Philosophy And Sandwiches

One of the things about finding yourself in the company of two philosophers (and your skeptical friend Anna from Tasmania, whom you haven’t seen for 35 years, but who is the mother and wife of the said philosophers) is making the decision about whether or not you should become embroiled in what has plainly been a subject of family angst in Hobart for a couple of decades. But I did explain that I am trying to spin the plate of this blog a little bit longer, and that they were playing into my hands.          

Here we go then. You take two slices of bread, buttered or unbuttered, and you place between them a comestible of some kind or another (for argument’s sake, a slice of cheese, and if that’s not tasty enough for you, add your own extra fillings). Very good. What have we here? The answer, and if you want to dispute it, you are getting involved too early, is that you have a sandwich. 

Now you take a knife, and you bisect the bread, so that it is in two triangular shapes (you can make them rectangles if you want, you can cut the crusts off, you can even nibble each section. It will not help you with what follows). The question is, what have you now got? Have you got a sandwich, or have you got, as a result of the bisection, sandwiches? I know this is not on a par with the ethics or otherwise of flipping your parliamentary home, of adopting an African baby if you are a superstar with attitude, or of identifying whether or not you are a butterfly dreaming he is a man, or a man dreaming he is a philosopher dreaming he is a butterfly, but it will have to do, and it is much harder

A philosopher will argue – and let’s say he’s called Tim, and he is, actually, and he did argue it – that what you have is a sandwich. True it is a sandwich which has been divided into two parts, but having started life as a sandwich, it continues to retain its sandwich-ness (he didn’t actually say that, but that’s the gist). It is not, as my re-found friend, would argue, two (or more, if the knife is repeatedly applied) sandwiches. That’s the philosopher’s position. Having been created a sandwich, it is doomed to be eaten, or left to go curly, as nothing more or less than a sandwich, whatever happens to it. 

Anna says (insists, ripostes, rages) that, if she were to offer you an item formerly known as a sandwich, but cut into four edible (or even inedible) parts, that what she has invited you to partake of is sandwiches. Not parts of a sandwich. 

You can see how an argument like this might run and run. So here is an attempt to solve it. If you placed a smear of egg on one side of a piece of bread, and a slice of ham on the other, and you made sure that the two did not overlap, even when a piece of bread was placed on top of it, and you sliced down the middle where you knew the no-man’s-land (as it were) to lie, you would have one piece containing egg and one piece containing ham. You would have created an egg sandwich and a ham sandwich, since for what other reason would you have left the gap between them? You would have created sandwiches, plural. In other words, if you begin with the intention of presenting smaller pieces (whether or not they have the same filling), the first, uncut creation, is simply a step on the road to sandwiches. If you casually and even unintentionally sliced up an original sandwich, it would still be a sandwich. 

Does that help in Hobart? (I suspect not: but I am a sandwich-board man, and not a philosopher.)


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