Philosophical Investigation of Wine

A site with with “Wine” in the title and the tag-line “Digestible Intellect” seems like an excellent place to explore the philosophical side of drinking. British Philosopher Roger Scruton is one of the most celebrated contemporary conservative philosophers as well as a lover of wine. In 2008 he published one only a few philosophical treatise on wine “I Drink, Therefore I Am

I’ve selected four of Sir Roger’s more digestible passages on drinking and philosophy for your reading pleasure.

Philosophy & Wine; 

I would go further and say that we idle and sensual creatures, whose attempts at sainthood begin each morning and have fizzled out by late afternoon, can nevertheless gain some apprehension of the atman by taking a glass of wine in the evening, and so perceiving a path to the inwardness of things. To take that path requires sacrifice and renunciation; and you certainly cannot achieve the goal of philosophy merely by swallowing a drug[.]

However, wine shines a light along that path, and the beam it casts reaches far into the inner darkness, highlighting the puzzling forms of things with a glow of subjectivity. Wine, properly drunk, transfigures the world at which you look, illuminating that which is precisely most mysterious in the contingent beings surrounding you, which is the fact that they are – and also that they might not have been. The contingency of each thing glows in its aspect, and for a moment you are aware that individuality and identity are the outward forms taken by a single inner fire, and that this fire is also you.

It is the first glass of wine that gives its real taste, wrote Schopenhauer, just as it is the first encounter with another’s features that reveals what he truly is. …For Schopenhauer, the ultimate reality is Will, not Self, and his philosophy promises not peace but an eternal restlessness. …There is a knowledge contained in wine, a knowledge that you yourself bring to it: in your close encounter with the aroma you sense that all is ultimately at rest in its being, each thing curled like an embryo within its own appearance. And with that first sip each evening, you return to a world of amniotic tranquility. (p.116)

Buying Rounds;

[T]he practice of buying rounds in the pub is one of the great cultural achievements of the English. It enables people with little money of their own to make generous gestures, without the risk of being ruined by them. It enables each person to distinguish himself from his neighbours and to portray his individuality in his choice of drink, and it causes affection progressively to mount in the circle of drinkers, by giving each in turn the character of a warm and hospitable friend. In a way it is a moral improvement on the Greek symposium, where the host alone appeared in the character of the giver, and also on the common room and the country house. The round of drinks enables even the speechless and the downtrodden briefly to receive the thanks, the appreciation and the honour of their neighbours. It is a paradigm case of ‘social inclusion’, to use the jargon of our rulers, and it is hardly surprising that everything is now being done to ensure that the practice dies out. (p.144)

Drinking as Civilizational Glue;

When people sit down together in a public place – a place where none of them is sovereign but each of them at home – and when those people pass the evening together, sipping drinks in which the spirit of place is stored and amplified, maybe smoking or taking snuff and in any case willingly exchanging the dubious benefits of longevity for the certain joys of friendship, they rehearse in their souls the original act of settlement, the act that set our species on the path of civilization, and which endowed us with the order of neighbourhood and the rule of law.

When, however, people swig drinks without interest in their neighbours, except as equal members of the wild host of hunter-gatherers, when their sole concern is the intoxicating effect and when the drink itself is neither savoured nor understood, then are they rehearsing that time before civilization, in which life was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and (the only good part of it) short. Understandably, the first and natural effect of this way of drinking is an implacable belligerence towards the surrounding signs of settlement – an urge to smash and destroy, to replace the ordered world of house and street and public buildings, with a ruined wasteland where only the drunk is at home. Binge drinking may look like a communal act; in fact it is an act of collective solitude, in which not Bacchus but Narcissus reigns supreme. (p.160)

Four Principles for Drinking;

The first [principle] is that you should drink what you like, in the quantities that you like. It may hasten your death, but this small cost will be offset by the benefits to everyone around you.

The second principle is that you should not, through your drinking, inflict pain on others: drink as much as you like, but put away the bottle before gaiety gives way to gloom. Drinks which have a depressive effect – water, for example – should be taken in small doses, for medicinal reasons only.

The third principle is that your drinking should inflict no lasting damage on the earth. By hastening your death, a drink does no real environmental damage – after all, you are biodegradable, and that may be the best thing to be said about you. But this is not, in general, true of the containers in which drinks are sold. In the virtuous England in which I grew up, drinks came in glass bottles, for which you paid an additional twopence, refundable on return of the bottle to the shop. This exemplary system was followed for many years, until driven out by the arrival of the plastic bottle, the greatest environmental disaster since the discovery of fossil fuels.

[M]y fourth principle [sic]: don’t drink anything that comes in plastic bottles. Declare war on them and on the firms that use them. Withdraw your custom from every supermarket that sells its milk in plastic, refuse soft drinks on principle and drink water, if you must, only from the tap. (Appendix I)

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