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Donut philosophy and holes
Donuts are near the cutting edge of mereology: what to make of the holes in donuts. Mereology, the study of parts and wholes and their relations, is a subfield of ontology. Ontology is that branch of metaphysics that deals with what there is. Metaphysics is a very basic part of philosophy that asks about the ultimate nature of reality. So what’s with holes in donuts? Achille C. Varzi, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University (and one of the authors of the SEP article on holes, see resources below), puts it this way: “A doughnut always comes with a hole. If you think you can come up with an exception, then that would simply not be a doughnut. It would not be a doughnut by definition. Holeless doughnuts are like round squares or unmarried husbands – conceptual nonsense. Does it follow, then, that when you buy a doughnut, you really buy two things – the edible stuff plus the little chunk of void in the middle? In a sense, it does follow. You cannot just take the doughnut and leave the hole at the grocery store. In another sense, however, one might want to resist this answer and insist that the edible stuff is all there is – the hole is nothing at all!” Why is this important, you ask? We’ll try to get to that but first... Seriously, what is a void? It either is something or it’s not. If it is something, what is that? A nothing? That’s not a something. If it is not a something, why can’t we say what it is? It doesn’t work to say it is the absence of a thing? What the hell is an “absence”? A nothing? A void? We are going in circles! Just like a donut! Holes are not important, you say. Really? Donuts are not important? Think of a universe jam-packed with somethings and no nothings. Can you do it? Aren’t gaps, voids with nothing in them, necessary for defining or delimiting somethings? A jam-packed donut is not a donut. It’s a jelly roll or a Berliner, like John F. Kennedy claimed he was. All donuts have holes. True, sometimes the voids are filled with something like jelly or cream. But the hole is there! To be filled or not. There is a technical reason, of course, for the void in the donut that has to do with increasing the surface area of frying which avoids uncooked cores. This is a contingent fact about donuts but it is beside the point of what a hole is, the concept of one—though it does illustrate that a hole must be something because it affects things that are somethings: after all, there is a difference between a thoroughly cooked donut and a blob with an uncooked core of dough. To reject the somethingness of a donut hole is to acknowledge that there is something important about the nothingness of a hole. Nothings do not affect somethings. Only somethings do. To think otherwise is materialist blasphemy. Soon we'll be talking ghosts, spirits,... things not made up of elements of the periodic table. Like mathematics, logic, ethics, aesthetics... which we all know are nothing more than dispositions of matter, right? No? ... We’ll explore the concept of a hole. We also may do some empirical research with donuts as well. At this meetup, we do donuts... in preparation for solving the world’s problems, which we’ll attempt at the next. | More holishness | The SEP on holes is good place to start dipping into them: Is a hole still a hole if what is used to fill the hole is still hanging around? Consider how a handful of holes or quasi-holes altered the course of history: "Things don't surround themselves," said one little bear to another. "Holes do," the reply was. Little bears on mereology and holes: ---this is a partial adaptation of a 1970 article by philosophers David Lewis and Stephanie R. Lewis:

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Philosophers are worm can openers!

Some of you may occasionally wonder about things. Philosophers do it non-stop. At their best, they make trouble in the world of ideas. Come, bring your can openers, and let's open some cans!

We have explored or will (or will again) explore age-old topics like God's existence, the nature of people and things, morality, free will, fatalism, birth, death, the right way to live or die... as well as theories in core areas of philosophical thinking such as logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics (which are central to understanding what is really going on in the more accessible topics). But we'll also cover more current and concrete controversies such as abortion, infanticide, capital punishment, suicide (physician-assisted and otherwise), equality, justice, criminality, genetic engineering, neuroscience, over-population, war, terrorism, racism, sexism, speciesism, human "rights," animal rights, the "rights" of (or to) anything whatsoever!,... as well as important issues in medical ethics; environmental ethics; bioethics; philosophy of law, of art, of literature, of religion, of science; artificial intelligence, scientific method; social and political philosophy... and topics as yet uninvented.

In fact, "inventing topics" is a side effect of asking hard questions, which inevitably lead to still harder questions. Often enough, "new" topics are not really "new" but old, even ancient, unsettled concerns resurfacing. And it is those unsettled issues that are the real philosophical problems. As one philosopher once said, "If it has a solution, it was probably just science anyway." Any important subject whose fundamental ideas invite critical examination is ripe for our can opener... eventually we may work our way up to the really big can: the point of it all! But don't expect pat answers­­—we don't do self-help.

This club is open to non-analytical approaches to philosophy, and if you have some knowledge outside that approach and are open to trying to convince us or having it tested or even finding (perish the thought) common ground, you are welcome! Come shake us up a bit!... Still, philosophy, in the Anglo-American world (for better or worse), is dominated by some form of conceptual analysis. What characterizes the analytical approach to philosophy is attention to clarity and as much rigor as we can muster in our concepts and arguments—while hopefully keeping one foot in reality. You may be plied with questions framed against such values. But you may know better! Philosophical traditions just as individual philosophical views are error prone. Any philosophy worthy of the name should be comfortable with that.

We will try to stay focused on the topics under discussion, realizing that this is difficult. We draw on the insights of some of the brightest thinkers we know, both living and dead. Being bright is no guarantee that any of these people are right. In fact, we already know at least half of them must be wrong because the other half disagrees with them. But which half? (Even to assume only half are wrong is being more than a little optimistic.)

Skepticism and disagreement are to be expected, even encouraged. We should try to make the best case we can for our side and attend to what others say. We should expect that expressions of conviction may be forceful and that’s fine, as long as they are respectful of others and rational, which, in the context of a philosophy club, means to offer reasons to believe—reasons that are not themselves more controversial than the claims they are meant to support.

Though we range widely in the topics we cover, we try not to let anything go in our discussion. The point is to rise above the level of BS that too often passes in informal discussions for philosophy. Beyond a certain respect for clarity and rigor, we do not have an axe to grind. You may bring your own axe, we may sharpen it for you... or we may grind it to a stump. We mostly open worm cans, remember? You decide what to do with the worms!

See the writeups for past philosophy meetups ( and archived writeups ( to get some perspective on the topics we have and may cover. See also Philosophical Resources Online (

Formal membership is not required to attend and participate in our meetups. Feel free to come and try it out. Our meetup times and locations are public as well as topic resources. In fact, you cannot become a formal member unless you either attend one of our meetups in person or live in the Puget Sound area and could plausibly attend one of them.

Comments on the Home page and meetup topic pages are restricted to organizers. Discussions on the message board ( are open to anyone. Contact me ( with any questions, thank you.

A word about etiquette: philosophy, by its nature, is contentious. Expect disagreement and treat each other respectfully. Failure to do so may be cause for removal.

—Victor Muñoz, organizer


If you know something about a topic and would like us to address it or you would like to present it yourself, let us know. You don't have to be an expert. We will work with you. So long as we can tease out a philosophical theme, that is, it addresses fundamental questions about an important subject, we would love to consider it.

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