingwood’s posthumous Principles of History for his arguments about this. I read his discussion of freedom as what distinguishes history from natural science. I recalled that his earlier writing was more concerned with removing distinctions than drawing them.

This is something that I investigate here. I occasionally encounter denials that we have “free will.” I find such denials bizarre; but evidently some people believe them, or at least believe they are worthy of consideration. I find Collingwood’s own account of freedom to be worthy of consideration. But then, considering this along with the rest of his œuvre, I have to conclude that everything is free. This conclusion is not really new to me; I drew such a conclusion as an adolescent. It may be a common thought. Wordsworth seems to have had such a thought, according to his Ode:

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NL VII: “Appetite”

Index to this series

How can we compare two states of mind? This is the question of Chapter VII of The New Leviathan. The answer is contained in the chapter’s title. “Appetite” is a name, both for the chapter and for the fundamental instance of comparing a here-and-now feeling with a “there-and-then” feeling. We compare these two feelings because we are unsatisfied with the former, but prefer the latter.

It would seem then that appetite is at the root of memory. Thus we are among the ideas of the opening verses of The Waste Land of T. S. Eliot, who attended Collingwood’s lectures on Aristotle’s De Anima at Oxford (and was just a year older):

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NL VI: “Language,” again

Index to this series

This is about language: language the concept, and “Language,” the sixth chapter of Collingwood’s New Leviathan. We shall consider language in a very basic way, not as a means of communicating what we know, but as the way we come to know things in the first place.
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