Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Robert M. Pirsig

American Writer and Philosopher best known for his book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values" and "Lila: An Inquiry into Morals"

"What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism, Kitto comments, is not a sense of duty as we understand it... duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate 'virtue' but is in Greekaret‚, 'excellence' ? we shall have much to say about aret‚. It runs through Greek life. There, Ph‘drus thinks, is a definition of Quality that had existed a thousand years before the dialecticians ever thought to put it to word-traps. Anyone who cannot understand this meaning without logical definiens and definendum and differentia is either lying or so out of touch with the common lot of humanity as to be unworthy of receiving any reply whatsoever."

"What Phaedrus had been talking about as Quality, Socrates appears to have been describing as the soul, self-moving, source of all things. There is no contradiction. There never really can be between core terms of monistic philosophies. The One in India has got to be the same as the One in Greece. If it?s not, you?ve got two. The only disagreement among the monists concerns the attributes of the One, not the One Itself. Since the One is the source of all things and includes all things in it, it cannot be defined in terms of those things, since no matter what thing you use to define it, the thing will always describe something less than the One Itself. The One can only be described allegorically, through the use of analogy, of figures of imagination and speech- Everything is an analogy."

"What Ph‘drus thought and said is significant. But no one was listening at that time and they only thought him eccentric at first, then undesirable, then slightly mad, and then genuinely insane. There seems little doubt that he was insane, but much of his writing at the time indicates that what was driving him insane was this hostile opinion of him. Unusual behavior tends to produce estrangement in others which tends to further the unusual behavior and thus the estrangement in self-stoking cycles until some sort of climax is reached. In Ph‘drus' case there was a court-ordered police arrest and permanent removal from society."

"What shortens the life-span of the existing truth is the volume of hypotheses offered to replace it; the more the hypotheses, the shorter the time span of the truth."

"What the Metaphysics of Quality would do is take this separate category, Quality, and show how it contains within itself both subjects and objects. The Metaphysics of Quality would show how things become enormously more coherent--fabulously more coherent--when you start with an assumption that Quality is the primary empirical reality of the world. . . . . . . but showing that, of course, was a very big job."

"What was behind this smug presumption that what pleased you was bad or at least unimportant in comparison to other things?? Little children were trained not to do just what they liked? but ? but what?? Of course! What others liked. And which others? Parents, teachers, supervisors, policemen, judges, officials, kings, dictators. All authorities. When you are trained to despise just what you like then, of course, you become a much more obedient servant of others ? a good slave. When you learn not to do just what you like then the System loves you."

"What we think of as reality is a continuous synthesis of elements from a fixed hierarchy of a priori concepts and the ever changing data of the senses."

"What's happening is that each year our old flat earth of conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating widespread feelings of topsy-turviness. As a result we're getting more and more people in irrational areas of thought... occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like... because they feel the inadequacy of classical reason to handle what they know are real experiences."

"What's wrong with technology is that it's not connected in any real way with matters of the spirit and of the heart. And so it does blind, ugly things quite by accident and gets hated for that."

"When a person suffers delusions, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from delusions is called religion."

"When a shepherd goes to kill a wolf, and takes his dog to see the sport, he should take care to avoid mistakes. The dog has certain relationships to the wolf the shepherd may have forgotten."

"When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process."

"When are we going to get going? Chris says. What's your hurry? I ask. I just want to get going. There's nothing up ahead that's any better than it is right here."

"When it is known that Plato put his own words in Socrates' mouth (Aristotle says this) there should be no reason to doubt that he could have put his own words into other mouths too."

"When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion."

"When one person suffers from the delusion, it is called poreme?eno??u mind. When many people suffer from the delusion, it is called religion."

"When somebody goes outside the cultural norms, the culture has to protect itself."

"When you live in the shadow of insanity, the appearance of another mind that thinks and talks as yours does is something close to a blessed event. Like Robinson Crusoe's discovery of footprints on the sand."

"When you look directly at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he?s insane, which is not to see him at all. To see him you must see what he saw and when you are trying to see the vision of an insane man, an oblique route is the only way to come at it."

"Who really can face the future? All you can do is project from the past, even when the past shows that such projections are often wrong. And who really can forget the past? What else is there to know?"

"Who really can forget the past? What else is there to know?"

"Whole community of millions of living things living out their lives in a kind of benign continuum."

"Why destroy aret‚? And no sooner had he asked the question than the answer came to him. Plato hadn't tried to destroy aret‚. He had encapsulated it; made a permanent, fixed Idea out of it; had converted it to a rigid, immobile Immortal Truth. He made aret‚ the Good, the highest form, the highest Idea of all. It was subordinate only to Truth itself, in a synthesis of all that had gone before."

"Working on a motorcycle, working well, caring, is to become part of a process, to achieve an inner peace of mind. The motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon."

"Yah-da, yah-da, yah-da, yah-da, yah, carburetor, gear ratio, compression, yah-da-yah, piston, plugs, intake, yah-da-yah, on and on and on. That is the romantic face of the classic mode. Dull, awkward and ugly. Few romantics get beyond that point."

"You are never dedicated to something that you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt."

"You have all these fragments, like pieces of a puzzle, and you can place them together into large groups, but the groups don't go together no matter how you try, and then suddenly you get one fragment and it fits two different groups and then suddenly the two great groups are one. The relation of the mythos to insanity. That's a key fragment. I doubt whether anyone ever said that before. Insanity is the terra incognita surrounding the mythos. And he knew! He knew the Quality he talked about lay outside the mythos."

"You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something."

"You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you?re always in a compartment, and because you?re used to it you don?t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You?re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You?re completely in contact with it all. You?re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it?s right there, so blurred you can?t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness."

"You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally."

"You?ve got to live right, too. It?s the way you live that predisposes you to avoid the traps and see the right facts. You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It?s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally. That?s the way all the experts do it. The making of a painting or the fixing of a motorcycle isn?t separate from the rest of your existence. If you?re a sloppy thinker the six days of the week you aren?t working on your machine, what trap avoidance, what gimmicks, can make you all of a sudden sharp on the seventh? It all goes together... The real cycle you're working in is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be out there and the person that appears to be in here are not two separate things. They grow toward Quality or fall away from Quality together."

"Your common sense is nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of these ghosts from the past."