A Philosopher Walks Into A Coffee Shop

by Scott Alexander7 min read25th Jan 20154 comments

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HumorPhilosophy
Personal Blog

I have been really enjoying literarystarbucks.tumblr.com, which publishes complicated jokes about what famous authors and fictional characters order at Starbucks. I like it so much I wish I knew more great literature, so I could get more of the jokes.

Since the creators seem to be restricting themselves to the literary world, I hope they won’t mind if I fail to resist the temptation to steal their technique for my own field of interest. Disclaimer: two of these are widely-known philosophy jokes and not original to me.

* * *

Parmenides goes up to the counter. “Same as always?” asks the barista. Parmenides nods.

* * *

Pythagoras goes up to the counter and orders a caffe Americano. “Mmmmm,” he says, tasting it. “How do you guys make such good coffee?” “It’s made from the freshest beans,” the barista answers. Pythagoras screams and runs out of the store.

* * *

Thales goes up to the counter, says he’s trying to break his caffeine habit, and orders a decaf. The barista hands it to him. He takes a sip and spits it out. “Yuck!” he says. “What is this, water?”

* * *

Gottfried Leibniz goes up to the counter and orders a muffin. The barista says he’s lucky since there is only one muffin left. Isaac Newton shoves his way up to the counter, saying Leibniz cut in line and he was first. Leibniz insists that he was first. The two of them come to blows.

* * *

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel goes up to the counter and gives a tremendously long custom order in German, specifying exactly how much of each sort of syrup he wants, various espresso shots, cream in exactly the right pattern, and a bunch of toppings, all added in a specific order at a specific temperature. The barista can’t follow him, so just gives up and hands him a small plain coffee. He walks away. The people behind him in line are very impressed with his apparent expertise, and they all order the same thing Hegel got. The barista gives each of them a small plain coffee, and they all remark on how delicious it tastes and what a remarkable coffee connoisseur that Hegel is. “The Hegel” becomes a new Starbucks special and is wildly popular for the next seventy years.

* * *

Socrates goes up to the counter. “What would you like?” asks the barista. “What would you recommend?” asks Socrates. “I would go with the pumpkin spice latte,” says the barista. “Why?” asks Socrates. “It’s seasonal,” she answers. “But why exactly is a seasonal drink better than a non-seasonal drink?” “Well,” said the barista, “I guess it helps to connect you to the rhythm of the changing seasons.” “But do you do other things to connect yourself to that rhythm?” asked Socrates. “Like wear seasonal clothing? Or read seasonal books? If not, how come it’s only drinks that are seasonal?” “I’m not sure,” says the barista. “Think about it,” says Socrates, and leaves without getting anything.

* * *

Rene Descartes goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a scone,” he says. “Would you like juice with that?” asks the barista. “I think not,” says Descartes, and he ceases to exist.

* * *

Jean-Paul Sartre goes up to the counter. “What do you want?” asks the barista. Sartre thinks for a long while. “What do? I want?” he asks, and wanders off with a dazed look on his face.

* * *

William of Occam goes up to the counter. He orders a coffee.

* * *

Adam Smith goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a muffin,” he says. “Sorry,” says the barista, “but those two are fighting over the last muffin.” She points to Leibniz and Newton, who are still beating each other up. “I’ll pay $2 more than the sticker price, and you can keep the extra,” says Smith. The barista hands him the muffin.

* * *

John Buridan goes up to the counter and stares at the menu indecisively.

* * *

Ludwig Wittgenstein goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a small toffee mocha,” he says. “We don’t have small,” says the barista. “Then what sizes do you have?” “Just tall, grande, and venti.” “Then doesn’t that make ‘tall’ a ‘small’?” “We call it tall,” says the barista. Wittgenstein pounds his fist on the counter. “Tall has no meaning separate from the way it is used! You are just playing meaningless language games!” He storms out in a huff.

* * *

St. Anselm goes up to the counter and considers the greatest coffee of which it is possible to conceive. Since existence is more perfect than nonexistence, the coffee must exist. He brings it back to his table and drinks it.

* * *

Ayn Rand goes up to the counter. “What do you want?” asks the barista. “Exactly the relevant question. As a rational human being, it is my desires that are paramount. Since as a reasoning animal I have the power to choose, and since I am not bound by any demand to subordinate my desires to that of an outside party who wishes to use force or guilt to make me sacrifice my values to their values or to the values of some purely hypothetical collective, it is what I want that is imperative in this transaction. However, since I am dealing with you, and you are also a rational human being, under capitalism we have an opportunity to mutually satisfy our values in a way that leaves both of us richer and more fully human. You participate in the project of affirming my values by providing me with the coffee I want, and by paying you I am not only incentivizing you for the transaction, but giving you a chance to excel as a human being in the field of producing coffee. You do not produce the coffee because I am demanding it, or because I will use force against you if you do not, but because it most thoroughly represents your own values, particularly the value of creation. You would not make this coffee for me if it did not serve you in some way, and therefore by satisfying my desires you also reaffirm yourself. Insofar as you make inferior coffee, I will reject it and you will go bankrupt, but insofar as your coffee is truly excellent, a reflection of the excellence in your own soul and your achievement as a rationalist being, it will attract more people to your store, you will gain wealth, and you will be able to use that wealth further in pursuit of excellence as you, rather than some bureaucracy or collective, understand it. That is what it truly means to be a superior human.” “Okay, but what do you want?” asks the barista. “Really I just wanted to give that speech,” Rand says, and leaves.

* * *

Voltaire goes up to the counter and orders an espresso. He takes it and goes to his seat. The barista politely reminds him he has not yet paid. Voltaire stays seated, saying “I believe in freedom of espresso.”

* * *

Thomas Malthus goes up to the counter and orders a muffin. The barista tells him somebody just took the last one. Malthus grumbles that the Starbucks is getting too crowded and there’s never enough food for everybody.

* * *

Immanuel Kant goes up to the counter at exactly 8:14 AM. The barista has just finished making his iced cinnamon dolce latte, and hands it to him. He sips it for eight minutes and thirty seconds, then walks out the door.

* * *

Bertrand Russell goes up to the counter and orders the Hegel. He takes one sip, then exclaims “This just tastes like plain coffee! Why is everyone making such a big deal over it?”

* * *

Pierre Proudhon goes up to the counter and orders a Tazo Green Tea with toffee nut syrup, two espresso shots, and pumpkin spice mixed in. The barista warns him that this will taste terrible. “Pfah!” scoffs Proudhon. “Proper tea is theft!”

* * *

Sigmund Freud goes up to the counter. “I’ll have ass sex, presto,” he says. “What?!” asks the barista. “I said I’ll have iced espresso.” “Oh,” said the barista. “For a moment I misheard you.” “Yeah,” Freud tells her. “I fucked my mother. People say that.” “WHAT?!” asks the barista. “I said, all of the time other people say that.”

* * *

Jeremy Bentham goes up to the counter, holding a $50 bill. “What’s the cheapest drink you have?” he asks. “That would be our decaf roast, for only $1.99,” says the barista. “Good,” says Bentham and hands her the $50. “I’ll buy those for the next twenty-five people who show up.”

* * *

Patricia Churchland walks up to the counter and orders a latte. She sits down at a table and sips it. “Are you enjoying your beverage?” the barista asks. “No,” says Churchland.

* * *

Friedrich Nietzsche goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a scone,” he says. “Would you like juice with that?” asks the barista. “No, I hate juice,” says Nietzsche. The barista misinterprets him as saying “I hate Jews”, so she kills all the Jews in Europe.

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4 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:19 AM
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This reminds me a lot of existentialcomics.

Einstein is sitting with a coffee. Everyone who sees him invents a witty exchange he might have had with the barista.

Rene Descartes goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a scone,” he says. “Would you like juice with that?” asks the barista. “I think not,” says Descartes, and he ceases to exist.

I can't believe you missed an opportunity to do an "I drink, therefore I am" joke...

No mention of Marx?