Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Thoughts on Quality 1

Robert Prisig is one of my inspirations for thinking about quality. His book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance spends a great deal of time considering the question of quality:
Quality -- you know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others -- but what's the "betterness"? -- So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?
He goes on to consider quality as a primal element, along with mind and matter. In other words, items cannot be said to contain quality more or less so much as they can be said to reflect quality more or less. He removes the subjective nature of quality by describing our judgments about quality as a reflection of our education, not reality. Or something to that effect. It's been a while since I read it.

The field of aesthetics considers quality, often from a rather shallow perspective of what is "beautiful", "good", "nice", and so on. Other fields also tackle issues of quality, such as ethics and religion.

When I consider quality, I have to consider many perspectives to decide if something exhibits quality. The judgment may be dependent on circumstances, and the judged object has to be clarified.

For instance, if I consider whether a boy is a "quality" companion for my son, I may decide that a poor quality boy serves as a quality companion for my son, in that he will learn from and reject a negative example. (Let's try to keep on track here.) So I'm judging the boy one way, but the experience a different way.

If I judge a story that I'm writing, it may be exactly what I need to write, but poor quality literarily. Or vice versa.

If I judge a game that I am playing, it may be a "guilty pleasure", a term that I have always abhorred. The game is bad, but fun? Is that because it isn't art, i.e. doesn't make one think about essential truths? Or because it is not meaningful? (Some might say that games need only be fun to be of any value, but we don't say that about books, music, or movies, so I don't see why we shouldn't also hold games to a higher standard.)

To be continued ...

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