How can a visit to an Italian restaurant help us to better understand the world?

How can a visit to an Italian restaurant help us to better understand the world?

We live in a complex world, but language helps us to grasp even complex situations.

What is the connection between pizza and heroism? At first, the two hardly seem related–one is a favorite dish and the other is a way of life. But understanding how pizza delivery works can give us insight into how we can comprehend other, more complex scenarios.

To become a mentor, which is a foundation of being a true hero, you have to know what is real. You have to have a strong grip on reality.

How can we train our minds to better know what is and what is not?

In this adapted excerpt from the book Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge, author Clemens Lode sheds light on how our use of language creates a concept hierarchy, a mind-map of definitions that empowers us to be able to think more effectively.




   A Slice of Life: Concept Hierarchies and Pizza Delivery

An adapted excerpt from Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge.



In our lifetime, we learn many concepts. A “concept” is determined by the nature of an entity. A simple example: we learn the concept of “furniture” early on, and as we are introduced to types of furniture (e.g., high-chair, table, bed), we can apply what we know about the original concept to new entities. Hence, we need not consider each situation (i.e., something to sit on, or sleep on) over and over again. If we apply these dependencies of specialization to more general concepts, a structure arises—a concept hierarchy.

A concept hierarchy is a tree-like structure consisting of concepts, defined by the definitions of given connections (e.g., “chair” and “table” are furniture, the concept “furniture” would thus constitute the root of a tree and “chair” and “table” are two successive branches).

Let us consider the example of a pizza delivery company. There, orders, inquiries, customers, and employees must be managed. The first step of management is an accurate grasp of the current situation. Instead of verbally surveying each employee and customer and placing a summary in a file, we abstract the properties of the relationship to each respective person. The employees may have much to tell about their lives, but only a few items of data are important for the payment of their wages, such as a name and bank account number. The same holds for the client, for whom we actually require only a delivery address. In addition, we must manage our products (the pizzas) and the individual inquiries and orders. In the construction of our concept hierarchy, we try to determine only the relevant properties of an entity and disregard all other information.

As all the parts of our pizza company should at the same time refer to identifiable entities with a creation date, they should inherit from a more general concept named “entity.” And obviously, “clients” and “employees” are persons; we can thus let properties such as the address inherit from a more general concept, “person.” With the definition of “order” and “request,” we must in both cases reference the person placing the order (customer) and the employee processing the order (employee), and thus generalize the properties in a concept called “process.” Let us supplement these definitions with properties of the customer (his account), the employee (his position in the company), the order (the ordered product), and the request (the customer’s message); we now obtain a schematic construction of this small slice of the world:








As this example shows, a concept hierarchy allows us to base our understanding of reality on things we know to be true. We can add details as necessary, but we don’t need to reinvent the wheel (or the pizza) from scratch every time.

And that, my friend, explains what pizza and philosophy have in common: begin with what is true, rely on that, and allow that to direct your decisions.



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