The Quality of Compassion
Compassion as the Working of Intellect in the Metaphysics of Quality

by Dan Glover
June 1999


In this paper I hope to the examine the notion that the Quality of compassion resides in the intellect level of the Metaphysics of Quality. By using quotes from the Bible, specifically from the Books of Matthew and Mark in the New Testament, written around 50 A.D. and quotes from the Analects of Confucius, written sometime around 400 B.C., I will compare the notion of Goodness as Jesus taught and the ideas of Confucius with the notion of experience as Quality in the Metaphysics of Quality as proposed by Robert M. Pirsig in his book Lila; An Inquiry into Morals.

The Golden Rule

In his book Lila; An Inquiry into Morals, Robert M. Pirsig describes the four static quality levels of his Metaphysics of Quality as the inorganic, biological, social and intellect. These levels are exhaustive and contain everything that we know, yet they are discrete. The inorganic level could be likened to the atomic system; the biological level to the life-force contained in all life-forms; the social level to the cooperation between individuals. The intellect level seems to be more difficult to define in a way that is consistent with our interpretation of reality. Still, it seems that compassion and mercy are perhaps indicative of the intellect level and never the lower levels.

Investigating the Bible, it seems that the Old Testament (a social testament) is somehow lacking in this Quality of mercy in ways that the New Testament (an intellect testament) is not. Jesus said:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; But I say onto you that ye resist not evil, but whoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. (Matthew 5:38-42)

These are very Dynamic words, running counter to the accepted social standards of those (these) times. Since Jesus spoke in parables it is not required of us to take his words literally but rather as indicative of the intellect level breaking away from the social level restrictions imposed upon us all. That these social level restrictions are just as pervasive today as they were two thousand years ago is apparent by how few follow the words of Jesus, though socially we may profess to do so.

We might ask ourselves, what exactly is compassion and mercy? The Golden Rule as given by Jesus is perhaps the best way to describe each. This seems strictly a social level dictum and not an intellect level pattern of value at all on first glance, yet this Rule is nothing like the Ten Commandments, which spells out specifically the do's and don'ts of civilized living. But there is a much greater subtlety contained in the Golden rule when compared to the Analects of Confucius and put into the context of the Metaphysics of Quality.

Confucius lived about five hundred years before Jesus. Like Jesus, there has been much speculation on whether Confucius was a historical figure or a compilation of several. Like Jesus, Confucius comes to us through the writings of others and not directly. The Analects of Confucius were written by his disciples, just as the parables of Jesus were written by his disciples. The Golden Rule as proclaimed by Jesus reads:

Therefore, all things whatever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. Enter in at the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in that way. Because narrow is the gate, and hard is the way, which leadeth onto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:12-15)
While the Analects of Confucius say:
11. Tzu-kung said, What I do not want others to do to me, I have no desire to do to others. The Master said, Oh Ssu! You have not quite got to that point yet.
12. Tzu-kung said, Our Master's views concerning culture and the outward insignia of goodness, we are permitted to hear; but about Man's nature and the ways of Heaven he will not tell us anything at all. (Book V)
Why should the way be hard and the gate narrow, as Jesus proclaimed? Confucius implies too, by his answer to Tzu-Kung, that the way is very hard  and that Tzu-Kung has not reached the point of turning the other cheek, even though he himself states that he has. Tzu-Kung is stilled trapped by culture and language, made apparent by his reply to Confucius. The Metaphysics of Quality agrees with Niels Bohr that we are all suspended in language which is culturally derived. To step outside the bounds of the social level is to enter by the narrow gate. This is the power of the intellect, and it is here that compassion grows.


Jesus expanded on the Ten Commandments by proclaiming that which was thought of as real as that which was actually done. According to Jesus, simply abstaining from sin was no longer adequate, for even thinking of sin constituted a breach of the Ten Commandments. In this, Jesus gave the intellect moral superiority over socially held customs and heralded a new direction for human-kind, culminating in our Western culture as we know it today.

Confucius spoke of something called li, literally translated as "ritual", one of the rt morphemes that Pirsig discusses in Lila. Notice that li is a complementary part of the dance of li-la, the ever regenerating moment. Confucius said:

Goodness is overcoming one's personal self and returning to li. If for a single day a man can overcome his personal self and return to li, everything under Heaven for that man turns into Goodness. (Book II)

Li means the natural state of the heart. The natural state is not the recognition of duty, nor is it the recognition of other creatures and loving them. Li is not striving day after day, month after month, year after year to obtain a goal or a desire. The natural state can be described as experience equaling value. The natural state is the child-like wonder at just being alive, without judgment or prejudice.

Pirsig writes:

Although the four systems are exhaustive they are not exclusive. They all operate at the same time and in ways that are almost independent of each other... It [the Metaphysics of Quality] says they are not continuous. They are discrete. They have very little to do with one another. Although each level is built on a lower one it is not an extension of that lower level. Quite the contrary. The higher level can often be seen to be in opposition to the lower level, dominating it, controlling it where possible for its own purposes. (Lila, paperback, pg. 172-173)

The Golden Rule seems to requires more than social accountability... it requires individual accountability and responsibility. The emergence of the intellect. We normally think of the Golden Rule as kindergarten stuff... be nice to others if you wish them to be nice to you. Of course, the Golden Rule can be skewed the other way as well. Be confrontational to others if we wish them to be confrontational with us. We look at the current geo-political scenario and we see that war is profitable. Billions upon billions of dollars are generated by war. Yet there must be an enemy to fight, otherwise war would wither and die of old age. So we invent enemies and we invent wars by seeking confrontations under the guise of righteousness. This is a social level righteousness however, the wide gate.

This leads me to re-examine the Golden Rule and its implications in the four static levels of the Metaphysics of Quality. Can we say the Golden Rule applies to all four levels? At the inorganic level, it seems that compounds form under specific circumstances. There seems to be just enough balance between cohesion and entropy to allow the universe as we understand it to exist. If cohesion were higher, what we term the force of gravity would hold the universe together in a massively super-dense lump. If entropy were greater, no compounds would be able to form and the universe would be only a vast cloud of plasma flying apart at light speed. There would seem to be no indication of the Golden Rule playing any part in this balance however, unless we invoke some super-natural entity who oversees this balancing act, and even then it's a stretch to see how the Rule would apply in the inorganic level.

The biological level is ruled by the Law of Nature. Rather than "do onto others as you would have them do onto you" the biological level would seem to state: "Do onto others before they do onto you." The instinct for survival seems to be a requisite for all life forms and this survival is individualistic in the strictest sense. Heroism and altruism do not reside on the biological level, but cowardism and selfishness do. On first glance, it might seem that compassion, mercy, heroism and altruism reside in the social level, but this is not born out in the examination. Pirsig says that the medium of exchange between the biological and the social levels is a gun or a soldier. Might makes right. Society shows no mercy to the individual, no compassion. Either the individual conforms to society or is outcast, locked in prison or executed.

Passion and the Compassionate

The intellect level must be called upon to explain compassion and mercy. Passion itself would seem to arise on the biological level, and it is passion that the social level would seek to repress or constrict by any means necessary to insure its own survival. Culturally derived values determine which passion is Good and which is not. In ancient times, warriors and hunters cultivated this passion for hunting and made it into the art of stalking, an intellectual act passed on socially to apprentices and students who showed an aptitude for hunting. The act of procuring food for the biological individual grew into a cultivated intellectual act of stalking. How did the Quality of compassion and mercy evolve from what would seem to be a brutal act of stalking with the intent to kill?

Perhaps compassion evolved from passion. For without passion there can be no compassion. This is the classical way of looking at the problem, yet when it comes to the Metaphysics of Quality there is a problem here. If compassion arises from passion, and passion is a biological level function, then it follows that compassion is a social level function and not intellectual at all. The intellect level is not in contact with the biological or the inorganic, only the social. However, there is nothing compassionate about a soldier and a gun. There is nothing compassionate about our prison system... our justice system. These social level systems are blind to mercy and compassion as a rule. The intellect level opposes social level restrictions embodied by the soldier and the policeman. Jesus said:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)
This seems much like the intellect trying to throw off the bonds of the social level in the Metaphysics of Quality. Jesus spoke of kindness and compassion towards children and yet never raised a family himself, so far as we know. The yoke that Jesus offered was intellectually superior to the yoke of the social level yet still prized that which was of high social value and did not seek to destroy passion, but rather cultivate it intellectually, individually.

Let us say that passion does arise in the biological level, for the sake of argument... a passion for me-ness, perhaps. The social level opposes this passion for me-ness and seeks to channel it into constricted pathways to enhance the many at the expense of the few. Social level passion exists not as compassion, but as passion to be like certain others who we encounter. This is where celebrity status arises. Social level passion is deemed as celebrity force in the Metaphysics of Quality. The ancient warriors and hunters who perfected their art of stalking were celebrities and heroes of their culture, emulated by others, even if only subconsciously.

Pirsig writes:

Talk about aliens from another planet. This program based on "Me's" and "We's" is the alien. "We" only has been here a few thousand years or so. But these bodies that "We" have taken over were around for ten times that long before "We" came along. And the cells - my God, the cells have been around for thousands of times that long. (pg. 229-230 teal paperback)

So our ancient ancestors not only stalked game, but they stalked the self. Celebrity worship was born. This is what seemingly separates human culture from all other animalistic societies. Emulation of celebrity status is a distinctly humanistic cultural characteristic which leads to our society as we know it today. Emulation of others leads to a stasis, whereby society is able to constrict individualistic biological tendencies into productive social endeavors. This emulation seems to lead also to a feeling of empathy. The evolution of empathy from the social level is perhaps the evolution of compassion in the intellect level. We now see that compassion does not rise directly from passion at all, but rather from emulation, celebrities. Compassion is of higher value than either passion or emulation (celebrity force) and of all life-forms that we are aware of, it is uniquely human. Or is it?

Gorillas have been known to show compassion... there's the story of a small child falling into a gorilla pit at a zoo; the gorillas seemed to attempt to comfort the injured child. Another story has a gorilla keeping a kitten as a pet. Chimpanzees learn from each other, a form of emulation. Elephants seem to show a funny sort of compassion for the bones of deceased members of their families by picking up the bones and fondling them with their trunks. Dogs seem to mourn the loss of their owner. So do cats. But is this genuine compassion? Perhaps it is impossible to say one way or the other. Perhaps these compassionate acts on the part of other animals are merely vestiges or shadows of the intellect as we humans perceive it.

Perception as Value

The four static levels are not something we inhabit or occupy. Rather we are the four static levels through our perception of Quality. Yet at the same time this is a static quality description of reality... merely an intellectual construct rather than actually representing some ultimate or independent reality. From a letter to the Lila Squad discussion group:

On November 30th 1997 Anthony [McWatt] wrote to Pirsig
with the following question:

"In chapter 12 of LILA you state that the four static
levels of value patterns are discrete and largely
independent.  To the extent that reality is one continuous
whole, I take it you use the four levels as a practical
device (as per subjects and objects) rather than saying
something ABSOLUTELY definite about reality (or Dynamic
Quality) itself?"

On January 2nd 1998 Pirsig wrote back to Anthony
with the following:

"Yes, the four levels are a practical device, a static
intellectual pattern, rather than a representation of
ultimate reality."

Here we see, that like the framework of complementarity, the Metaphysics of Quality does not subscribe to an independently existing reality apart from the observation and/or unambiguous communication of observations. Classical subject/object thinking does recognize an independently existing reality and states that what we observe IS reality, objectively and verifiably. Niels Bohr showed in his last argument with Albert Einstein that both these views are essentially correct when taken as complete views in themselves. In the Metaphysics of Quality, both viewpoints are intellectual constructs built upon incredibly complex social foundations.

Perception of the Simultaneous

The Metaphysics of Quality states that we need both static quality and Dynamic Quality at the same time. The question is whether we can perceive both at the same time. Clearly Phædrus points out that the four static levels is "all there are. Nothing is left out. No "thing" that is. Only Dynamic Quality, which cannot be described in any encyclopedia, is absent." (pg. 172, teal paperback) Furthermore, the four levels all operate at the same time simultaneously in ways that are almost independent of each other. Remembering that this is itself an intellectual construct and not representational of a "true" reality, we take for granted this notion of simultaneous action and perception and hardly ever question it. When it comes to Dynamic Quality, which cannot be named or described, we have a dilemma. If static quality is all we can be aware of, how can we hope to find that which is Dynamic? Jesus said:

Verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)

Phædrus might tell us that which we statically latch onto also binds us to Dynamic Quality. Binding is needed; static latching is how we perceive our reality in the first place. Static latching limits the actuality of Dynamic non-actuality and constricts it into what we call experience. And if we take this contingency into the Metaphysics of Quality we see that Dynamic Quality is contingent to static quality experience. Without experience, a thing has no value and does not exist. Pirsig writes:

There's a principle in physics that if a thing can't be distinguished from anything else it doesn't exist. To this the Metaphysics of Quality adds a second principle: if  a thing has no value it isn't distinguished from anything else. Then, putting the two together, a thing that has no value does not exist. (pg. 114 teal paperback)

In a value-centered universe that which has no value cannot be distinguished from what does because it does not exist. This is worth focusing on as the implications are profound. What exactly is value? It is that which we know from that which we do not. Actual reality apart from all that is not actual reality as we are focusing upon it. The sound of perfect pitch. How do we come to value in the first place? We learn to value. The Analects of Confucius say:

8. The Master said, Yu, have you ever been told of the Six Sayings about the Six Degenerations? Tzu-lu replied, no, never. (The Master said) Come, then; I will tell you. Love of Goodness without love of learning degenerates into silliness. Love of wisdom without love of learning degenerates into utter lack of principle. Love of keeping promises without love of learning degenerates into villainy. Love of uprightness without love of learning degenerates into harshness. Love of courage without love of learning degenerates into turbulence. Love of courage without love of learning degenerates into mere recklessness. (Book XVII)
Love of Goodness, or Quality, without love of learning is merely being silly with ourselves. This speaks of the power of the intellect and the high moral value contained in learning. This isn't to say that love of learning itself is of higher moral value than Goodness. Rather it means a complementary relationship exists between that which we perceive through that which we learn. We create ourselves not from the outside but from the inside.
Jesus said:
There is nothing from outside of a man that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things that come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. (Mark 7:15-16)
We cannot perceive that which is not experienced and lays outside of us. In this way we are prevented from experiencing Dynamic Quality while at the same time experiencing our normal everyday static quality reality. This allows us to form a map of reality by continually learning. There is always a map to guide us; the map that experience brings. Part of the map tells us that what we do to others will come back upon ourselves. This is expected because it is something that is taught to us from when we are very young, but is it really true?
What the evolutionary structure of the Metaphysics of Quality shows is that there is not just one moral system. There are many... in the Metaphysics of Quality all these sets of morals, plus another Dynamic morality, are not only real, they are the whole thing. (pg. 182-183 teal paperback)

The Metaphysics of Quality is a more expansive way of viewing our reality as it allows us to see that all these different moral values flow from a Dynamic "something" in a simultaneous fashion without contradicting one another. We can take one map and overlay it to any situation and gain a deeper learning of the processes going on around us. In this fashion the map becomes one complete snapshot of reality, and anything laying outside the map we are focusing on has no value. Nothing can be added or subtracted from our map, thus it requires very specific preconditions to exist. The love of learning... the preconditions of love, and compassion.

The Master said, By nature near together; by practice far apart... It is only the very wisest and the very stupidest who cannot change. (Book XII)
Is Confucius saying that the very wisest have learned all there is to learn? Perhaps not in the sense that we normally think of as learning, which we see when we couple that statement with the very stupidest who are unable to learn at all. Here we see contrary natures which are actually complementary and not contradictory at all. The very wisest cannot change because they see all, and the very stupidest cannot because they see nothing. Each is manifested as a separate moral structure and yet each is contained within the map of the Metaphysics of Quality. That which is without value does not exist.

We learn of compassion and are not born with it. Or are we? Perhaps compassion arises under  specific preconditioned circumstances both innately and learned, existing in a complementary orbit around one another. Only becoming apparent as learning progresses, as we grow and evolve. Not as a species, but as individuals tapping the intellect and both its destructive and constructive abilities to allow both ruthlessness and compassion to co-exist without contradiction.

In closing, we might look at the physical universe around us and contemplate on our position in the universe... not only the earth itself but its relationship with the sun, neither too close nor too far from it. The orbit of the earth around the sun is mirrored by the orbit of the sun around the center of the Milky Way galaxy it inhabits, which is neither too far away from the center, nor too close. It is becoming increasingly apparent that only a limited number of stars in a limited part of the galaxy are capable of sustaining environments stable enough for intelligent life to manifest. We are deeply linked to not only our planet, but our galaxy, and indeed the universe, in ways that are only now becoming fathomable by science.

Thank you for reading!