Dewey’s and Pirsig’s Metaphysics

  • David A. Granger


Pirsig’s philosophical reflections seem never to venture very far from questions and issues concerning the nature of reality. In fact, one could fairly say that metaphysics, or what Aristotle once referred to as “first philosophy,” is the main entrée of the more ruminative portions of both ZMM and Lila. Topics of debate regarding the empirical standing, viability, and use value of metaphysics are successively offered up by Pirsig as the reader accompanies him on the motorcycle and boat trips that confer a romantic sense of quest to the two books. During these intensive spiritual and intellectual journeys, Pirsig develops and refines his metaphysical tastes considerably. In particular, they move from the usual speculative inquiries to more homely deliberations on the meaning and value of everyday objects and events. Thus, much like Dewey, one of Pirsig’s leading aims as a metaphysician is to provide a conception of reality that helps us to perceive and savor what we so often seem to miss or neglect. To do this, rather than looking for a view of reality that is correct in some absolute, purely ideational sense, he asks the more pragmatic question “What [view] is best?” (Lila 108). In the discussion to follow, we canvass Pirsig’s and Dewey’s efforts to answer this question as a means of exploring focal question number 1: What sort of world is it that makes art as experience possible?


Dynamic Quality Primary Experience Aesthetic Quality Generic Trait Reflective Activity 
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  1. 15.
    René Descartes, Discourse on Method and the Meditations, trans. John Veitch (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989).Google Scholar
  2. Peter H. Nidditch, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, dy1975), Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Kenneth Winkler, ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1982).Google Scholar
  3. Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, Peter H. Nidditch, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans. J.M.D. Meiklejohn (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1990), in that order.Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    Heisenberg quoted in Alan J. Friedman and Carol C. Donely, Einstein as Myth and Muse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 127.Google Scholar

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© David A. Granger 2006

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  • David A. Granger

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