welcome covers

Your complimentary articles

You’ve read one of your four complimentary articles for this month.

You can read four articles free per month. To have complete access to the thousands of philosophy articles on this site, please

Philosophy Shorts

Philosophers on Wine

by Matt Qvortrup

‘More songs about Buildings and Food’ was the title of a 1978 album by the rock band Talking Heads, about all the things rock stars normally don’t sing about. Pop songs are usually about variations on the theme of love; a track like Van Morrison’s 1976 hit Cleaning Windows is the odd one out.

Philosophers, likewise, tend to have a narrow focus on epistemology, metaphysics and trifles like the meaning of life. But occasionally great minds stray from their turf and write about other matters, for example buildings (Martin Heidegger), food (Hobbes), tomato juice (Robert Nozick), and the weather (Lucretius and Aristotle). This series of Shorts is about these unfamiliar themes; about the things philosophers also write about.

“O my soul, to thy domain gave I all wisdom to drink, all new wines”, wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (p.325). Philosophers are like the rest of us, and they too like the finer things in life. Wine is no exception. According to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), “Sparkling wine from the Canaries is very agreeable” (Critique of Judgement, p.212). Perhaps too much so. According to his biographer, the Professor occasionally drank so much that he couldn’t find his way home (Kant: A Biography, Manfred Kühn, 2001, p.129).

Many philosophers have written extensively on winebibbing. Plato (439-347 BCE) penned the dialogue Symposium, which translates as Drinking Party. He also mentioned booze several times in the Republic and was clear that we “are glad of any pretext of drinking… wine” (Republic 475b).

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) devoted a whole treatise to the subject, in which he mused that “wine is a defence of the truth and the truth a defence of the wine” (In Vino Veritas, p.3). Maybe it was because of this insight that Kierkegaard Chardonnay, a white wine from California, was named after the otherwise austere Protestant philosopher. Other thinkers have had the same honour. Hegel is the name of a supposedly full-bodied and delicately fruity red wine bred in Weisberg in Germany. Unlike Kierkegaard, G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) did not write much about the subject, but he nevertheless liked a swig from time to time, and sent his wine merchant a request “for another bottle of Pontac, like the one you previously sent me” (Hegel to Ramann, 12 October 1802).

A lot has been written about the differences between British empiricists and their speculative colleagues on the European mainland. Yet, when the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) wrote his treatise Observations Upon the Growth of Vines and Olives (1679), he stayed at Château Haut-Brion – then known by the name of the proprietor, M. Pontac. Yes, the same man who produced Hegel’s favourite drop. So, when it comes to the really important things, the differences were negligible,

Of course, there is a small problem with the drink of the gods: you might get sloshed. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) had an answer to this, proposing that ‘Cabbage prevents drunkenness’ (Problemata 873a-b). Getting hammered was not something that troubled St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274): “Every sin has a corresponding contrary… thus timidity is opposed to daring… But no sin is opposite to drunkenness. Therefore, drunkenness is not a sin” (Summa Theologica, Q150). To this syllogism we can only respond with “Cheers!”

© Prof. Matt Qvortrup 2022

Matt Qvortrup is Professor of Political Science at Coventry University.

This site uses cookies to recognize users and allow us to analyse site usage. By continuing to browse the site with cookies enabled in your browser, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy. X