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827 of 859 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why I'm Writing Review Number 473 of a 30 year old book, November 2, 2006
This review is from: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (Mass Market Paperback)
I'm compelled to write this review after browsing the others, because something has to be said about book that isn't being pointed out for someone who is interested in the book for the first time.

At this point, this book can be found on the front table in your local bookstore. Other philosophy books can be found in the philosophy section either collecting dust, or being perused by someone intensely interested in philosophy who is well versed in debates that have gone on for centuries.

I have listened to the author, Robert Pirsig, being interviewed, and it seems that he did, in fact, intend for this book and its premise of "Quality" to be the great, all encompassing philosophy, presented in a straightforward, readable manner. However, despite Pirsig's intention, that is not quite why this book has become so famous.

This book is famous because it fills a perfect niche in that it introduces some very complicated philosophical questions in a form that the common reader will find interesting. Pirsig is attempting to create a practical philosophy and sets the book against the background of actual experience to make the questions he ponders real for the reader.

With that in mind, if you are not clamoring for a debate with someone else who is knowledgable on the ins and outs of Kierkegaard and Spinoza and are simply looking for a readable book that makes a real attempt of answering the big questions in life, this book is for you.

What I find interesting, and somewhat disturbing, is that many choose to deride this book because it doesn't agree with their notions of philosopy, but fail to grasp that the people who are most likely to read this book won't even be at the table to understand their objections to it unless they read it.

Probably no book has ever been more successful in interesting people in philosophy in the first place. So why are people who are interested in the subject eager to send them away because it disagrees with something they read in some banal tome?

Bottom line, if you ran across this book at your local bookshop or had it recommended to you by a friend, you must read it. It is an awesomely thought inspiring book and asks questions you never thought to ask or at least didn't know how to put your finger on. It's both a good novel and a great introduction to philosophy for people who have an interest in greater questions but not all the time to pursue them. I don't think you should worry about the fact that someone with a Masters Degree in Philosophy, or an equivalent knowledge, is bothered by the book. Also, I wouldn't be thrown by the title. The book isn't trying to sell you a newsletter or convert you to any church (despite the use of the phrase "The Church of Reason") and is only using a bit of Zen philosophy as a grounding for its premise.

Pirsig's premise does have a tendency to never be overtly stated, but I believe that he does this because he doesn't want it overly simplified in the way I'm about to do it.

Pirsig's premise is that we live in a world of both the "Classical" and "Romantic" or, as I'll simplify it, "function" and "form", respectively. Pirsig sees the problems in our world as the result of an overemphasis on form, when function is more essential. However, pure "function" has problems of its own. For example, our bodily organs carry out the function of allowing us to live, but one doesn't really desire for our skin to be translucent so we can watch these functions. In fact, we would have a revulsion to such a thing. Therefore, we have a combination of both of "form" and "function"; our organs work very well without our having to see them. This is the desirable state. This desirable state is called "Quality". Good "function" seems to bring about its own desirable "form". May the decorative towel be damned. That's grossly oversimplified, but there it is.

Finally, one shouldn't be thrown off Pirsig's premise by the fact that, quite frankly, he tends to be an impatient father and not very easy to get along with. While reading the book, it becomes apparent that Pirsig is sharing this with us because he is oblivious to it himself. He makes it obvious that he doesn't understand why no one is pondering the philosophical implications of repairing a motorcycle or why his young son isn't arriving at all of the conclusions he is, despite the fact his son is eleven. He seems to be trapped in the context of his own view of the world.

So, if you want to wade your way through all of the pontificating, please take the time to read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". If you really, really like it, you'll have to read Pirsig's other book "Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals". Though "Lila" takes a narrative approach that's a bit less readable than "Zen and...", it gives a more comprehensive view of Pirsig's philosophy. Read both. Then you can debate with the philosophy majors.
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Tracked by 8 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 28 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 20, 2009 11:26:57 AM PDT
The added blessing of the book is that it indirectly gives a history of western philosophy while Pirsig makes his Odyssian journey through both his life history and the motorcycle trip to California. As a biochemist I have spent much of the last 40 years trying to understand the Philosophy of Science without having had much exposure to the Philosophy of Philosophy. Pirsig almost serves as a "Cliff Notes" explanation as to why Aristotle was logically wrong about everything and that our interpretation of the world does NOT come from our logic but from the metaphors of our culture as the literal "ghosts" of people no longer living. We take our cultural history as being literal and for granted failing to realize the fine separation between illusions and lies.
As an aside, only recently have I come to understand that Socrates viewed the use of writing by his students to be heretical and was punished by the Athenians not for just being "outspoken" but for his efforts to overthrow democracy in Athens and to punish literacy. The "death of Socrates" was not for being his being rebellious, but for being a reactionary. The added irony as it affects our cultural history is that the "death of Socrates" was also a benchmark of the death of "oral history" versus "scientific methodology" and writing. Personally, I think that Socrates didn't suffer enough.
But that's just my opinion.
Thank you for YOUR review.

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 9:57:44 PM PST
Sukacita says:
Thanks for your defense of this book. It is indeed something you need to "work through" at times, but it is deep and so thought-provoking that these bits have been worthwhile for me.

Posted on May 3, 2010 5:18:48 PM PDT
Enjoyed the review but a portion does NOT ring true. You wrote: "For example, our bodily organs carry out the function of allowing us to live, but one doesn't really desire for our skin to be translucent so we can watch these functions. In fact, we would have a revulsion to such a thing."

If human skin WERE translucent, then THAT would be the norm. It's only possible to have the revulsion within our thoughts, NOT within any reality. In fact, in such a world, a person born with organs "hiding beneath their shell" would likely be called a freak. No doubt what you wrote comes from Pirsig indirectly... anyhow I certainly agree... he is trapped in his own view of the world.

Posted on Jul 30, 2010 3:59:55 PM PDT
Konrei says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Sep 16, 2010 4:27:50 AM PDT
Not much exposure to the philosophy of philosophy yet you say Socrates didn't suffer enough. I wonder if youre happy with yourself for saying this.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 17, 2011 2:36:14 PM PDT
hussain says:
Mr. AllanHytowitz and Mr. Gary Larson, what incredible reviews and ideas. thank you very much for sharing them.

Posted on Jun 24, 2011 6:49:06 PM PDT
Thank you for a great review. I first read this book shortly after high school and it was influential to me. I've read it several times since and learn a little each time. The story telling approach made philosophy more accessible to me. To this day, I prefer books with a "story" such as the great "1984". Orwell and Pirsig could have just written essays which wouldn't be read today.
As for the part of the impatient father, it was a different generation. My father was often a jerk while trying to teach me the things that mattered to him. Just a part of life.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 25, 2011 9:50:05 PM PDT
Konrei says:
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Posted on Sep 2, 2011 7:34:21 PM PDT
I think a reason why people are prone to bash this book is because philosophy is such a naturally competitive field. It is said that philosophers naturally turn on their own. Sadly, I think this is part of human nature to see ourselves as leaving the old behind. It is hard for a trained philosopher to get "tuned in" to a philosophy they feel they have adequately left behind. Just look at former Christians or former atheists. Same phenomenon. You are 100% correct, it is a shame that someone can popularize something as profound as philosophy then it get's bashed. Hopefully not many will be torn away from an opportunity to read a good book on the topic.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2011 8:21:42 PM PDT
Konrei says:
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