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The Essence of Wit

Once, when I was in high school, my philosophy teacher was talking about the concept of essence. "A thing's essence," he said, "is that which, if it were to be removed, the thing would no longer be what it once was. Take the clock, for example. The clock is blue, but would it still be a clock if you took away the 'blue' and left it colorless? Certainly: you could still tell time by it. But what if you were to remove the hands from the clock? Then, I would argue, you have removed the very 'essence' of the clock -- it's ability to measure the passage of time.

"Here's another example," he continued, picking up a drinking glass. "What is the essence of this glass? It's shape? I'd say not. But what if we were to remove the bottom of this glass? I submit to you that, if we were to remove the bottom, this glass would lose its essence."

"I dunno," I said. "I don't think that hypothesis holds water."

It was one of those moments that every class clown dreams of.

Posted on June 06, 2002 to