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Sprouts. More Sprouts.

December 19, 2015


Herself acquired some posh sprouts yesterday.  So posh they’re still on the stalk.  The house feels a bit more special already.

There are three broad schools of thought when it comes to sprouts for Christmas Dinner.  One says that sprouts are a positive good, to be embraced both for their own sakes and for their contribution to the meal as a whole.  A second school of thought says that sprouts are an absolute evil and their eradication from the Yuletide menu would be a positive benefit.  A third tradition declares that although sprouts may taste nasty in themselves, they are a necessary part of the meal as traditionally served and their removal might have unintended negative consequences.  I have long tended towards this position.

But recently I’ve been worried that my complacent acceptance of sprouts in context has an unfortunate 300 year old intellectual pedigree.  The philosophy of Leibniz (satirised by Voltaire as Panglossian optimism) would declare that all partial evils serve the greater good in the context of this, the best of all possible universes.  A Christmas dinner without sprouts would upset the balance of the plate

This kind of aesthetic theodicy rationalises away the bad taste of sprouts by positing an ideal “perspective”.  Leibniz was of course, integrated by Henry St John Lord Bolinbroke and so passed to Alexander Pope.

Pope integrated this Bolinbroke-Leibniz theorisation of the best of all possible Christmas dinners in the context of this well known couplet.

“Presume not sprouts to censure, peas to hate,

Let Godlike gravy harmonize thy plate.”

Unfortunately, this kind of “natural religion” has the offensive implication of denying the reality of pain and suffering and was duly critiqued by Crousaz and Johnson.  If sprouts cause real pain in the here and now, there is no warrant for denying that pain the name of some unproven “Divine” perspective.

Now I for one have never liked the idea of “pie in the sky when you die”.  If the visceral honesty of sublunary existence is to be properly respected, we need to be at least be able to smell the pie.

Fortunately, my theology of sprouts was transformed nearly a year ago with the discovery that sprout soup is in fact delicious.

Who knew?


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