Why (Western) Philosophers are Late to the Dinner Party

philosophers at the tableMost philosophers who write on the arts take a dim view of food and wine as genuine fine arts. Aside from Carolyn Korsmeyer, who is open to the view and has done great work in the philosophy of food and, well, me, I can’ t think of anyone else who pushes this line of thought. The reason may lie deep in our intellectual history.

Plato, who gets Western philosophy off the ground wanted little to do with food.

…the gods made what is called the lower belly, to be a receptacle for the superfluous meat and drink and formed the convolution of the bowels, so that the food might be prevented from passing quickly through and compelling the body to require more food, thus producing insatiable gluttony and making the whole race an enemy to philosophy and culture, and rebellious against the divinest element within us.

There is no doubt about where he stands. Plato, of course, was also a dualist believing that the mind was not only distinct from the body but vastly superior to it. The body and the senses were a hindrance to the attainment of genuine knowledge and the quicker we were rid of that lumbering bag of bones the better.

Other traditions take a different view. The Chinese since ancient times have considered cookery to be an art. And their seminal philosopher Confucius thought of proper cooking and eating as part of one’s spiritual development:

“[The gentleman] … did not eat his fill of polished rice, nor did he eat his fill of finely minced meat…. He did not eat food that had gone off color or food that had a bad smell. He did not eat food that was not properly prepared…. He did not eat food that had not been properly cut up, nor did he eat unless the proper sauce was available” (form The Analects, bk. 10,no. 8, p. 103).

Good eating nourishes both the body and the mind. But of course Confucius was no dualist. The tradition of Confucianism views the universe as an integrated unit, with its parts unified and interconnected, including the mind and body. It is probably no accident that he viewed cooking and eating more favorably.

Contemporary philosophers have abandoned dualism of the Platonic sort, but have not discarded Plato’s negative attitude toward food.

Could it be they are still closet dualists?


    1. Thanks Jonathan. I wasn’t aware of either article. The line Meskin takes over from Korsmeyer–Goodman’s idea of exemplification–is the basis for my approach in the book I’m finishing up. He does a nice job of summarizing the position.

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