Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE 'Nomenclature' Committee of the European Union is wrestling with the tricky problem of the number of lumps that a sauce can contain in order for it not to be classified as a 'vegetable' -- because if it is classified as a 'vegetable' it attracts import taxes that can reach nearly 300 per cent. At the moment, a sauce containing more than 20 per cent lumps is a 'vegetable'. The EU is considering raising the lump quotient to 30 per cent. But this raises a vital prior question - what is a lump? Most importantly, when does a lump actually become a lump?

This is the sort of philosophical problem in which ancient thinkers revelled; it is, in fact, a paradox, the paradox of the 'Heap', and ancients adored para- doxes. Heraclitus (fl. C. 500 BC) started the paradox game, pointing out that, for example, hills go both up and down, but the star of the show was Zeno (fl. c. 450 BC) who was determined to shake our grip on reality by showing that the world was full of logical impossibilities. Thus, he argued, an arrow in flight is actually motionless, because at any one time it occupies a space exactly equal to itself. But if it does that, it must be at rest. When, therefore, does it fly?

Then consider his argument about magnitude. …

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