6/16/2002 12:18 PMC:\B\B\Intro\Quality 6 15 02.doc



Matja˛ Potrč, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, matjaz.potrc@guest.arnes.si


A case of quality is provided in an illustrative manner. Problems of interpreting quality come from generalist presuppositions. The problem of consciousness trading on the nature of qualitative experiences is used as a case in point. Quality of life, quality of the word may only be achieved on the basis of the particular.


A case of quality: piano performer

If there is a good piano performer, we say that he is a quality piano performer. There are many pianists, but this is a particularly good one. He could not have been easily imitated. His mark on the performance is individual. Perhaps this piano player could have been imitated after all, but even in this case his performance most probably cannot be repeated in the same way. There is a ring of uniqueness with this performance of the piano player.

                  Instructions about how to play piano or how to become a piano player come in abundance. There are techniques of teaching that provide directions and rules about how to play piano. These techniques have the form and the ring of generality about them. Mastering techniques that are given in the manner of generality presents a necessary condition for someone to be a good performer. Yet they are not sufficient conditions for the piano player’s success.

                  There are many piano players around. Most of the players we are talking about have mastered the techniques that are necessary for piano playing. Yet most of them, again, have not really achieved the big success they have strived for. Why? They just do not have this something more, this special touch that characterizes the real good piano performer.

                  What is this more, though? It may be called the quality. All these performers just do not really have the quality that the good piano player possesses. They would of course wish to have this quality. And they may perhaps achieve it by following the example of the excellent piano player. But they cannot really follow any instruction manuals that would allow them to achieve the quality. Even if there would be this kind of instruction manuals, of the type “How to become a real quality piano player”, the desired success will not be easily achieved following these. The reading of general indications will mostly give you just shallow directions. What is really needed in such cases is an example, a real example. Piano players go to learn from good piano players not just because they need to master the technique. They go to them in order to follow their unique example. They go to them with the intention of achieving the desired quality. The quality piano performers often come in descent lineages. This player is good because he had this good master. But there is no automatic transmission from master to the pupil. There isn’t any because the real good quality piano player will not just teach his students to imitate him. Not al all. By giving his example, he will teach them to find their own way. Their own way will be particular to them only, even if there will usually be similarities in mastering techniques showing the descent of some piano player. The master will look for students that not only are able to perform the technique, but that also have this unique ability of developing their own particular approach.

                  Good performer does not just display the knowledge or mastering of the generally accessible techniques. He first of all presents an example. The quality of the example given by the piano player consists in its uniqueness, in its impossibility of being exactly repeated. The example of how a very good piano player proceeds may serve as a guide. The quality piano player can have success in being followed, his example may be imitated, but the chances that it may be repeated without any differences are practically inexistent.

                  Why is that? We may try to answer this question along the following lines: There is an enormous complexity that is mastered by the piano player, in an easy manner. Not just that he knows the notes. He is able to read the inscription of notes and it is important that he knows to reproduce them if required. But just with this he would still stay with the rest of the people, and would not distinguish himself from them in any relevant way.

                  The quality piano player just has this special touch to his performance that is missing in the case of other more average piano players. We may call the thing his experience, pointing out the easiness with which he manages to master difficult technical details all by giving them his pleasant personal mark and impression.

                  This personal touch is the result of a unique experiential basis typical for this individual, to his experiences. It is the result of an abundant lot of exercise. The exercise is important in order that the right and appropriate feel about how to perform settles in, in order that the landscape is appropriately shaped.

                  There may be a kind of inborn ability, and there may be additionally a lot of practice involved. All this shapes the background that enables an appropriate way of interpreting the piano concerto. Although this background is without doubt efficacious, it is so rich that it cannot be in its entirety tracked by the piano player, and it cannot even be tracked as a matter of principle. He is certain about some of the shape; he just feels which ways the skill has to follow if the performance should be right. But the access to most of the landscape is precluded to the piano player.


Here is the argument about quality being based on particularist intractable patterns:


                  Pr1 Tractable generalities provide necessary conditions for quality.

                  Pr2 Sufficient conditions for quality are given by intractable particularist patterns.

                  .: Quality is based on particularist intractable patterns.


The first premise Pr1 states that tractable generalities provide necessary conditions for quality. We have given the example of the piano player’s manual as providing these necessary conditions. But is this really the case? Are tractable generalities really in the basis of the piano player’s manual? Tractable generalities may be general affirmations about how to objectively proceed with the piano playing, which steps to take, if you do not know yet how to play. But these tractable generalities are shallow until they are related to some concrete content. You will not be able to learn much from them. Because of this, instruction manual is basically giving you something else then pure tractable generalities. It is providing you several examples of the works to be played and exercised. You have to take these examples separately and learn how to play each one of them. Usually the examples get arranged in such a way that they follow a kind of gradation, the extension from the simpler to the more difficult cases, or cases involving some special technical tricks. But you still have to take each example separately and practice it as you proceed with your learning. Gradation of difficulty and expertise goes from one example to the next, according to the levels of difficulty.

                  Are tractable generalities really the necessary conditions for quality? A counterexample could show that quality may be achieved without any tractable generalities. If the efficient matters in the piano player’s exercise book are really the particular cases that one should practice, then these cases are just singular examples, arranged into a certain order. But they are not generalities, and they do not provide generalities. If this is the case, then tractable generalities may not be at all in the basis of quality piano playing, not even as necessary conditions, because following and mastering of practical examples would form this basis.

                  One may nevertheless try to save the premise in the following way. If there is a quality piano performer, it may be possible to give tractable general necessary conditions for this part of his knowledge that encompasses mastering of technical skills. These technical skills are precondition of the quality performance stage, and it is possible that they even cannot be separated from this stage. After all, there is a difference between someone that does not know how to play piano at all, and between someone that masters at least the technique of piano playing, without that any special quality would be inherent to his performance. It seems that at least the technique of piano playing can be gathered in a tractable and general manner, unlike this is the case with the quality performance itself. In this undemanding way, the premise may be saved.


                  The second premise Pr2 gives the basis for quality, and it makes more plausible the former attempt to solve importance of necessary conditions. In order to reach to the sufficient conditions for quality, it seems necessary indeed that you first master necessary conditions, upon which arises the possibility of intractable particularist patterns. But just what are these? They are patterns, i.e. there is a structure underlying the experiences. Although this structure is important for the production of quality and although it gives its shape to the quality, it is mostly not available for direct inspection of the one who possesses it. It even turns out to be of the utmost importance that this structure cannot be tracked in order to assure quality. For quality does not just result from an accountable addition of things, form an addition of quantities. The essence of the quality is its intractable nature. In order to assess an intractable structure, no homely and certain steps may be followed, by definition. Some other approach is needed: the unique insight, or intuition. Unique intuition based insight gives you the right feeling about the preconditions of quality. It gives you the feeling, without that the insight could tractably have been spelled out. Patterns in question are complex, they are not accessible to the one displaying them, and so they are not tractable. They give you the right feeling. They do not give you the set of instructions about how to behave. They just directly give you the guidance towards the action. These particularist patterns are exactly what the quality piano player follows in his performance.

                  One may argue though that someone may have the discussed particularist pattern as the sufficient condition available, and that he also may master the skill. Thus, he would then have the necessary condition for quality available. But there would still be no quality. Perhaps the person cannot exercise quality, because he lacks a hand or he had a stroke. Baring these last kind of possibilities that are not interesting either, it may be claimed that the person has no choice but to act accordingly to the particularist patterns, if the right conditions are present (if a piano is there, in our discussed case) and if there is no lack of contingent preconditions. A good piano player will just do his job in a qualitative way, wherever you may put him.


Now, perhaps with all of the mentioned caveats, one may conclude that quality is something based on the particularist intractable patterns, which themselves have tractable generalities as necessary conditions in their basis.


                  But just what are these particularist intractable patterns? A work of art, such as a picture, may illustrate them. If it is a good or appropriate work of art, it will have a structure. And this will be its unique structure that will not be repeatable in any simple way. The structure of the work of art, or this structure together with the intricate background involved into its production or into its experience, will not be tractable. This means that there will be no procedure according to which one may retrace all the steps involved into the production or into the aesthetic enjoyment of the picture. The work of art may be qualitative, and in this case it will prompt the judgment involving the intuition about its value. This intuition proper to the performer of the work of art or to the one who experiences it will result in a phenomenological feeling. In fortunate cases, this will be the experience of quality. The fact that this is the experience of quality is related to the phenomenological quality of this experience. There are several possible causes of phenomenological experiences. But one of these kinds has the distinctive character of phenomenological qualitative experience specific for the work of art.


                  Although there may exist many hints in this direction, it is practically impossible to give a general rule about how to become a quality piano player. Quality is different from quantity. No matter how much of exercise you keep on adding, its amount may not bring you automatically to achieve the desired quality. The quality of the pianist performance is achieved on the basis of complexity, and of the complexity with intractable nature. One cannot retrace in a surveyable way all the steps that will need to result in a quality, and so the adopting of an intuition based qualitative experience turns out to be the appropriate way to take. Bold assertion of the piano player unique particular example may be understood from here: giving an example of how to play shapes the quality of playing.


Problems of quality are based on generalist views: consciousness

The most popular problem related to the explanation of quality is called “the hard problem”, and it applies to consciousness: the hard problem of consciousness. Why is the problem hard? Because it cannot be easily answered as compared to the easy problems. The project of charting the neurophysiological preconditions of the mental may require complex approaches of empirical and conceptual nature. But it is still an easy problem, because the complexity it involves is of the in principle tractable nature. Consciousness, on the other hand, is not so easy, for there do not exist any tractable steps that would account for its preconditions.

                  Consciousness is an expression that covers several things, but perhaps the most interesting and discussed is the form of consciousness as qualitative experience. The qualitative experience of consciousness is often called the what-it’s-like experience. It is just experience of the one who entertains it that is directly accessible to him, but it encounters difficulty in presenting itself to somebody else or in trying to present itself in an objective manner. Similarly, consciousness as qualitative singular experience is incapable of being a part of reductionist or even of the explanatory effort that is many times entertained as a genuine possibility for the rest of the mental. Whereas one may entertain a hope about delivering a naturalistically plausible story concerning thoughts, this does not seem to be possible for consciousness. There is an explanatory gap where consciousness is concerned.

                  But just what is an explanatory gap? It depends on how an explanation may look like. Naturalistic programs involving the explanation of the mental typically propose the translation of the mental terms into terms of some naturalistically respectable vocabulary, such as the vocabulary of contemporary science of physics. If such a program would be carried out, then the terms of the mental would find their translation equivalents in terms of some natural science, preferably in terms of the science of physics. This program would then give a tractable, although very possibly a complex description of the mental in the general naturalistic framework. This would then be a generalist strategy.

                  There are ways of countering the reductionist generalist picture. The first way is in adopting a nonreductionist approach, by affirming the autonomy of explanatory levels. Mental may be even described in a naturalist way, but it will not be possible to reduce its causal efficacy, say, to the efficacy proper to and recognized in natural sciences such as physics. The mental, although naturalistically respectful, will be causally efficacious not qua physical, but qua mental. This move of the nonreductionist seems to be compatible with exception to the general rule. Although there is this general value of the vocabulary of the physical, there are exceptions to it in the causal efficacy of the area of the mental qua mental. Mental preserves its own autonomy, although it may be recognized as inhabiting a naturalistically respectful universe.

                  More radical departure from the tractable generalist naturalist approaches is in the case of consciousness. The characteristic of consciousness is not just that it allows for exception to the general naturalistic strategy. Consciousness requires a whole new strategy, not based on the tractable procedures. But this new strategy is so uncommon from the point of view of generalist tractable procedures that it is bound to produce the failure of the usual ways of how the explanation proceeds, and exactly this produces the known explanatory gap.

One may attempt to explain the explanatory gap by embracing a strategy that is radically different to the generalist tractable procedures. According to this approach, consciousness is recognized as being of the particularist nature. Consciousness just allows for unique particular patterns, for unique particular and single experiences. The proposal is thus to see the radical nature of the challenge posed by consciousness to the naturalistic reductionist programs as a challenge of particularism. Consciousness introduces radically particular patterns that are not amenable under any general rules, and therewith they do not play along with generalist strategies at all. The recognition of rich intractable structure of particularist patterns has phenomenological experiences as its natural extension.

Where is the consciousness rooted? One may say that it is the product of experience touching upon a particularist pattern. There is no tractable way to assess this complex pattern, so intuition seems to be the right approach to it. As you think of a spider there is a different qualitative feeling attached to your experience in respect to the qualitative feeling adjoined to your cat related thought. The spider and cat parts are easy. But they could not properly have come into existence without the rich background they get positioned upon, the rich multi dimensional landscape or pattern of morphological content. Morphological content forms the basis upon which the occurrent thoughts get positioned. Morphological content is in the weights of transitions, if one should use a connectionist term. The morphological content basis cannot be directly accessed, but it is a precondition for occurrent total intentional states at a time to come into the existence. Morphological content’s presence exercises an impact on the experience, but not in a direct way, rather it has its impact as the intuition and as a quality. Because the landscape it impinges upon is intractable all in being relevant, the result is a qualitative intuition based conscious experience. If you may trace your way from one step to another, there is no necessity of a new quality coming by. If there is no possibility of effectuating this retracing, but there is a rich structure that gives rise to the relevant particular pattern, there arises a new quality. Quality is particular because it is rich.

                  We have used consciousness as one example of qualitative experiences. The difficulty with consciousness turns out to be that it cannot be accounted for by general laws, such as reductionist laws. One proposal was to see consciousness as basic, which would go against an overall naturalism that seems to be a desirable option. The wrong way of proceeding is by the expectation that generality has to say something about quality. It can say something about this by formulating the explanation of consciousness as “the hard problem”. But it is the hard problem only in the case if one starts with generalist expectations. One should reverse the perspective though: start with the particularist landscape, with the morphological content, and proceed with the logic of the particular.


Quality of life, quality of word may only be achieved on the basis of particular

How to attain the quality of life is certainly a question that concerns many. There may be some general principles trying to guide you towards this quality. But the problem with these is that they present just partial tractable directions. Because they are not rich enough, these general principles will fail to lead you to the quality. Eventually they will do this, but they will do it just by touching the richness of the intractable morphological content, as the ground upon which the qualitative experiences get built. Quality of life is possible just by constantly retracing the particular patterns that do not secure any projectability to further cases, in the way this is promised by generalities. The particular patterns are these that reside in the enjoyment of arts and of other experiences that give the rich intuition based appropriate feeling.

                  Many words are said, but just some of these are important words. And these are the ones that give the example, by retracing particularilty, by touching the rich particular patterns. The quality is in the passage of the particular.


Meschini on quality

The above should be a way of introducing by equivocation the theme of quality as it may be reconstructed from the work of Massimo Meschini, “For a Clinic of the Word”.

                  “The research”, he says, “is complex” (12). This invites us already in the direction of the particular, because we have seen that the particular is related to an irreducible richness and complexity.

                  “The science of the general denies the particular” (11). We have seen that the approach endorsing generality uses the techniques of tractability, such as “statistics” (11).

                  “The psychanalysis as the experience of the original word walks on a journey directed towards the quality” (8). This is the “direction of health and of the quality of life” (8).

                  “The element of word transcends the canons of the correct dialogue” – which means that the tractable procedures of the dialogue cannot assure quality without the adjoining encounter of the rich particular landscape, proper to the particular.

                  “Holding to the law and to the ethics of the word is the path on which to join the quality, without shortcuts and without making the things easier. The law is not a code” (15). The quality can only be reached on the basis of a rich background, where the particular has its response based on intuition and not on codifiable procedures. The law of structure proceeds from the encounter of a rich particularity.



Meschini, Massimo (1991). Per una clinica della parola. Milano: Spirali.