Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: A Book on People and Quality

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values is a non-fiction book that every person who is interested in philosophy and wants to understand people a little better needs to read. In this work, the author, Robert M. Pirsig, presents his outlook on the Metaphysics of Quality and explains that people can be divided in two groups depending on their personalities:

  • “Romantics”.
    These are people who are focused on the moment and disregard rational analysis. The examples of such personality offered in the book are the Sutherlands who own a top-notch bike but know nothing about its maintenance. They choose to ignore this issue altogether until a problem appears. When this happens, John Sutherland must resort to employing the services of a professional mechanic as he has no skills to fix the bike on his own.
  • “Classics”.
    The classical viewpoint is focused on rational analysis. “Classics” seek to understand the inner workings of the mechanism, and use this understanding to repair or upgrade the machine. At the beginning of the book, the Narrator is presented as a “classic” who can understand the problem from listening to the sound of the engine, apply logic and analysis to determine its cause, and solve it using his skills.

Despite its name, the book isn’t really about motorcycle maintenance. Although, you can learn some motorbike caring tips from it. Of course, if you are looking for a detailed guide for motorcycling beginners, you should visit websites like MotorcyclistLife.com that offer helpful information, like a guide to choosing the best helmet in a form that is easy even for non-professionals to understand.

Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a work of philosophy that likens the characters’ journey to life and understanding one’s place in it. It’s a story of a transformation of the protagonist who seeks to find inner peace in the world where “romantic” and “classical” outlooks clash on a daily basis. While reading the book, we come to learn that the Narrator understands both these viewpoints and is trying to establish some kind of “middle ground” where he can find a place for himself. The author uses motorcycle maintenance as an example and shows that it can be seen as either a tedious chore, or a pleasant pastime. The difference is only in the attitude.

Pirsig encourages the readers to embrace both the rational and romantic approaches as true happiness can be found only when one utilizes them both depending on the circumstances. He claims that no matter how efficient, the rational viewpoint isn’t applicable in 100% of cases. In his arguments, he cites ancient Greek philosophers who established the concept of “pure truth” to the concept of “the good”. According to Pirsig, rational, or classical, approach can find the “truth”, but in some cases of individual experiences it will be insufficient or incapable of providing satisfaction.

The author views a high degree of frustration and general dissatisfaction with life we see in the vast majority of people today is born from the inability to distinguish between “quality” (the Good) and “truth”. The solution to this problem is to embrace both science and rational thought as well as bursts of irrational wisdom, like intuition and creativity.