What are the limitations of MOQ?

by Patrick Gawley, December 2000

Firstly, the MOQ is limited in that it is a human metaphysical system, limited by human understanding. In Chapter 9 of LILA (p.111), Pirsig states: -

"Trying to create a perfect metaphysics is like trying to create the perfect chess strategy, one that will win every time. You cant do it. Its out of the range of human capability."

The human mind is finite and is incapable of going beyond itself. Pirsig further recognises this in his inability to define Dynamic Quality. The MOQ stops with Quality and goes no further. Dynamic Quality is the cause of our world and all that is in it. We cannot go beyond it because we cannot comprehend Dynamic Quality. We can only see the jet trails (static quality) of the jet that is Dynamic Quality. The very act of perceiving Dynamic Quality turns it into a static pattern. Furthermore the MOQ itself is a static pattern that must be open to dynamic change. In Chapter 9 of LILA (p.124), he states:

"Static quality patterns are dead when they are exclusive, when they demand blind obedience and suppress dynamic change."

This is a strange state of affairs; the MOQ is apparently self-effacing. How self-effacing is it? Is there a core that is not open to dynamic change? Perhaps there is and it is Quality itself. In ZMM (p.206), Phaedrus gives a statement to his students he knows to be irrational in the hope of refutation:

"Quality is a characteristic of thought and statement that is recognized by a non-thinking process. Because definitions are a product of rigid, formal thinking, quality cannot be defined."

Why does he state something that he knows to be irrational? It is to be used as a means of getting closer to the truth. I believe that the very nature of the MOQ leaves all the tenets in LILA and ZMM open to re-evaluation and interpretation. When the MOQ becomes dogmatic, it ceases to be a metaphysics of quality. Perhaps the real challenge of LILA was its refutation? This train of thought returns to eastern mysticism, as the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu says: -

"A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path;
Names can be given, but not permanent labels."

"The way is unimpeded harmony;
its potential may never be fully exploited.
It is as deep as the source of all things:
it blunts the edges,
resolves the complications,
harmonizes the light,
assimilates to the world"

Where does this leave us? A metaphysical system that is in a permanent state of flux? Yes, in a world that is evolving, in betterness, what else can it be? On face value, the fact that we have replaced the rigid SOM world with the flux of MOQ appears to be a limitation. Its not. This is the MOQs strength. The SOM world view creates a mentality that the world is something to be conquered, subdued and brought under control. The MOQ teaches that this control is only an illusion and is death, a static resistance to dynamic change.

For instance, western society works to fight disease rather than promote health. It strains to control nature rather than work with it. In the SOM, nature is a mass of things with distinct properties. In the MOQ, it is in permanent flux, continually evolving and changing, a mass of inter-relationships that we only partially understand. Any change to a part of the system will have ramifications elsewhere, something that the SOM mentality seems to constantly overlook.

To conclude, the MOQ is limited by: -

Human capability. It is above all a human system and cannot go beyond what humans are capable of conceiving.

Its definition. To define the MOQ any further than Quality takes away from it; moving it away from its essence and mystical source. In a way, the MOQ does combat this by realising that it is a static pattern and must be open to dynamic change.


Pirsig, Robert (1974) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, 1999 25th Anniversary Edition, Quill/William Morrow, New York.

Pirsig, Robert (1991) Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, Bantam Books, London.

Skutvik, Bodvar (1998) The Quality Event, paper found at http://www.moq.org (November 2000).

Nietszche, Friedrich (1886) Beyond Good and Evil, Translation by R.J. Hollingdale 1973, Penguin, London.

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