[OPE-L:4543] The Practical Status of Butter Knives

andrew klima (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Wed, 26 Mar 1997 10:38:24 -0800 (PST)

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A reply to Allin's ope-l 4514.


by W. Paul Cutlery and Mac the Knife

In this paper we wish to argue that butter knifes are practical instruments in
the strongest sense. We first elaborate upon what we take to be the criteria
of practicality of instruments, and then show that these are in practice met
by butter knives.

General criteria of practicality

Practical instruments are good. They enhance action. Myth, story telling and
religion may also enhance action, but we don't like them. Everything in the
world is either a practical instrument or myth, storytelling and religion.

All butter knives are practical instruments. All butter knives spread butter
well. Ergo, all practical instruments should spread butter well. Otherwise,
they are not practical instruments but myth, story telling and religion.

Our object in this paper is to use this general perspective to assess the
relative merits of butter knives and shoes as butter spreaders. We are aware
that shoes may be conceived as serving discursive mythical, storytelling and
religious purposes, and not the speading of butter, but here we treat them as
butter spreaders.

Some practical concernst

We tested the ability of a butter knife and a shoe to spread butter on 47
slices of bread. Actually, we didn't have any butter, so we used school
paste, and we didn't have any bread, so we used 47 slabs of styrofoam. But
don't worry, it doesn't matter.

Comparison of Spreadability

The shoe spread the school paste on the styrofoam slabs better than the butter
knife did. But more energy was expended in spreading with the shoe than with
the butter knife.


Our tests thus show that butter knifes function better as butter spreaders
than shoes do. Butter knives are therefore The Practical Instrument; shoes
are not. Shoes are objects of fetishistic worship, serving no practical


Cutlery, W. P., Mac the Knife, and S. P. Reader, 1995. "Testing Butter
Spreaders: some new results using school paste and styrofoam slabs,"
_Consumer Reports_ 55, Spring, pp. 103-29.