By Kyo Maclear
Spork is a story about a piece of cutlery, which is neither a spoon nor a fork. Throughout the story it first tries to be more ‘spoonish’, by hiding its ‘forkish’ attributes and then more ‘forkish’ by hiding its ‘spoonish’ attributes. None of this works out very well and the poor utensil doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, until a big messy thing hits the kitchen!
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Amalie Dahl Haue
Spork embraces many interesting philosophical fields ranging from the way in which we categorize objects and their value to important components of human existence. In the story’s opening scene, we meet Spork who is appreciated by no one but his parents. Desperately he tries to pick just one thing to be. That being so, he hides the attributes that make the rest of the kitchen’s inhabitants question what he is. None of his efforts pay off. But one day a baby makes use of Spork and his temper changes. Spork’s sad face is replaced with a smile. When Spork decides to pick just one to be, the story raises questions regarding nature of things. The baby’s impact on Spork’s mood gives a reason to discuss the nature of happiness and how we come to feel worth. Thus, the book opens a path to both a metaphysical discussion and an ethical one.
In simple terms, metaphysics seeks to explain the nature of things. When investigating the world around us metaphysically, we try to categorize and define the things. One can also think of metaphysics as a way to distinguish things from one another. With the word ‘spork’ language explicitly discloses that we are speaking about one thing we usually recognize as separate things. Spork is an example of the kind of challenges we face when defining things. Clearly, Spork has some properties of both a spoon and a fork. But a question is whether this fact makes him either a spoon, a fork or a third thing. Moreover, it raises questions regarding necessary properties. What makes a fork a fork? What makes a spoon a spoon? And are these properties mutually exclusive? Based on such questions, one can talk about necessary and sufficient conditions. For instance, to be pointy, is a necessary condition of a fork, since it seems impossible to have a fork without points. If one equally argues that the condition is sufficient, Spork must be a fork.
Ethics is a philosophical field that seeks to become aware of ways in which we can obtain a good life. There are multiple different ways in which ethical questions can be undertaken. A possible attempt is to think about what, how and why we value things. Another option is to think about the relation between appreciating things and people. Some philosophers would argue that value is something we discover rather than something we create. This claim is fundamental to intrinsic values. One can understand this concept as being an integrated property of a thing. For instance, a tree will be valuable because it is a tree and not because we occasionally use the trunk to build things. Similarly, we do not necessarily take outer circumstances into account when describing a right action. The ‘rightness’ can be explained by the mere fact that it is right. Following this strain of arguments, one can argue that the baby uses Spork, because he is designed to be beneficial in that specific situation. Other philosophers hold that meaning is something we make up. Values are extrinsic, which means that they are something we attach to things rather than an actual part of the thing. Such philosophers would argue that Spork feels valuable because the baby gives him a purpose.
Also, this debate raises questions relating to the role of social relations in determining worth. If values are extrinsic, social relations will play a huge role. Oppositely, the role of social relations is devaluated strongly, if values are intrinsic. These questions can easily be related to the existence of people. Do we have a purpose in life (i.e. an intrinsic value), is it up to us to create such (i.e. an extrinsic value) or are the two concepts compatible?
In addition, one can understand the ethical tradition as a pathway to the perfect human being. Some would argue that perfection should be universally recognized, since it is an indisputable concept. Numbers would be an example of concepts we recognize universally. For instance, it does not make sense to argue whether the number 2 is 2. Likewise, perfection is something that is clearly defined. In comparison, a relativist would claim that we measure perfection differently due to our individuality. So, what do Spork’s parents actually mean when they tell him that he is perfect? Is it because, it actually is perfect, or is this perfection influenced by the fact that it is seen from the parents’ perspective?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Objects for Thoughts
At one point in the story Spork tries to look more ‘spoonish’ and at another point he tries to look more ‘forkish’.
In the story, Spork is said to be a bit of both – namely a spoon and a fork.
In the story Spork is upset until a baby uses him to eat.
In the story, Spork’s mum and dad think he is perfect just the way he is.