Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I take a really simple line - beneath the arguments about doping are arguments about sportspershonship and (if you will forgive the crudity that follows) that requires some thinking about personhood. I tried this at my first PSSS conference organised by Bill Morgan when he was at Tennessee (1991 I believe). I had the great good fortune to have the paper responded to by Scott Kretchmar who said a lot of nice things but felt essentially the line I had taken (following Charles Taylor) was too cognitively biased. Being the wise-young PhD student I was back then, I promptly ignored the advice. When I came to revising the paper for the book (last year) I was forced to concede that the ever-modest Professor saw it right all along and that I had to soften up the position and concede that, useful an idea as strong evaluation is (the capacity to choose evaluatively among ends), if we make this the benchmark for all persons, then infants, those in Persistent Vegitative States, severely mentally disabled (among others) don't count - and to lump them in a category of non-persons is just unacceptable.
Nevertheless, there is something in the idea that a full blown ideal of a sportsperson is someone who can stand outside of ego and economic incentives to realise that a fair contest is at the heart of sports. This does not mean that all inequalities can or ought to be wiped away. Sigmund Loland gave a great keynote at the last British Philosophy of Sport Association Conference last week in Denmark (a long story and one for anohter blog) where he reminded us that we are all interested in athletic inequalities so long as they are demonstrated by way of fair opportunity (a line reminiscent of Warren Fraleigh before him).
So the fairness will apply to the contest and certain aspects of the pre-contest (no genetic tests just yet though please). It will be conceded by anyone that certain inequalities are present which it is unreasonable to ask sports institutions to eliminate (your country's level of altitude, your parental genetic stock, and so on) but doping is something we can and ought to take a stand on for a variety of harm and sports-integrity reasons as applied sensitively to the heterogeneity of cases that occur.
I offer in the book a virtue theoretical critique (based in the vices of greed (well, pleonexia in the greek catalogue -a sort of unjust greed not mere gluttony) and the loss of shame (aidos) by those who simply "prepare badly" their pharmacological regime. But these virtue based arguments add to but do not clinch the argument necessarily. I offer further more technical ones in the shape of slippery slopes and a refutation of the ambiguity of doping rules based on arguments from the conceptual vaguess literature.
But a more simple and provocative one comes often to mind. We know that people speed when driving their cars. We know we won't stop (all of) them.
Driving too fast will not always harm others or ourselves.
Yet we think that posting a limit is a posture to settle an ideal - if you drive more than (say) 30mph near a built up area you may end up killing careless pedestrians; if you drive more than say 80mph and have a tyre blow out you may very well kill yourself.
People drive faster than this. Sometimes they do it with reckless disregard to their person, sometimes to other persons.
The rules present a rationally defensible ideal, that it is impossible always to enforce, but which is an ethically justified pursuit nonenetheless. And so it is with sport.
See what you think. Sorry about the egregious plug.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I believe that questioning the use of performance enhancers is valuable, as it leads to discussions concerning the legitimacy of rewarding athletes who are using all types of synthetic aids to be better and, ultimately, to win. There are also important ethical questions which occur on the slippery slope between sport in the traditional, amateur, ‘Greek’, understanding of the term, and sport played by super-enhanced, ‘semi-human’, and extremely well-paid athletes. If technology allowed one to alter one’s genes, or to attach robotic arms, legs, etc to become better at a sport (or for that matter, better human beings), should we allow it?
Technological innovations are present in all sports, and at all levels. Companies like Nike, Adidas, Speedo, New Balance and Reebok are constantly striving to manufacture products which give athletes the edge over their opponents. For example, swimmers are now using full-body suits made out of material that minimizes friction with the water. Yes, would come the reply, but how much difference do these suits really make? Well, since it was introduced in February, 19 long-course world swimming records have been set, all but one of those by a swimmer wearing Speedo’s new LZR suit. Coincidence? I think not (see
Spiked athletic shoes are also standard issue today. These shoes have been proved to reduce times by full seconds by virtue of the better grip, and therefore propulsion, that they afford the athlete. Simply put, if you don’t wear them, you are going to lose.
The examples above of swimmers and track athletes are particularly good ones as they both involve sports that have been the traditional bastions of those blowing the anti-doping trumpet the loudest. But isn’t this remarkable, as it seems athletes can use any technology (clothes, shoes, heart-rate monitors etc) to help them beat their opponent, as long as this technology is put on the outside of the body. Yes, comes the immediate response, but when you take performance enhancers, you are not competing. It is some super-you; you are performing way beyond your natural capacity. People who use this line of argument are simply (and conveniently) omitting the impact of new technology. Don’t swimming suits and running spikes do exactly the same thing? Anyone arguing from an “all athletes need equal footing” perspective is going to have to go the whole way and have us all passing the baton barefoot and naked.
This then is the double standard present today in professional sport: we allow technological improvements in equipment, like the Speedo LZR above, to help our athletes, but declare using (some) technological improvements in synthetic stimulants for the same ends illegal. This is not an argument for all types of steroids to be made available whole-sale to the public; I feel that this could well endanger many lives. I suggest as well that the best argument against drugs of this nature will come from the harm they may do our athletes. Some athletes might also want to argue (quite fairly) that they don’t want to risk their lives to compete and win, and that others willingness to do this puts them at a disadvantage. The fact is that many safe performance enhancers are banned alongside those that are dangerous – why not just ban the dangerous ones? I am not offering a complete policy on performance enhancers; I am merely asking us to rethink our intuitive reactions towards performance enhancers.
Apart from the above, I am also interested in performance enhancement (see my next post) and the effects of technology on sport and sportspeople. I also think that there is a good argument for the re-amateurization of (some) sport lurking around somewhere - when I have time, I would like to investigate it. I was a member of the national championship winning Eastern Province field hockey side in 2003, and have coached professionally in England and South Africa. Philosophically, I lean towards Nietzsche, Thoreau, Emerson and Stephen Vizinczey, among others. Otherwise, I am just grateful to get the opportunity to contribute to this forum - thanks Mike.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
There is an ongoing debate about the use of performance-enhancing substances such as steroids, human growth hormone, and EPO amid scandals and allegations involving elite athletes such as Barry Bonds, Floyd Landis, and Roger Clemens, among others. One argument often given against the use of performance-enhancing drugs is as follows:
(1) The use of certain performance-enhancing substances constitutes a form of cheating.
(2) Therefore, the use of such substances is fundamentally unfair.
(3) Such unfairness should not be allowed in sport.
(C) The use of certain performance-enhancing substances should not be allowed.
There is some initially plausibility to this argument. It does strike one as unfair that a cyclist might win a race because he used EPO, when his opponents did not. However, as W.M. Brown points out in his "As American as Gatorade and Apple Pie: Performance Drugs and Sports," this argument misses the point in an important way. If we are considering whether or not the bans in professional leagues and international competitions like the Olympic Games should be in place, then arguing that they should be forbidden because they are against the rules is not relevant and begs the question. What is required is a justification for the rules themselves.
Moreover, another problem arises when considering issues related to fairness. There are numerous inequalities that might lead one to conclude unfairness is simply a part of sport. For example, financial resources, quality of equipment, availability of well-funded training centers, excellence of coaching, and so on could create inequalities that directly or indirectly impact athletic performance. The upshot is that we need an argument showing why some inequalities are acceptable, whereas others are not. My own view is that introducing at least some performance-enhancing substances is wrong, though I'll save my reasons for that position for a later post.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport is holding a session. I attended this session last year, and it was enjoyable and thought-provoking. For those who live nearby or are already planning to attend, please note the following:
Saturday, April 19, 12:15-2:15 p.m.
International Association for the Philosophy of Sport
Topic: Philosophy of Sport
Chair: Jeffrey P. Fry (Ball State University)
Speakers: Michael W. Austin (Eastern Kentucky University)
“Magnanimity, Modafinil, and Moral Theory”
Heather Reid (Morningside College)
“Sport as Philosophy”
Nicholas Dixon (Alma College)
“Trash Talking as Irrelevant to Athletic Excellence: Response to Summers”
Jeffrey P. Fry (Ball State University)
“Underdogs, Upsets, and Overachievers”
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Daly would rather drink to Woods' fitness philosophy
By Phil Casey in Stockholm
Thursday, 16 August 2007
The former Open champion John Daly had a vivid and emphatic response yesterday to Tiger Woods' sermon on the benefits of physical fitness in golf.
"Every time I worked out I threw up and I thought to myself, 'I can get drunk and throw up, I don't need to do this!'" was Daly's view of Woods' comments after he won the 13th major of his career in the USPGA Championship on Sunday.
Woods defied the sweltering conditions at Southern Hills and afterwards extolled the virtues of his fitness programme.
"You should always train hard and bust your butt," Woods said following his two-shot victory achieved in temperatures well over 100 degrees. "That's what a sport is. The thing is that not everyone considers golf a sport and they don't treat it as such."
Woods did not name names, but Daly could be considered a prime example of the kind of player he was referring to, a 41-year-old smoker who has battled weight, drink and gambling problems – and gone through three divorces – which have undoubtedly dimmed his huge natural talent. But Daly insists that working out in the gym does not agree with him and has no intention of changing his ways to try to add a third major title to his 1991 USPGA and 1995 Open victories. "I think I did better than most players last week who do work out," he said, third after the opening round at Southern Hills before fading to a share of 32nd. "I saw Vijay [Singh] finding the shade of a tree whenever he could and he looked worn out. I don't think it matters if you work out or if you don't work out, I am used to the heat like that so it doesn't bother me as much as some of the other guys.
"I don't think training or conditioning has anything to do with it. Heat is heat but the fat boys like me, we can get through the heat.
"I tried (working out) when I was at Reebok in the early 1990s but I got tired of it, every time I worked out I threw up and I thought to mysel, "I can get drunk and throw up, I don't need to do this'!
"You throw up after an hour's work out, but you can drink for 20 hours before throwing up, so it is just not for me, I don't like it.
"I am flexible enough, but there are probably some things I could do to keep my flexibility up, but I just don't want to do it.
"I'd rather smoke, drink diet Cokes and eat! It just doesn't mean that much to me to work out, lift weights and run. I get enough exercise walking five or six miles a day."
I am particularly interested in connections between theology and play--the Catholic liturgy, for example, has been called "wasting time for God's sake." Also connections between scholarship and leisure, as these relate to play/game/sport; and leisure and play as objective goods necessary in ethics for human flourishing.
Most specifically I remain fascinated by the question I entertained some years ago in my dissertation on the philosophy and ethics of hunting: is hunting a sport? and if so why? So I guess I'm also interested in the semantics of the term, sport, because many critics of the term believe "sport" is a trivial or unimportant matter, whereas theologians/ethicists might argue that play/sport is what is most important for the good life.
"Anyway," I added, "The main reason [for joining the blog] is I think it would be fun. [Here I stuck a smiley face in my email.] That's my real justification and I'm sticking to it."
I'm very glad to be participating in this blog and am looking forward to some terrific discussions.
I've been involveded in sport philosophy since the beginning of time. I'm excited that a number of younger individuals have come aboard. There is still so much still to be analyzed and discovered.
Professor, Penn State
Monday, April 14, 2008
Some time during the 5th Century BCE, just outside of the
Socrates liked to begin his philosophical investigations with a “what is” question. To explore the question “What is sport?” however, many philosophers looked back to Johan Huizinga’s 1950 Homo Ludens, an analysis of the nature of play. Huizinga claimed that play is not just prior to sport, but also to culture and civilization. He further characterized play as not serious, not necessary (i.e. for survival), and separate from ordinary life. In 1978,
It was Bernard Suits’ playful dialogue The Grasshopper, however, that laid a serious foundation for sport metaphysics. Suits defined a game as the “voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles,” and noted as its necessary components (1) a “prelusory goal” also known as the “object of the game”; (2) constitutive rules which forbid the most efficient means toward the goal; and (3) a “lusory attitude,” that is the players’ conscious acceptance of rules which makes the game possible. In the game of basketball, then, the prelusory goal is to score points by putting the ball into the basket, the constitutive rules prohibit such useful means as ladders and running without bouncing the ball, and the lusory attitude is what makes the players see this activity as a game. Over the years, Suits’ definitions have been explored, refined, and applied directly to sport. In 2005 The Grasshopper was reissued as a sport philosophy classic.
Of course, sport is more than the games themselves, it also involves athletes, and traditional philosophical arguments about mind and body have been deftly applied to sport. In his 1990 book Philosophy of Sport, Drew Hyland considered the three positions of dualism, physicalism, and phenomenology. Although dualism has been the dominant view in Western philosophy, sports enthusiasts resisted its tendency to privilege mind over body and thereby to denigrate sport. Physicalism had more surface appeal, but tended to view the human being as a machine. Phenomenology, which focuses on the experience of the lived body, was Hyland’s preferred approach to the question for athletes. Now the view of a person as both mind and body, dubbed “holism” is the most popular metaphysical theory in the philosophy of sport.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Friday, April 4, 2008
My current research is primarily focused upon the effect that technology will have on the concept of the human athlete and its implications for sport (we have a funded PhD coming up on this which will be advertised shortly), although I tend to dabble in lots of different areas.
The rest of my life still revolves around playing sport and keeping as active as possible (I recently took up skateboarding and gymnastics!) and I hope to continue for as long as my body allows.