Week 11: On Grades and "Quality" (Pirsig 21-24)

Hello friend, Two weeks ago, I wrote you in regards to Phaedrus’ school without grades and other scholastic related ideas. You raised some questions in regards to my letter to which I will respond. You raised the question “If one takes care of the knowledge will grades—and grad school—take care of themselves?” Let us look at that question. In the case of grades, it depends on how knowledge reflects grades, more precisely, what knowledge is reflected in the grades. Pirsig and Phaedrus spent quite a while discussing why quality is not definable. They went on to say quality is different to each of us because we all bring our own a priori analogues, which define quality for us. Luckily, since we live in the same world we also share experiences allowing overlap between experiences and analogues, which give the ability to converse with one another, our views of quality, have met with some degree of harmony. The exact degree of overlap or harmony can very widely from one quality to another. Now the point for bringing this up is that I see grades as a measure of quality. Otherwise, why would one care so much about it, why would professors spend their lives in the pursuit of imparting knowledge to students? This knowledge is quality and to determine if they have imparted the knowledge, if they have done their job properly, there must be some form of measuring success, measuring quality. I can see now that your questions are inseparable, the other being a request to hear better ways of testing, better methods. Here comes the rub, in an attempt to be efficient the same methods of testing quality are used no matter what real world analogue quality is manifesting. Which is a problem because quality can’t be defined, can’t be shoved in box. It’s the source of everything after all. Furthermore, quality being different for each of us doesn’t lend itself to that one testing box. We are trying to use one manifestation of quality to judge the quality of another manifestation. Rather like trying to judge or define carbon in its graphite form with its diamond form. About all you can say is that they are from the same source, carbon, and are different manifestations of that source, carbon. We could throw them in the same box, saying this is carbon, but we couldn’t judge the properties of graphite against diamond and be fair, they are different things. To say one is inferior to the other is pointless until you say what you are planning to use it for, and even then, we aren’t saying the other is worthless, it after all has its own strengths for different uses. They are both full of quality. Grades are a metric by which a student measures the similarities in their quality as compared to quality as seen by the professor. To me this would indicate that simply taking care of the knowledge is only sufficient when the analogues used to view quality are suitably similar between student and professor. In certain fields of study, this is more likely than others are. The sciences are most likely to see this overlap in qualities because of it being a classical view of quality. The rest of the fields, the humanities and arts, use a romantic view of quality that doesn’t readily lend itself to such overlaps. Beauty, or should I say quality, is in the eye of the beholder. The smaller the area of the intersection between a professor’s quality and a student’s quality the more likely simply taking care of knowledge (quality) will be inadequate to ensure the grades. Here I am running out of time and I have barely begun to address your questions. I shall continue this discussion in my next letter to you. Till we next speak, Nathaniel