This post contains excerpts from Robert Pirsig's book Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.

The words are all his, the editing choices are all mine, the consequences of reading are all yours.

Table of Contents | How This Happened | Download PDF

Sitting on a Hot Stove

Any person of any philosophic persuasion who sits on a hot stove will verify without any intellectual argument whatsoever that he is in an undeniably low-quality situation; that the value of his predicament is negative. This low quality is not just a vague, woolly headed crypto-religious, metaphysical abstraction. It is an experience. It is not a judgment about an experience. It is not a description of experience … The value itself is an experience … It is verifiable by anyone who cares to do so. It is reproducible. Of all experience it is the least ambiguous, least mistakable there is … Later the person may generate some oaths to describe this low value, but the value will always come first, the oaths second.

… Our culture teaches us to think it is the hot stove that directly causes the oaths … that the low values are a property of the person. Not so. The value is between the stove and the oaths. Between the subject and the object lies the value. This value is more immediate, more directly sensed than any ’self’ or ‘object’ to which it might be later assigned … more real than the stove … It is the primary empirical reality from which such things as stoves and heat and oaths and self are later intellectually constructed.

The reason values seem so woolly-headed to empiricists is … they keep trying to assign them to subjects or objects. You can’t do it. You get all mixed up because values don’t belong to either group. They are a separate category all their own. The Metaphysics of Quality would show how things become fabulously more coherent when … Quality is the primary empirical reality of the world.

The feeling left was one of enormous confusion and weariness, a kind of back-to-the-drawing board, back-to-square-one feeling … you get when you’re thinking you’re making great progress and then suddenly some question like this comes along .. and sets you back to where you started.

For a while he had wondered why his boat always seemed to stop in the oldest part of each city it came to, and then he realized that … small boats stopping right there is what got the city started in the first place.

“small boats stopping right there is what got the city started in the first place”