Shummie asked:

I am writing this question in order to understand the process in which a philosopher would approach such a question. I understand that this question is not academic, however I do think there are deeper implications. This is a question that one of my children asked me when he was about four. He definitely challenged me! Here’s the question: Does grilled cheese have to be burned? As you can see, at first glance, the answer is clearly no, grilled cheese does not have to be burned. As a philosopher, what is the logical process that you would undertake to answer this question?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

Frankly, Shummie, you would be better off asking a scientist such questions. That is: if you wish to have it answered as a question on the physics of transformation by fire. What the ‘deeper implications’ might be, I cannot conceive. But I think you are confusing language use with something else. Or perhaps you are angling for a ‘philosophical’ solution to the problem of differentiating between ‘a little bit burnt’ and ‘a lot burnt’? Then you must ask a chemist. Whereas you and I would judge this issue by the brown and black colour. But how would a blind person define ‘burnt’? By taste, evidently. And much as I regret to say: nothing that your tongue can do has any deep implications whatever.

But I don’t wish to leave you entirely without guidance. I believe that toasters are for sale these days that guarantee perfectly toasted cheese, and the people who make them would obviously be experts on the topic. You must ask them, because plainly you owe your offspring an exact (if not exactly philosophical) explanation.

Answer by Shaun Williamson

Well this is difficult because there is nothing especially philosophical about your question so we have to answer it in the same way as anyone would. It is simply a question of asking does what we, in everyday use, call grilled cheese include the idea of burnt cheese. It doesn’t and recipes for grilled cheese don’t insist that the cheese must be burnt.

So the answer is that to make grilled cheese you have to grill the cheese, at least to its melting point, but you don’t have to burn it – burning is an optional extra.