Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and
Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good
is the passive that obeys Reason[.] Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.
(William Blake - The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)
Two Riders Approaching
Concepts of Good and Evil in the Metaphysics of Quality
by Dan Glover 1/20/99
Robert M. Pirsig has written two books on Quality; Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance; An Inquiry into Morals and Lila; An Inquiry into
Values. In Lila, he outlines what he calls the Metaphysics of Quality,
or Metaphysics of Value, in which the universe is composed of only Quality.
However, when we begin to view the universe as only Quality, troubling
aspects begin cropping up concerning the role of the concepts of Good and
Evil, probably because of the way we have learned to "agree" on what these
concepts are in the first place. (See Pragmatism,
Precession and the Metaphysics of Quality, a previous paper.
We can define evil in many ways, but always it is in seeming opposition
to the good. Can we say evil exists as itself only? For example, one of
the ways we normally define evil is by equating it to the death of the
biological entity. This would seem the ultimate evil, the opposite of life.
What we must ask first, however, is just what is this thing we call death?
Is death in itself inherently evil? We know that if we live, death is necessary,
but do we then automatically know that evil is also necessary?
In Lila, Pirsig may have touched on an answer in Chap. 29: If you
eliminate suffering from this world you eliminate life. There's no evolution.
Those species that don't suffer don't survive. Suffering is the negative
face of Quality that drives the whole process. All these battles between
patterns of evolution go on within suffering individuals like Lila.
Pirsig explores the nature of evil by following the dark thoughts of
a woman named Lila as she stumbles her way through the nightmare-side of
reality. If we look upon suffering as evil, then evil will always be with
us. But by looking at suffering as the negative side of the face of Quality,
then it becomes a matter of defining just what "evil" really is. Is death
the ultimate evil?
Death is the apparent end of suffering, the end of evil if you will.
Death is the absence of life, but life is not the absence of death. It
would seem then that death cannot be considered at all in any manner. It
may indeed be a perceived evil, or a lack of life-force, but it is this
very lack which prevents further analysis. Death is a moot point for the
If death is not evil, how about suffering? Certainly suffering is normally
thought of as an evil thing. Yet according to the Metaphysics of Quality,
those who do not suffer, do not survive. It is suffering that drives evolution.
Suffering is the negative face of Quality, but that doesn't mean
it's evil as opposed to good, the positive side of Quality. The Metaphysics
of Quality makes it clear that suffering is a drive to Dynamic freedom,
and without it, static patterns of value would simply grow old and die.
Again, in chapter 29 of Lila, Pirsig writes: ...he began to think
about Lila again. She's what you would call a "contrarian." "You're a loner,
just like me," she had said...that stuck in his mind because it was true.
But what she meant was not just someone who's alone, but a contrarian,
someone who's always doing everything the wrong way, just out of pure willfulness,
it would seem.
He'd gotten the word out of his anthropology reading. It indicated
there's more to contrarians than just individual "wrongness." That brujo
was a contrarian.
Everybody gets on these negative contrarian streaks from time to
time, where no matter what it is they are supposed to be doing, that's
the one thing they least want to do. Sometimes it's degenerative negativism,
where the biological forces are driving it. Sometimes it's an ego pattern
that says, "I'm too important to be doing all this static stuff."
Sometimes the contrary anti-static drive becomes a static pattern
of its own. This contrary stuff can become a tiger-ride where you can't
get off and you have to keep riding and riding until the tiger finally
throws you off and devours you. The degenerative contrarian stuff usually
goes that way. Drugs, illicit sex, alcohol and the like.
But sometimes it's Dynamic, where your whole being senses that the
static situation is an enemy of life itself. That's what drives the really
creative people...the artists, composers, revolutionaries and the like...the
feeling that if they don't break out of this jailhouse somebody built around
them, they are going to die.
But they aren't being contrary in a way that is just decadent. They
are way too energetic and aggressive to be decadent. They're fighting for
some kind of Dynamic freedom from the static patterns.
With his Metaphysics of Quality, Pirsig has done away with conventional
morality based on either good or evil and replaced it with one that focuses
on both good and evil, in one sense. But in a larger sense, the two concepts
can perhaps be better viewed as complementary to each other. When Pirsig
talks of contrarians, he is not labeling them as "evil" doers, but rather
as Dynamic complements to existing static patterns of values.
In the Metaphysics of Quality, good and evil are no longer seen as opposite
of one another, but as complementary to each other. To the extent that
one seeks Dynamic freedom from biological forces of value, only a degenerative
condition will result. But to the extent one seeks Dynamic freedom from
intellect forces of value, a regeneration will occur as previously held
ideals are destroyed to make way for new ones to grow.
The biological and intellect levels are separated by the social level,
and mediated by our cultural attachments or agreements. It would seem that
it is here that the notion of good and evil arises, as it is our cultural
influences that determine just what it is that we perceive as good and
evil. Our Western civilization has been built on the foundation of determinism,
which Pirsig traces back to the ancient Greeks. It is culturally of value
for us to be able to determine right from wrong, good from evil, and this
deterministic way of thinking is taught to us from the time we are born
into the world, and is very difficult to let go of.
Even modern warfare can be traced directly back to the ancient Greeks.
Before the Greeks, warfare was a non deterministic activity, with nothing
really being settled in a firm or settled manner. With the rise of the
Greek civilization, warfare became what we in the West think of as modern
warfare...decisively deterministic by dominating and vanquishing all enemies.
It's interesting to note that the peoples of the Far East do not view
warfare in such a deterministic manner. Chinese generals, when interviewed
about the war in Viet Nam and their victories over other invading forces,
including the United States, all gave credit to The Art of War, written
2500 years ago by a warrior named Sun Tzu, in which warfare is taught as
a holistic event where no clear winner emerges unless one uses the enemies
own strength against them.
War is not evil in itself, nor is it good. War contains both measures
of each...a Dynamic burst of forces that drives human evolution coupled
with a systematic destruction of old values results in unlooked-for, newly
emergent technologies and innovations that would never have arisen without
In the Art of War, Master Sun says: Therefore those skilled at the
unorthodox are infinite as heaven and earth, inexhaustible as the great
rivers. When they come to an end, they begin again, like the days and the
months; they die and are reborn, like the four seasons.
Here in the West, we shun the unorthodox as a rule. Perhaps that's one
reason that quantum theory is so little understood. Niels Bohr's framework
was meant to be a more expansive way of generalizing reality. Bohr wrote:
...here again we are not dealing with contradictory but complementary
pictures of phenomena, which only together offer a natural generalization
of the classical mode of description. The Philosophy of Niels Bohr;
The Framework of Complementarity
is a man who has written and spoken much about the nature of reality and
how we perceive the "us" that makes each one of us what we are. He writes:
What is thought? You don't know a thing about it; all that
you know about what you call 'thought' is
what you have been told. How can you do anything with it -- mould it,
control it, shape it or stop it?
You are all the time trying to do something with it because somebody
has told you that you must
change this or replace that, hold on to the good thoughts and not the
bad thoughts. Thoughts are
thoughts; they are neither good nor bad. As long as you want to do
something with whatever is
there, you are thinking. Wanting and thinking are not two different
things. Wanting to understand
means there is a movement of thought. You are adding momentum to that
movement, giving it
The senses function unnaturally in you because you want to
use them to get something. Why should
you get anything? Because you want what you call the 'you' to continue.
You are protecting that
continuity. Thought is a protective mechanism: it protects the 'you'
at the expense of something or
somebody else. Anything born out of thought is destructive: it will
ultimately destroy you and your
kind. (Compiled by James Brodsky from conversations in India and Switzerland
The concept of the intellect as being directed by an underlying destructive
force of value is confirmed by U.G., as he is known among his aquaintances.
It is the social level of the Metaphysics of Quality that controls and
dominates our realities that we build, and creates the "me" that views
it. The social level is directed by underlying creative value forces, complementary
to the intellect.
Can we view good and evil as complementary values in the Metaphysics
of Quality as well? Perhaps by examining where Pirsig says the notion of
good and evil arise from we can come closer to an answer. He writes:
First, there were moral codes that established the supremacy of biological
life over inanimate nature. Second, there were moral codes that established
the supremacy of the social order over biological life...Third, there were
moral codes that established the supremacy of the intellectual order over
the social order...Finally, there's a fourth Dynamic morality which isn't
It's out of this struggle between conflicting static patterns that
the concepts of good and evil arise. Lila Chapter 13
What may seem to be conflicting static patterns may actually be conflicting
forces of value, the dance of li-la between creation and discreation. Let's
look at these forces as two riders approaching one another, one on a black
horse, one on a white horse. They are both Dynamic knights who live in
a magical kingdom. The riders know that the mounts they ride are neither
good nor evil, though one's name is Good and the other's is Evil. And in
this kingdom, once these horses have met, they can never part again, but
instead become entangled with each other, thus when one makes a move, the
other mirrors it. And should one disappear, the other does as well, only
to reappear together to renew their conflict, never alone. The knights
are entangled not only with each other, but each with his own mount as
well, for that is how the knight sees. The horses carry their riders through
time and space, and construct the entire reality of the knights. Yet neither
the horse nor the knight realize this is so, for that is how it has always
been, and always will be.
Let me try to put this concept into a diagram. Using the concept of
forces in the Metaphysics of Quality perhaps it's a little easier to
see that any point of view is complementary in nature, and is therefore
correct. Here is a admittedly crude diagram of what I think is a good representation
of just what complementarity is. Let each oval represent the magical horses
themselves, each capable of perceiving and relaying the information to
the riders, represented by the large oval at the bottom, who are joined
together by their social agreements.
First of all, let there be a firefly in the box at the top of the diagram.
Each observer, A & B, can perceive side to side in the box, but neither
has any depth perception. In order to tell where the flash of the firefly
occurs, they each must communicate together in an unambiguous way...in
other words, they must pre-determine what they are going to communicate
and in what terms. The box is divided into halves, a Left and a Right,
symbolized by l and r, and the two observers will communicate by stating
on which side of the line the flash occurs.
The Quality Event occurs when this information is assimilated and can
result in one of four possibilities in the experiment, in either the left-right,
left-left, right-left, or right-right quadrant of the box. If no event
occurs, it lies not in the experiment but outside at any point we should
choose to pick. The experiment is set up solely to record the flash of
the firefly. If no flash occurs, the experiment will never take place.
No event exists as complementary to the Quality Event, existing in non-actuality.
Now the problem facing us is how do we put good and evil into that box.
In order to do that, we must first have a set of rules to work with, just
as in the simple experiment with the firefly. When it comes to morality
however, the rules are much more complex than are the rules for the little
diagram I drew. Still, for the sake of simplicity, it's possible to switch
left/right for good/evil in the diagram like this:
Here we see "agreements" being formed between the observers. Good and
evil do not really exist in the box at all (nor did left and right) but
in the perceptions of the observers, and if they both agree something is
good, then it is good, and if they both agree something is evil, then it
is evil. But in neither case is what is being observed an object, nor is
the observer a subject, but both are tied together into the Quality Event
in such a way that they complement one another and only exist as one another
This is why we are allowed to switch the concepts of left/right with
the concepts of good/evil. And even though we have formed different agreements
on what possesses left-ness and what possesses evil, still the two are
linked, as are right-ness and good, as Pirsig talks about in Lila.
Looking again at the diagram with good and evil, the No Event could
be considered death, totally outside our range of perception. The oval
at the bottom of the diagram contains all the levels of the Metaphysics
of Quality, and each pair of letters can be looked at as value forces,
although at the inorganic level there is no way to be sure of what is happening
at all. Force of Value can be viewed sequentially, and I have attempted
to explain this further in my previous paper Force
of Value in the Metaphysics of Quality and perhaps these papers will
make more sense together than apart.
In summary, I have taken a simple demonstration and used it to show
how we view the complementarity of good and evil in our universe. The underlying
Value Forces are directing each static level in seemingly contradictory
fashion, but in fact they are complementary to each other. These forces
are creation and discreation, or good and evil, or right and left, however
we choose to look at them, they will appear in that way. One will never
appear without its complement to actuality.
Putting this into the context of Force of Value in the Metaphysics of
Quality, these value forces are complementary, and yet because they are
migrating to Dynamic Quality, or rather are Dynamic in nature, they super-impose
themselves upon static patterns of value as forces of creation and destruction.
This is the driving force of Quality, identified as Planck's constant and
the Uncertainty Principle. This causes a resonance within the four static
patterns of value and result in the moral hierarchy of the Metaphysics
of Quality and the contradictory nature of the levels themselves.
When we focus exclusively upon static quality patterns of value, we
fail to consider Dynamic Quality whatsoever, and label this "good" and
that "bad". We fail to consider the workings of what is unknowable to us,
undefinable Dynamic Quality, and focus instead on only that which we can
form agreements with in terms of good and evil. Questions arise though,
taking that course of action, creating the platypus of good and evil, like
the question concerning why evil exists at all, if everything is Quality.
I would answer as William Blake did:
"The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of
Thanks for reading!
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