Monday, April 18, 2016

Food for thought

In my blog last week I discussed an example used by Searle about how to make a hollandaise sauce. The essence of the case was not, of course, giving a recipe of the sauce or some practical tips how to make it, but to explain a philosophical question, namely whether there is something like a collective intention. It was just a case for analysis. Nevertheless, it is striking how little philosophers (including me) talk about one of the basic phenomena of life: food and eating. Of course, there is some kind of philosophy of food but it is a very little branch of philosophy and I think that most philosophers have never heard of it, let alone that they can tell something about it or mention the names of a few exponents. Moreover, since philosophers often use examples from daily life, it was to be expected, that at least sometimes they use cases related to food and eating. They don’t. The example of Searle is the exception that proves the rule. It seems strange, indeed, but it happens more often that philosophers ignore “trivial” events in life that are in fact very important. Also waiting is a case in point. Although we spend a lot of time on it, it’s ignored by philosophy.
Nevertheless, human as philosophers are, eating is also for them important. Somewhere in the journal of his voyage to Germany and then to Italy Montaigne wrote that he regretted that he hadn’t taken his cook with him in order to write down local recipes of the regions he passed, so that the cook could prepare these dishes, when he was home again. Wittgenstein explicitly preferred simple meals. Somewhere on the Internet I found this story, which was typical for him:

“Wittgenstein went to stay with his friend Maurice Drury in Ireland. Drury described the visit:
Thinking my guests would be hungry after their long journey and night crossing, I had prepared a rather elaborate meal: roast chicken followed by suet pudding and treacle. Wittgenstein rather silent during the meal. When we had finished [Wittgenstein said], ‘Now let it be quite clear that while we are here we are not going to live in this style. We will have a plate of porridge for breakfast, vegetables from the garden for lunch, and a boiled egg in the evening.’ This was then our routine for the rest of his visit.” (

For other philosophers it is the same, or for most of them: Food and eating are important, also for philosophers, but they don’t talk about it in a philosophical way, even not if they need an example to flesh out an interesting problem. As for this, Searle is an exception. Generally reference to the theme remains restricted to some oblique remarks, as if a philosopher can survive without eating and drinking.

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