Hot Dogs, Sandwiches, Metaphysics

It’s an issue that’s divided the world. Hot dogs… Are they sandwiches? It seems like 50% of people think yes, and 50% of people think no. But what can this question tell us about metaphysics?

Let’s begin by talking about the ingredient/structural spectrums on this sandwich debate.

As the chart shows, what does or does not classify as a sandwich often falls upon a spectrum of variables between ingredients and structure, as well as traditionalism and modernity. Where do you fall on this grid?

STRUCTURALISTS

This debate often comes down to semantics. What is a sandwich? Many definitions include “ingredients between two or more slices of bread.” For a structural purist — that definition would suffice. But that provision of “TWO OR MORE SLICES OF BREAD”, excludes a subway sandwich. For the structural purists — they’ll say that “a sub is a sub, and a sandwich is a sandwich…” But for the structural neutralists/rebels: this definition is not good enough. After all, isn’t it called a sub SANDWICH? For that reason, I think it’s better to define a sandwich as “ingredients between bread” — and metaphysically, semantic disagreements usually boil down to a difference in opinion about definitions.

But then “what is bread?” The structural radicalist asks. The all-holy interwebs defines it as “food made of flour, water, and yeast or another leavening agent, mixed together and baked” (dictionary.com). But then what about pita? The radicalist may further inquire. Also from the interwebs: a pita is a “flat hollow unleavened bread that can be split open to hold a filling” (dictionary.com). That’s right… Pita has the word bread IN IT’S DEFINITION. So to the radicalist, subs aren’t even enough… Enter wraps into the conversation? Wherever you personally draw the line — knowing this diverse spectrum exists can be a mind-opening linguistic experience.

INGREDIENTIALISTS

“A sandwich must have lettuce, tomato, bacon…” says the ingredient purist. If that’s how you choose to look at the world of sandwiches — power to you. Enjoy your life never enjoying sandwiches made of egg salad, tuna, or even just grilled cheese. But for ingredient neutralists and radicalists, that definition is too specific. The spirits that are a little bit more free need a definition with a higher level of ambiguity. Suffice it to say that a sandwich is INGREDIENTS between bread? Why be specific and exclude sensitive minorities of the sandwich sub-culture?

Whether you’re an ingredient traditionalist or an ingredient progressive, I do hope that we can one day all live in sandwich harmony together — supporting each other’s rights to classify information categorically as we choose. Ingredientialists come in all shapes and sizes from “lettuce, tomato and bacon” to… whatever this is:

(For reference, this is a pop tart/cheese sandwich stolen from @cjorgensen79. Thanks, Chris.)

WHO CARES?

That’s a valid question^, and you may not. But philosophically, I think this debate can represent age old metaphysical differences that have existed for centuries.

In Plato’s Republic, his theory of the Forms theorizes that the world we experience is merely representations of the true world – which is the world of the forms. For every treein existence, there is a world of forms where the “true” form of a tree exists. All trees in our percievable world are mere attempts to replicate that tree, but none can replicate the true tree identically. He believes that all perceivable matter exists in this realm. This realm is more than likely just a metaphoric realm to try and exemplify the subjectivity of justice, goodness and beauty, but there are still many scholars who interpret Plato as literally as Plato can be interpreted.

Aristotle supports a theory more conducive of teleology — or telos (meaning progression through time). Aristotle says that “the form […] does not come to be and there is no coming to be of it” (Metaphysics Book VII, p. 290). This means an object is what it is meant to be in its progression. Wood is meant to be a chair. An acorn is meant to be an oak tree. Something is defined by its potential, instead of by its substance.

The School of Athens by Raphael. Plato (Left) and Aristotle (Right) are depicted in the center of the painting

What does any of this have to do with hot dogs and sandwiches? The world we see and the world around us is built of our senses and perceptions. The way that input sensory information is translated in our brains is divided into categories and sub-categories. Some people’s information are divided categorically more than others are. Words become associated with each other based on definitions and qualities. For example: the word star is associated in our brains with words like space, bright, night and universe. The word Trump is likewise associated with words such as President, orange, Fake News and egomaniac. Whether or not words have been constructed into our brains as connected with a grouping or association does not necessarily mean that word fits outside of that word’s definition.

If I could go back in time and ask Plato and Aristotle their opinions on the hot/dog sandwich debate of the modern era I would! But since I can’t, I can only speculate as to what they would say. So… Let’s speculate!

A hot dog sandwich… #Compromise

Plato, I assume, would argue that in the realm of forms exists a sandwich in its purest form. The pure form of a sandwich to Plato would probably be two perfectly sliced slices of bread entrapping mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and bacon. All other sandwiches are just imperfect representations of what it means to be the “true” sandwich in the realm of forms. Similarly, there would be a perfect form of hot dog where the wiener is perfectly cylindrical, lying symmetrically between a hot dog bun with perfect patterns of sesame seeds with identical distances between each seed. The curvature of the ketchup and mustard making perfect intersections every 3 inches along the length of the hot dog. Compared to this hot dog — all other hot dogs are mere representations of the ultimate hot dog. The important thing though, is that I speculate that Plato would argue that a hot dog in reality is a representation of a hot dog, and that a sandwich is a representation of a sandwich. He would likely distinguish them, as they are separate things in the perfect world of forms.

Aristotle, I assume, would argue that in the teleological progression of what it means to be a hot dog — a hot dog is a sub-categorization of a sandwich because its potential lies as a sandwich. If a sandwich is defined loosely as ingredients between bread — then Aristotle would agree that the essence of the hot dog lies in its teleological potential as a subcategory of the broader term. Rather than dividing matter into strict rules Aristotle would interpret the world as intersecting stimuli, linking the world by the progression of their similarities rather than separating stimuli by their differences.

Internal thought: “Is a hot dog a sandwich…?”

Hot Dogs and Humanity:

“Hot dogs aren’t sandwiches! It’s an abomination to sandwich-kind!”… “Hot dogs aren’t sandwiches — it’s just unnatural”… “Hot dogs on the sandwich menu? How do I explain this to my kids!?” — say the sandwich traditionalists.

I dream of a world where hot dog progressivists and sandwich separatists can one day be united by their similarities, instead of divided by their differences. I dream of a world where they can one day join hands, and be brothers and sisters rather than enemies. I dream of a world where hot dogs are not judged by the qualities of their buns, but by the content of their mustard.

In all seriousness though, I do believe that you can tell a lot about a person based on this ridiculous hot dog question — and there is no “right or wrong way” to answer this question. What is illuminating though, is how people create categories and sub-categories of information.

I believe that the world can’t function without diversity. We’re social creatures and what social good is someone else to us if they espouse the exact same perspective as us all the time? Does that help us grow? Does that contribute to our evolution?

The same can be said about hot dog opinions. Some people classify stimulus into neat and portioned sections of informations with no cross-over between the divisions. Other people highlight similarities and compound information into stratas of sub-categories and genres. Some probably lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between those two dichotomies. All are necessary in understanding this crazy world of sensations and opinions.

“There are various eyes. Even the Sphinx has eyes: and as a result there are various truths, and as a result there is no truth.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

So yes, this is a silly question. Yes, this is a silly topic. Yes, I’ve rambled and made no coherent sense from beginning to end. If you’re still reading this — you’re incredible. I’ve just written what must be 1000 words on hot dogs and sandwiches and how they vaguely relate to philosophy, AND YOU’RE STILL WITH ME. Yes, this is a silly question. But if you get to the bottom of why people answer this question the way that they do — the answer may reveal a truth about that person and how they see the world that you didn’t realize before.

As for me? I don’t know if a hot dog is a sandwich. Have you tried asking one how it feels? I will forever progressively accept a hot dog’s right to self-identify however that hot dog chooses to identify, and I’ll love that hot dog for it. Particularly if that hot dog has sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is delicious.