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Spork is a story about difference and the conflict between conformity and being true to yourself.
Spork is a story about a piece of cutlery that 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!
Read aloud video by Xena Zhang
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Spork explores ideas from many interesting philosophical fields, ranging from how 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. 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. The baby’s impact on Spork’s mood gives a reason to discuss the nature of happiness and how we come to feel worth.
In simple terms, metaphysics seeks to explain the nature of things. When investigating the world around us metaphysically, we try to categorize and define things. One can also think of metaphysics as a way to distinguish things from one another. The word “spork” combines two things and words that we usually recognize as separate things. Spork is an example of the kind of challenges we face when defining things. A spork has some properties of both a spoon and a fork.
The existence of a spork raises questions regarding necessary properties. What makes a fork a fork? What makes a spoon a spoon? Furthermore, 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.
Ethics is a philosophical field that seeks to become aware of how 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 the right action. The mere fact can explain the ‘rightness’ that it is right. Following this strain of arguments, one can argue that the baby uses Spork because it is designed to be beneficial in that specific situation. Other philosophers hold that meaning is something we make up. Values are extrinsic, meaning that they are something we attach to things rather than an actual part. 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 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’.
- What does it mean to be spoonish or forkish?
- What distinguishes a spoon from a fork?
- Can you name some important properties of a fork and a spoon?
- Is Spork a fork when he doesn’t wear the paper crown?
- Which important properties of a fork does Spork have when he is wearing the paper crown?
- Why does Spork decide to try to pick just one thing to be?
- Is a fork really just one thing? After all, you can use it for different things like…
In the story, Spork is said to be a bit of both – namely a spoon and a fork.
- Is Spork both a spoon and a fork, or a third thing?
- Can you be a bit of a lot of things? How? Are you?
In the story, Spork is upset until a baby uses him to eat.
- Why is Spork upset?
- Did Spork change towards the end of the story? Explain!
- Do you think a ball is valuable when you use it for a game?
- Do you think a ball is valuable when you keep it in your room while you are doing homework?
- Which similarities and differences do you find between a ball and Spork?
- Do you think a diamond is valuable? Explain!
- Do you have something that is valuable? Explain what makes it valuable.
- Name one person that you love and explain what makes this person lovable.
- Compare value and love and explain some differences and similarities between them.
- With our discussion in mind, can you explain what makes something valuable?
In the story, Spork’s mum and dad think he is perfect just the way he is.
- Do you think Spork is perfect because his parents think he is?
- Do you need someone to tell you that you are perfect, or can you be the only one to know?
- Can you tell us about some things that are valuable but not perfect and vice versa?
At the end of the story, the book describes Spork as “Just a bit round. Just a bit pointy. Just right.
- What does it mean to be just right?
- Did Spork become just right, or was he just right throughout the entire story?
- What does a perfect circle look like?
- Do you think all perfect things are good?
- Do you think perfect things exist at all? Describe them or explain why you cannot find any!
- What do you imagine when you think of a perfect world?
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Amalie Dahl Haue. Edited September 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.
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