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Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Essay

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Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values


Confronting crises of technological annihilation and personal madness, Robert Pirsig finds each to be a manifestation of a deeper crisis of Reason. In response) he suggests an alternative to our current paradigm of rationality, the "art of motorcycle maintenance." By showing that our understanding and performance derive from our emotional and evaluative commitments, he challenges the cultural commonplace which construes "subjective" states as distortions of "objective" reality. In so doing, he asserts that "wholeness" or sanity may be achieved only through "passionate caring," and an awareness and acceptance of how our emotions and values shape our experiences. Further, he shows that technology, a manifestation of our values, may be controlled only through emotional and moral commitment. A restorative rhetoric, on Pirsig's analysis is, then, one in which the passions and values are recognized as the very ground of being in and interpreting the world.

The crisis of reason

As he begins his "Chautauqua," Robert Pirsig finds himself in a twofold crisis. He characterizes the public dimension of the crisis as arising in large part from the technological fragmentation of nature and man. Having transformed nature from a field of daffodils into a field for its own potential appropriation, technology, as Marshall McLuhan has noted, now also "shapes and controls the scale of human association and action" (McLuhan 8). Seemingly indifferent to human values and developing under its own logic, technology increasingly isolates us from our natural environment, from one another, and even from ourselves. For though we may be in touch with Belgrade or Toky...


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...ight give, the Sophist being "a hunter of young men of rank and distinction who works not by violence, but by persuasion." ("The Middle Speech of Plato's Phaedrus," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 9 [1971], 421). Pirsig admits that his defense of the Sophists against Plato is not original; indeed such a defense dates to the nineteenth century. Everett Lee Hunt elaborates this point in his "On the Sophists," in The Province of Rhetoric, ed. Joseph Schwartz and John A. Rycenga (New York: Ronald Press, 1965); and in "Plato and Aristotle on Rhetoric and Rhetoricians" (Historical Studies of Rhetoric and Rhetoricians, ed., Raymond F. Nowes [Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell Univ. Press, 1961], p. 20), he writes: "It is to Hegel that the Sophists owe their rehabilitation in modern times." Hunt also shows that Lewes, Grote, Sidgwick and John Stuart Mill all joined in the defense.


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