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Top 40 Philosophy Flashback: Dido, “Thank You”

Posted in Friendly Philosophy, Music, and Top 40 Philosophy

Since today is Thanksgiving here in America, let’s flashback to Dido’s “Thank You,” from 1998. The song made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2001.

So, evidently Dido lives in Mr. Fredricksen’s house from Up. Or, rather, the Pixar peeps are clearly Dido fans.

Also, what a bizarre music video. The song is about the happiness someone who loves you can bring, even when everything else in life is difficult. It starts sad, but ends happy. The video doesn’t. So weird.

“Thank You” got famous in America because Eminem used its first verse (and its verses’ music) as the musical track for his song “Stan.” So, what was a part of one song, became a part of another. I think that’s really cool. It reminds one of the “variations on a theme” practice of classical composers.

Saying that the verse of Dido’s “Thank You” is a “part” of the song implies that the song itself is a whole. Saying that it is a “part” of Eminem’s “Stan” also implies that “Stan,” the song, is a whole. So, we have one thing that is part of two different wholes.

“What would they be, other than wholes?” you ask.

Heaps,” I respond. “Collections. Sets. A bunch of individual wholes that happen to be hanging out together.”

Some purported songs are just heaps, rather than wholes. Take the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” (or, rather, don’t take it; it’s horrifying). But almost all albums are heaps, rather than wholes. They’re just a bunch of songs that happen to be released together. Only “concept albums” attempt to achieve full unity at the level of the album.

What’s particularly interesting about these issues (which belong to what philosophers call “mereology“) is the fact that they arise not only when you’re talking about music, but also when you’re talking about people and people groups. Are you a whole, or just a heap of your various atoms (or maybe organs)? That is, are you one thing, made up of many parts, or just a bunch of things that happen to be hanging out together? Similarly, are the groups you belong to wholes — is a group a single thing, and its members “parts” of it — or are they just a bunch of individual wholes that happen to be hanging out together?

I have some very strong opinions on these subjects, but I will leave you to discuss them with your family, which may or may not be a single whole/thing.

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