Talk:Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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This artilce need significant changes in structure and emphasis I am generally quite unhappy with the way the article looks like although I have contributed to it too. Unfortunately it doesn't say much on the basic idea that subject and object are subordinate to quality. This might be complete nonsense as a matter of philosophy but that is one of the main issues in the book. Also, too much technical stuff on motorcycle maintence is given. The example is good in itself but it takes a whole paragraph and gives the wrong impression to an unfamiliar-with-the-book reader that the book is heavily littered with long explanations about valves, engines and spanners which is decidedly not the case. Misho-Mishu (talk) 15:13, 5 March 2009 (UTC)

I've introduced into the discussion (marginally) the possibility that the book may in fact be pseudophilosophy, as contended in that article.

I rather liked the book, and not being a philosopher, I would appreciate it if someone could explain what the particular strikes against the book (as "philosophy") are. This book (I haven't read the sequel) doesn't seem to set itself up as anything like a complete philosophy, in my recollection. I liked the idea of "Quality" as the medium in which the subjective and objective interact, and the attempted synthesis of Western and Eastern thought in that idea, though I'm not sure what would or wouldn't make it philosophical. I also was amused by Phaedrus' view on Plato (that his distaste for the Sophists was a result of his desperately trying to raise the Logos out of the Mythos, and he needed to blast them to secure a place for the concept of objective truth). I don't know much about the accuracy of the argument, as all I've read of Plato is the Meno, but I found it at least interesting. Assuming somebody more versed in philosophy (and having read this book) finds this entry, please answer! Vivacissamamente 02:03, 2 May 2005 (UTC)

Well, I would suggest you read Lila, which is really where his 'Metaphysics of Quality' was developed, and decide for yourself. Then, you can go about labeling his work with first hand knowledge and without having to defer to 'many philosophers' (who?) and not have to append your edits with a question mark. Marteau 14:30, 2 May 2005 (UTC)
(Removing my personal attack) Marteau 15:10, 3 May 2005 (UTC)
I felt my comment made it clear that I didn't feel I was attacking Pirsig or you, but trying to incorporate an opinion from another article (which I was so credulous as to assume was actually held by someone, rather than a vehicle of sheer malice). Wikipedia seems to collect and list positions rather than taking them, and I was listing one I had found somewhere else, so that some people more knowledgable, and possibly not already committed to a position, could balance it out or at least include an interesting critique. Presumably the philosophers, unless they are completely fictitious, had their reasons, and I thought hearing them might be more productive than erasing them because they displeased us.
I also thought perhaps I could learn something by asking, and it might be faster and fit better into my time than reading the book (as annoying as it is, I know, to hear people complain of limited time). You have not been very educational in this regard, instead claiming superior knowledge, putting me down, and potentially setting me up to be more receptive to the slanderers, if they will be so good as to put in their two cents. "Clueless" is rather ungenerous. Having read one book is better than reading none. Asking for information seems better than not. I understand you like Pirsig (and I liked what I read), but you have made this personal. Vivacissamamente 22:26, 2 May 2005 (UTC)
(Removing my unnecessary criticism) Marteau 15:10, 3 May 2005 (UTC)
Obviously you caught me on a bad day, and I apologize. My tone was uncalled for and counterproductive. I gave it some thought and what set me off was due to a tendency on Wikipedia to 'label' various subjects (for example, refusing to allow some supposed hack writer to be called a 'reporter' or some popular writer be called a 'historian' and the like. It seems that many people just out and out HATE certain subjects, and it makes them happy to cast aspersions on their scholarship or professionalism. I don't think this is what you were doing. I can understand why some philosophers might not consider Pirsig a serious philosopher, but I still stand by my opinion that it needs some context and some references, rather than a blanket pejorative in the first paragraph. Again, I regret my behavior and apologize. Marteau 15:10, 3 May 2005 (UTC)
I think the criticism should have been left—it created context and was probably amusing to anyone it wasn't directed at—but no matter. If you do have possible explanations of the allegations, I think this page and the pseudophilosophy page (and my knowledge) could be bettered by a discussion of what in Pirsig's work makes it philosophy or not. Perhaps it could be introduced in a section named ==Criticism== or something like that. If you're up to it, I look forward to reading it. Peace be with you. Vivacissamamente 15:29, 3 May 2005 (UTC)
I'm not up to the task. I'd have to think that the reasons someone could call his views 'not philosophy', though, would be a) Pirsig published books intended for mass consumption and not anything which can be considered 'scholarly' b) Pirsig was not a member of the philosophers community, having been simply an English professor. c) A true 'philosopher' in the academic sense must have broad knowledge in philosophic fields he does not necessarily agree with in order to intelligently discuss them. Pirsig tended to (understandably) study only those things he found interesting or of immediate use. d) Pirsig did not follow the standard modus operandi 'real university philosophers' would do (whatever that is). Again, this goes towards him not having to prove anything to anyone but himself, and therefore was not obliged to follow conventional practices in the philosophic community. But those are just guesses. I did an internet search, and the only references to Pirsing and pseudophilosophy were because of Wikipedia content ;^) But Zen and the Art most CERTAINLY IS NOT philosophy, nor is it pseudophilosophy. It is a novel. Now, if one want's to debate whether his Metaphysics of Quality (which was only touche on in Zen and the Art and not developed to any real degree until 'Lila') is 'a philosophy' or not, that's a different matter. But his books are certainly not 'Philosophy Books' but rather, mass-market novel which have many interesting, philosophic-like ideas. Marteau 18:06, 3 May 2005 (UTC)


The plot of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance involves a cross-country trip on a motorcycle by the author, his son and two friends. At the beginning of the novel he explicitly states that large portions of the trip were edited for the novel "for the sake of rhetoric". During the trip, however, the main character divulges his collection of material from a philosopher he names Phaedrus. Although Pirsig refers to Phaedrus in the third person, it soon becomes apparent that Phaedrus 'was' Pirsig himself prior to receiving shock treatment for mental illness. As the trip proceeds, the plot splits into three forks: the physical journey, Pirsig's musings on Quality, and the story of Phaedrus. The first is largely narrative, the second philosophical and the third introspective.

This paragraph tries to do too much.

  1. Distinguish between Pirsig and the novel's main character.
  2. Describe the three forks of the novel

I suggest that any controversy about "how much of himself" went into the novel, be treated separately - and probably further down on the page. Let's find out what the novel is about first. Uncle Ed 17:29, 20 October 2005 (UTC)

Furthermore, the sentence "Yet Pirsig departs from Eastern thinking by arguing that reason and logic are just as important in seeking understanding" uses the term "Eastern thinking" either too broadly or incorrectly. Eastern thinking in Buddhism uses reason and logic to legitimize their argument, specifically the law of contradiction and the law of the excluded middle, and also utilizes a mereological analysis (comparing a whole to its parts)-thus, a large section of "Eastern" thinking uses "Western" logic, so this sentence should be edited or the word "eastern" should be changed to be more specific. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 21:43, 22 April 2007 (UTC).

Non-intellectual Zen-like view of the universe[edit]

I found the comment, "non-intellectual Zen-like view of the universe" very offenceive. To call a religion or a philosophy "non-intellectual" is rather...well non-intelectual. Is it not a fact and it doesn't seem very neutral.Fistagonfive 02:29, 11 January 2006 (UTC)

My understanding of Zen philosophy is very limited, but from the little that I know it becomes rather clear that non-intellectual experience is to a great extent a goal of any practitioner of the religion, as it seems to be in other Eastern religions as well. By non-intellectual what is meant is that the internal narrative of the conscious mind is silent or less prominent and reality is experienced and understood more directly and without being processed by the mind's intellectual faculties and the prejudices that go along with it. There is nothing whatsoever offensive about it. Michael%Sappir 23:05, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
"Non-intellectual" is not meant in a negative way here, so I don't see any need to take offense. Intellectuality is more... beside the point in regards to Zen. Its not that it does or doesn't strive for it. It "seeks" to experience the world before its processed by the mind, as then the mind is free to react to things in a genuine way and not out of pre-formed ideas and concepts. Of course any words are going to fail, so some license should be allowed. But the word Zen is also taking on a separate meaning in itself of no-mind, flow, stream-of-consciousness experience. Losing your self-consciousness on a roller coaster ride means you are in a state of being "non-intellectual" in this sense. This word fitting is poor, but we can only word things the best we can. Feel free to reword it if you see something that works better.
Zen teachers strive to keep their students from over-intellectualizing things, as this creates a mind-state that interferes with direct experience. They need to see... "aha! So there are multiple facets to things that I have not been seeing because my intellectual mind had me caged in an idea. But there is truthfully no "pro or con" in zen regarding the idea of being intellectual. Non-thought-embraced might even work. In today's world, we over-intellectualize just about everything. To reduce some of that isn't a bad thing.
I don't know if this helps, but I enjoyed writing it. --DanielCD 21:15, 2 March 2006 (UTC)
non-intellectualizing, non-conceptualizing Zen-like direct view of the universe
I thought I'd try this, but feel free to revert it if you wish. I don't mind being reverted. --DanielCD 21:20, 2 March 2006 (UTC)

To reply to the person who was offended by the term "non-intellectual" in reference to Zen Buddhism. Don't take it as an insult. Eastern philosophy and mysticism is indeed quite an intellectual view of the world. It describes the world a certain way and then, based on that analysis, lays out a didactic/normative framework. In this normative framework it prescribes a way of engaging with the world that is non-intellectual. In Taoism it is called wu wei, meaning, non-doing/undoing. It asks us to divorce our symbolic representations (ideas, concepts, language) from the pure phenomena that we experience through the senses. All semantic organization of the world is thrown out of the window and instead we are implored to experience the buzz, the bare phenomena, the given devoid of the conceptualization through which we saturate experience. It asks us to undo all that which we have learned and do away with the symbolic representations, which stand in the way of of our seeing the world as it truly is, a unified whole. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 03:34, 20 January 2011 (UTC)

Pirsig sharply criticizes Great Books program?[edit]

I don't know who introduced this sentence, but just because you study the Great Authors, doesn't mean a program is a Great Books program. There are certain teachers who take the approach of trying to interpret the classics in such a way as to find as much truth as possible in them, which is presumably what Phaedrus' opponent, the university department chair was getting at, but just because such an approach employs the Great Books, doesn't make the two curriculums the same.

The Great Books program (which was abandoned long previously to Phaedrus' attendance at the University of Chicago) takes a dialectical approach called Shared Inquiry: discuss the Great Books, determine the issues involved, weigh the evidence of all sides in light of the participants understanding and experience, and sift through more relative truths in order to find more firmly established truths.

Tellingly, in his novel, Pirsig recites the merits of one of the founder of the Great Books model's approach, Mortimer Adler. Pirsig goes on by way of criticism, simply to say that he feels Adler took his studies up to a certain point in intellectual history, and did not go beyond that. Pirsig's implication in claiming that Adler had terminated the scope of his research, is that through Pirsig's own form of inquiry (which is in fact the term employed in the subtitle of his book), he thought he had discovered something new through sifting through his predecessor's ideas in light of his own understanding and experience, and with such an approach, one can hardly regard it as a renunciation of his predecessors in the Great Books tradition.

Perhaps someone else can write a replacement sentence describing Pirsig's relationship to his instructors at the University of Chicago characterizing those instructors in a more accurate manner. 02:31, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

Pirsig wrote in "ZAMM" that he enrolled in a class at UC taught by the department chair: I believe that dept. chair was Robert M. Hutchins, who was the editor-in-chief of the Great Books of the Western World series. Pirsig eventually became disgusted with Hutchins's Great Books-oriented view and left the class. (It's been a few years since I read "ZAMM," which I was very impressed with when I read it in '76.) Pirsig wrote vividly of his confrontation with the dept. chair, which affected his other studies. If I remember correctly, Pirsig used a scalpel analogy in describing that confrontation. —Preceding unsigned comment added by BubbleDine (talkcontribs) 04:29, 9 September 2010 (UTC)

MoQ and SoM and the Quantonics website[edit]

This website: quite dense, erudite, and almost unreadable... but Doug Renselle seems to use Pirsig's philosophical interests in its construction (or did initially). If you dont do anything else, just check the list of essays devoted to 'Essence' and 'Pirsig' on the Homepage.

Can we add it to the External Links section? What do you think? Drakonicon 10:20, 19 August 2006 (UTC)

Fair use rationale for Image:Zen motorcycle.jpg[edit]

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BetacommandBot 05:12, 16 September 2007 (UTC)

First paragraph issue[edit]

The title is an incongruous play on the title of the book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. In its introduction, Pirsig explains that, despite its title, "it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either."

I noticed this part immediately... mostly cause its one of the first paragraphs of this page. Does anyone have any citation for the "fact" that "The title is an incongruous play on the title of the book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel."

If you go to or any store that sells a vast array of books, you will notice that there are hundreds of different books titled [i]Zen and the Art of...[/i] Defining this one title to be the basis of which Pirsig decided to copy his title for his book needs to be cited, or omitted. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Unitepunx (talkcontribs) 15:41, 20 September 2007 (UTC)

Can't shed any light on the real source of inspiration, but a quick amazon search indicates that only 'zen the art of falling in love', 'zen in the art of archery' and 'zen in the art of flower arranging' actualy appear to pre-date the publication of z&taomm, although 'falling in love' is the only one with 'and the art' as opposed to 'in the art'; 'archery' would seem the most likely candidate. I think that we can be sure is was not 'zen and the art of snowboarding' or 'zen and the art of the internet' Mjbowell (talk) 22:56, 2 January 2008 (UTC)

I don't think there's any doubt the title is based on Herrigel - in the A Reader's Guide section of my 2000 edition, he specifically mentions Herrigel's book as one of the ones he read and influenced him. --Gwern (contribs) 01:59 25 May 2008 (GMT)

I suppose I'll ad my two cents on this. In my Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition, first published in 2005, there is a section in the back called "A Conversation with Robert M. Pirsig." In this section, Pirsig is quoted as saying:

The book actually started with the title. John Sutherland was a philosophy major, and in school he took a great interest in Oriental philosophy. In fact, I first met him at a Rockefeller Foundation conference on the Sanskrit term "dharma" for which he was conference secretary. As described in the book, we would ride for a while and stop for a beer from time time where we often discussed philosophic subjects, including Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. I knew John didn't like motorcycle maintenance and I did, and I thought maybe I should write an essay for him called "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" to help make my point. The idea intrigued me and that's how the book began.

Well I don't know that quoting all that was really necessary, but there you have it. -Brentdeezee (talk) 02:52, 23 July 2008 (UTC)

Non-Philosophical Content[edit]

The article currently contains a good analysis of the philosophical aspect of ZAMM, but doesn't mention that the book also has other aspects. It's a travalogue, an investigation into the father/son relationship and an essay on mental illness. —Tobyink —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:32, 17 September 2008 (UTC)

Ethical emotivism[edit]

The definition "quality is what you want" is an example of ethical emotivism. I have added that category and have removed some weasel words. Wowest (talk) 03:29, 30 September 2008 (UTC)

Outline of motorcycles and motorcycling[edit]

This article is featured on the Outline of motorcycles and motorcycling - please help to improve it. Helmet moto.svg Thruxton (talk) 11:36, 17 October 2010 (UTC)

Honda CB77 Super Hawk[edit]

Section on ZATM added at Honda CB77#Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. --Dbratland (talk) 00:38, 7 April 2011 (UTC)


Google picks up on something that Pirsig (IIRC) didn't, or didn't state explicitly: this quote from Plato's "Phaedrus":

As wolves love lambs so lovers love their love

Just a little thought to add to the discussion, I know this isn't directly about the article itself (but I do think it's worth mentioning that the article's treatment of the name "Phaedrus" is a bit lacking). Arided (talk) 19:47, 20 September 2012 (UTC)