On Whether a Table is a Table

What a waste of time, philosophy. Penniless nerds pondering whether “a table is a table.” A table IS a table, and that’s that. And if it isn’t, who cares! Right?

Thought of any “non-profitable” nature is often mocked as a waste of time. Philosophy- the love of wisdom- a mere collegiate perversion. Egg-head territory. Don’t think: punch the clock, grind your teeth, collect the pay. Keep things tweet-simple. Intellect is the root of all evil.

Let’s try to make a case for discussing tables.

Because a table is NOT objectively a table. A table can easily be a very uncomfortable bed. Or an unusually big chair. My coffee “table” is indeed smaller than a chair. In fact it is closer in kinship to a chair-ish “stool” than to my dining-room table. A table is a rectangle when viewed from above. But sometimes it is a square or a circle of a triangle, and can assume any number of unexpected forms in the hands of a visionary designer. Is a table the place where “one puts dishes”? If I put a dish on your head, do you become a table? Or are “tables” already human? (What IS a human?) And when does a table stop being a table and become an altar? Do the services provided by the table change its essential nature?

Or… wait… is a table actually a graphic arrangement of chemical elements?!?

It may be that our Platonic table, bearing only tangential connection to our tangible tables, is simply “a surface in which we put things.” And that “Platonic ideal” may help us recognize tables- but only in a table-centered society. The ground was the world’s first table, much like the cupped hands are the world’s first dish and glass. Many a Neanderthal never learned the concept of “table” and would have been puzzled as to their use. The earliest tables can only be traced to as recent a tribe as the Egyptians, and it wasn’t until the Greeks that tables were first tentatively used for dining purposes.


Maybe these questions aren’t worth more than a few minutes of mental energy. But if we never wonder about tables, we will never develop the mental tools to question anything of any higher complexity – and there are few concepts as un-complex as “tables.” Not having the imagination to wonder about tables leaves us hopelessly inept when facing higher-level, abstract concepts as endlessly subjective as
‘human relationships,’ ‘sexuality,’ ‘identity,’ ‘morals’, ‘economics’, ‘religion,’ ‘politics,’ ‘society,’ ‘life.'”

There are no “facts”: facts are only heavily enforced opinions. You may believe that someone is six-feet-tall and that is a “fact.” But the fact crumbles when one starts wondering: what IS a foot? Whose ‘foot’ exactly? Who decided that a foot was a valid, universal source of measure? Why do these “feet” correspond to the average feet of males, and why were females not asked to the measurement party? To say that feet are feet, and everyone knows what they are, and that it’s all, is only contrary to “objective” reality: no one is “six-feet-tall”. People are only six-feet-tall depending on what subjective measurement system they choose to participate in.  Travel around Europe and your “objective height” will quickly vary: there are dozens of different ‘feet’ by region, often varying by inches.  In Bruges, a foot is equal to 274 millimeters. In Tyrol, a foot is equal to 334 millimeters. So an item that is a foot tall in Brussels will MAGICALLY CHANGE its supposedly objective height in feet when traveling to Tyrol. To never wonder about these seemingly unimportant things is to be doomed to ignorance about a complicated, thousands-of-years-old history of laws and regulations, of evolving mathematics, of science allied to government dictums, of massive campaigns of national homogenization, of  local individuality surrendered to global expediency.

In short, wondering about a table may be a minor mental exercise- but by all means, let’s keep our mind sharp with minor exercises. If we can’t be bothered to attempt one easy mental push-up, we’ll never be able to deal with any serious weight-lifting.

Most people do simply accept that a table is objectively a table and never wonder about the set of circumstances that led for them to acquire that belief; these are the people who believe that “it is what it is”; that there is such a thing as a placid lagoon of truth, where there are only the wild tsunamis of perception. If we don’t “waste time” questioning something as simple as a table, we can never hope to question something as complex as life. And if we do not ask questions of life, how we can expect to get any meaningful answers from it?

(Matthew 7:7)


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