I’m reading Kathleen Stock’s paper The Tower of Goldbach and Other Impossible Tales from Imagination, Philosophy and the Arts, and I just wanted to share one odd example. Stock argues that we cannot imagine impossible things. I might say a little more about this below. But for now I just want to note a very odd example of an (alleged!) impossibility.
I want to deny that one can imagine that a banana is a gun, in the sense that one imagines that there is an object such that it is both a gun and a banana.
Setting aside questions of whether this is imaginable, this doesn’t even strike me as prima facie impossible. If it’s possible to have a machine-gun cane, as Secret Squirrel did, why not a banana revolver? If we distributed all the workings of a gun throughout a banana, wouldn’t we have a banana gun? With miniturisation these days, I imagine this is, or soon will be, technologically possible. (Note to airport security – I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about vis a vis the technological challenges involved. No banana I take on board is also a gun.)
I guess the idea is that there would be two separate objects in such a construction, one of them a banana, the other a gun. But if the gun mechanisms were in part held together by the banana, and none of the mechanisms notably protruded from the skin of the banana (the nozzle being built into the stem) it seems to me we’d have a single ordinary object. And it would certainly be a gun. And I don’t think it becomes an ex-banana by putting things inside it, especially if they are very small relative to the size of the banana. This would make it inedible, but that’s no problem. A poisoned banana is still a banana. So why think the banana gun is an impossibility?
My diagnosis, and it’s horribly uncharitable, is that this is what happens when essentialism goes too far. People become convinced that objects have some of their properties essentially, and go overboard about how many such properties they essentially have. On occasions like this I’m inclined to react to the other extreme, and join Lewis in the class (plurality) of modern anti-essentialists.