Can one add by subtracting?

When a man applies for a permit to go into business as an innkeeper and the application is turned down, this is not comic.  But if it is turned down because there are so few innkeepers, it is comic, because the reason for the application is used as the reason against it.  For example, there is a story about a baker who said to a poor woman, "No, mother, she does not get anything; there was another one recently who didn’t get anything, either.  We can’t give to everybody."  The comic aspect lies in his appearing to arrive at the sum total "everybody" by subtracting.

That is from Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscripts.  I will ponder this question as I fly to Denmark…


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