On Quality
(A critical reading of Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila)

By Ian P. Hornsby BA. MPhil.
March 1998



Section 1 (Inventio)

Chapter One: Introduction
Chapter Two: Good as a Noun
Chapter Three: Literally Zen
Chapter Four: Ghostly Landscape

Section 2 (Dispositio)

Chapter Five: Figuratively Zen
Chapter Six: The Church of Reason
Chapter Seven: Plato's Phaedrus
Chapter Eight: Lila
Chapter Nine: Platypus


Section 3 (Elocutio)

Chapter Ten: The Sweat & Spirit: Part 1
Chapter Eleven: The Sweat & Spirit: Part 2
Chapter Twelve: The Sweat & Spirit: Part 3
Chapter Thirteen: The Sweat & Spirit: Part 4

Section 4

Notes On Genre


This thesis offers a critical discussion of Robert M. Pirsig's 'metaphysics of Quality', based upon his two written works, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) and Lila (1991).

Discussion is pursued through a narrative style loosely modelled on Pirsig's literary contemplation of composition and Quality, but also with an emphasis on the form of a Platonic dialogue, albeit from a Postmodern perspective.

The issues raised in the thesis focus upon an examination of Pirsig's conception of Quality in the light of philosophical histories and Deconstruction and include a detailed discussion of whether all forms of writing are, by definition, both creative and rhetorical. Investigation is also made into elements of Zen Buddhism and Taoism in relation to Quality and Post-Structuralism. I analyse Pirsig's use of specific terms such as 'The Platypus' (that which challenges traditional categorisation); the 'Church of Reason' (a critique of a blind faith in logic), 'Care' (a term with close links to Heidegger's philosophy) and the 'ghost of rationality' (reality constructed upon the voices of the dead). I also examine Pirsig's attempts to disseminate binary oppositions such as Literature/Philosophy, Classic/Romantic and Subject/Object. The thesis concludes by discussing, with the personifications of the 'ghosts of rationality', the merits of Pirsig's suggestion that everything in the universe is an ethical activity.

"That literary genre we call 'philosophy'
- a genre founded by Plato."
Richard Rorty

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