Science and the Art of Language Maintenance

Deirdre C.P. Smith


In his now classic novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, Robert Pirsig tells how the ghost of his
previous self, Phaedrus, is driven mad through efforts to unite the ‘classical’ and
‘romantic’ forms of understanding he saw unnecessarily at war in modern technological
society. The solution to this split in human understanding, was to see both as
aspects of a deeper reality he named ‘quality’. Although the goal of this struggle
was to expand human rationality beyond the classical forms to which it had remained
confined since Ancient Greece, the result was the loss of a grip on any reality. In
this paper, I will explore Phaedrus’s failure as a parallel to how Wittgenstein felt
philosophy went wrong in understanding language. Here I enlist the help of Michael
Polanyi (‘classical’), Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster (‘romantic’) as advocating a
similar redirection of rationality.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; scientific intuition; anonymity; atmosphere; information

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