What Is Diet Coke?

August 21, 2007

I started my teaching gig this afternoon with a session in my Intro. to Philosophy course. We did all the normal things like making introductions and going over the syllabus and the books we are going to use, but I also had the students read a blogpost by the Freakonomics author Steven Levitt over at the New York Times. The post is about a new ad campaign by the Coca-Cola company that promotes the fact that Diet Coke is 99% water. Since water is now a good thing to buy and to drink, this is used as proof that Diet Coke is likewise healthy, refreshing, and fashionable. We searched out (with much prodding from Herr Professor) the philosophical debates that might be underpinning this blogpost and its arguments.

  1. perception and value. Why do I like or dislike Diet Coke? How do I know that I like or dislike Diet Coke?
  2. ethics. Is it right to sell something that is 99% water at such inflated prices? Is advertising Diet Coke–a luxury item–convincing people to buy Diet Coke when they should be buying milk for their baby?
  3. political philosophy. Why does our government regulate the ingredients of Diet Coke? Is this for our benefit, and how?
  4. free will vs. determinism. Am I free to choose not to drink Diet Coke? How does my culture dictate my supposedly free decisions?
  5. ontology. What is Diet Coke?

This last question freaked them out pretty bad. They had a hell of a time answering the question. Answers:

  • a carbonated beverage with no calories (me: sounds like Diet 7Up)
  • something with a Diet Coke label (me: we can move the label to a different product)
  • the 1% of flavor (me: so the water in the can is not part of the beverage?)

I haven’t told them yet that there is an ideal place where the form of Diet Coke exists in all its glorious ding an sich.

(Image is a collage of canvases painted by David Payton.)

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6 Responses to “What Is Diet Coke?”

  1. Alex Says:

    I think this is just another example of your great love for me, due to my great love of Diet Coke (aka The Perfect Beverage).

  2. Little Mary Says:

    oh love you are just the coolest. i wish i had you as my professor way back when! sounds like a great class.


  3. Funny–I talk about Diet Coke in the Chemistry class I teach. It has a lower specific gravity than regular Coke, so it floats while a can of regular Coke sinks. Under pressure, it can hold more disolved carbon dioxide than after the can is opened. It contains organic acids and a peptide.

    Somehow, your example seems like more fun.

  4. sheepdays Says:

    That’s funny about the carbon dioxide. When I was a bartender in college, I needed twice as much time to make a drink with Diet Coke because it’s so fizzy. Regular Coke pours so much more cooperatively into a glass. I’m sure you all have seen the amazing Mentos and Diet Coke videos that are all over the internet.
    I know a big thing in universities and colleges these days are “learning communities” that unite different disciplines around a specific topic. Hey Rebecca, we could start the Diet Coke LC!

  5. Matthew Says:

    Brett, This is why I loved having you as a teacher (even if it was only for a few weeks during Hebrew Hell), you clearly have a love for the learning that comes from asking good questions. Lucky students.

  6. Mary Beth Says:

    I detest Diet Coke. Now I am so happy that I can know why! 🙂

    Just don’t be messing with coffee, ‘k?


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