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Comment on the homogeneity of Christmas cake

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Philosopher Guy Longworth (@GuyLongworth) has published a blog post with the titular question “Is Christmas cake homogeneous?”. A pertinent question one may suggest, even though it has nothing to do with Christmas, cakes or other pastries, important as these may be. It is, I think, about areas/wholes, their content and the metaphysical relation between them. As I found his theme an interesting one, I ventured to provide my own comment, which you may find copy-pasted below this introductory note. I suggest you read his article first — it’s a short one anyway — in order to understand the context of my own remarks on the topic.

Notwithstanding the point you are willing to make, I would frame this as follows (fallacious as my approach may be):

– If by “homogeneity” we refer to the possible homogeneity of the matter that forms the Christmas cake, then we need to examine/test/prove the constitution of that matter to see whether all of its elements are homogeneous or not — the answer can follow from there.

– If we only consider the idea/thought of the Christmas cake, of whether we think of that cake or “cake-ness” as homogeneous or not, we must draw clear delineations between the cases we examine. A consideration of a cake as such, is not the same as a consideration of its elements which are related in a specific way to derive what we call ‘cake’; just like a consideration of the matter called ‘sultana’ is not the same as a consideration of all the physical elements (atoms, molecules etc.) that interoperate in a very specific way to derive ‘sultana’.

– A part, when considered as such (when decontextualised), constitutes a whole in as far as that consideration is concerned; so that a sultana per se differs from a sultana that is treated as a part of a Christmas cake — its context is different and so may be the meaning it contains/conveys. This suggests that the constitution of the case thus considered is different from another case whose facts/elements in their given interoperation can/do vary.

– So, depending on whether we are considering the part qua part of a whole or as such, we have (at least) two distinct cases. In the case where the part is thought as part, it is not just “sultana” that we are thinking of, but “sultana that is part of a cake in a given way”. If the “given way” encompasses the specific interoperation of all the facts/elements that form the thing (or higher-order meaning) called “cake” and if a different relationship/interoperation of these facts/elements would yield something other than that specific “cake”, then it can be argued that in this case we have a context-specific homogeneity of meaning (homogeneity of what is thought as cake). But if we are to treat “sultana” as such, and we proceed with the same approach to all other elements that form the “cake”, we do end up thinking of a heterogeneous number of elements — heterogeneous with respect to one another, but homogeneous with regard to their own idea/thought; and, if so, we may only proceed to argue for homogeneity in light of the specific arrangements and complementarities of the elements that form the structure called “cake” — again a different case from each fact/element per se, because we include in the consideration something other than the element as such, namely the “arrangements and complementarities of the elements that form the structure…”.

Thanks! Enjoy the holidays — oh, and the Christmas cake :-)

Protesilaos Stavrou

I guess that’s all I had to write about the Christmas cake. Now it’s time to actually taste the thing. Merry Christmas and a happy new year!