Holes in doughnuts – the philosophical implications (part 1)

Glazed-DonutAchille C. Varzi, who is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, New York, is interested in the philosophical implications of holes and voids, prompting a unique investigation into a special subset of hole-bearing entities – namely doughnuts (that’s ‘donuts’ US).

“A doughnut always comes with a hole. If you think you can come up with an exception, then that would simply not be a doughnut. It would not be a doughnut by definition. Holeless doughnuts are like round squares or unmarried husbands – conceptual nonsense. Does it follow, then, that when you buy a doughnut, you really buy two things – the edible stuff plus the little chunk of void in the middle? In a sense, it does follow. You cannot just take the doughnut and leave the hole at the grocery store. In another sense, however, one might want to resist this answer and insist that the edible stuff is all there is – the hole is nothing at all.!”

The professor’s 10 page essay, published in 2001, looks at holes in doughnuts from a variety of different angles – it’s simply entitled :‘Doughnuts’, (in: M. Chadha and A. K. Raina (eds.), Basic Objects: Case Studies in Theoretical Primitives, Shimla, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, pp. 41–51.)

It not only examines the topology of the plain doughnut, but also introduces other theoretically possible doughnuts, thought-doughnuts if you like, with dents, bifurcated Y-holes, and extravagant complex cavities.

Coming soon! More philosophers look into doughnut holes, a 2012 update.


• Traditional Jam Doughnuts (that’s Jelly Donuts, US) don’t have a hole through the middle. If they did, there’d be nowhere to put the jam would there? Discuss.

• The luscious doughnut photo is kindly provided by photographer Evan Amos.