Our recent discussion of Ayn Rand got me thinking about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. This is because although it is sometimes claimed that many students are influenced to become philosophy majors by reading Rand, I was never a Randian; I was first motivated to study philosophy in part because I read Zen when I was in high school. I'd never been exposed to the most important questions in epistemology and value theory before, and I thought the narrative was compelling in its own right. (So what? I was in high school.)
I wonder if Pirsig and his book make for an apt comparison case for Rand and her novels in the context of philosophy encyclopedia inclusion. The book is pretty popular (though not as popular as Rand's most popular works), and the views Pirsig articulates in it have a relatively large following, if the number of zany internet websites is a guide. Of course, Pirsig's actual views are sophomoric, deeply unsophisticated, and are therefore taken seriously by literally no one who has a Ph.D. in philosophy. (They're not, right?) And when I reread it between college and grad school, the book also seemed to me to be way, way off in its interpretations of various historical philosophers, such as Socrates and Kant--as a history of philosophy it seemed to me to be remarkably terrible. But Rand's views are unsophisticated and naive, and I read somewhere that she mangles Aristotle pretty bad. But I don't think anyone would argue that Pirsig or Zen... deserve articles in the SEP. Right? So, what gives? Maybe Pirsig's mistakes were more basic, and his followers less influential in the public policy sphere.