Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Doping arguments

thanks for your interesting contribution Carl. I'd like to see the reference for the full piece. You cite Miller Brown's wonderful summary of the doping and anti doping arguments and I agree pretty much with his conclusion that thinking through the ideas of athletic excellence will require us also to think about what constitutes human excellence. I have tried to do something a little like this in my latest (and long overdue) book on virtue ethics in sports.

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

Doping and the Double Standard in Professional Sport

People are generally opposed to the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport, and this negative reaction has a number of arguments at its root. For example, critics claim that these drugs affect the purity of the sport, or that they could possibly have unforeseen and negative side-effects on athletes. By far the most prominent claim against performance enhancers is that they give an illegal and undeserved edge to those who use them. I take issue with this view, not necessarily because it is incorrect, but because it masks what I see as a blatant double standard in professional sport. The full version of this argument appears in the latest edition of Think; I would just like to present the main idea here.

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.

Contributor Introduction - Carl Thomen

I am currently completing my PhD at the University of Gloucestershire, after meeting my supervisor Emily Ryall through this blog! To the best of my knowledge, I am the only South African actively pursuing a career in Sports Philosophy (if there's anyone else who is, or wants to, please email me!). As I'm sure you know, Apartheid had a devastating effect on South Africa, and 14 years into our new democracy, its repercussions are nowhere more visible than in our sporting structures, where issues concerning quotas and "transformation" make headlines almost every day. This was the subject of my Masters thesis, which I completed last year at UCT under Professor David Benatar.

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

Fairness and Performance-Enhancing Drugs

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

Philosophy of Sport at the Central APA

The annual meeting of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association is being held this week in Chicago, IL at the Palmer House Hilton.
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
12:15-2:15 p.m.
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

John Daly discusses Tiger Woods

Here's a great item from The Independent. Is John Daly on to something here? or is his argument merely sour grapes?

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."

Contributor Introduction--Jim Tantillo

I am a lecturer in environmental philosophy and environmental history in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University. When asked by Mike Austin to describe my interest in the philosophy of sport, I replied that mine is something more than a passing interest, although perhaps not yet a full-blown academic specialty. So I've read Suits, Callois, Weiss, Novak, for example, as well as Pieper, Huizinga, Kerr etc on play and leisure, but I'm eager to learn more.

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.

Contributor Introduction- Scott Kretchmar

I finally figured out how to get on this website. That does not bode well for my competence . . . either as a person in general or a sport philosopher. But I was told that I was welcome even as an incompetent.

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.

Scott Kretchmar
Professor, Penn State

Monday, April 14, 2008

Philosophy of Sport: A Short Introduction Part 1: History & Metaphysics


Some time during the 5th Century BCE, just outside of the Corinth on Greece’s Peloponnese, a budding young philosopher named Plato competed in wrestling at the Isthmian Games. Ancient Greece is recognized in the West as the birthplace of both philosophy and Olympic-style sport, and Plato may have been the first philosophical athlete. In the East, philosophy and martial arts have an equally ancient—though less-explored—connection. As a discrete academic field, however, Philosophy of Sport didn’t really take hold until 1969 when Paul Weiss of Yale University published Sport: A Philosophic Inquiry. Weiss was neither an expert nor a practitioner of sport, but his prominence as a philosopher caused the philosophical world at last to take a serious look at sport. Soon the Philosophical Society for the Study of Sport (now known as IAPS, the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport) was formed. The Journal of the Philosophy of Sport was launched in 1974, and a variety of books and anthologies on the subject were published in its wake. Growth in the field has accelerated in recent years with increasing interest and contributions from scholars beyond North America and Europe.


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, Amherst historian Allen Guttmann tried to define modern sport as an intersection between Huizinga’s non-serious play and the very serious contests found among ancient Greeks. He described sports as “non-utilitarian contests which include an important measure of physical as well as intellectual skill” (From Ritual to Record, 7). Guttmann also identified several distinctive qualities of modern sport such as secularism, equality of opportunity, specialization, rationalization, bureaucratic organization, quantification, the quest for records.

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

Contributor Introduction - Jesús Ilundáin Agurruza

Mens sana in corpore sano. Whoever came up with this line was an advertising genius or someone with sadistic leanings (or both).  I fell for it the moment I read it in a fifth grade book, that is, before my woefully inadequate rational side had a fair chance to critically assess it, discard it, and set me onto the sedate pleasures of a sedentary and philistine lifestyle. Which leads me to where I am today: instead of enjoying and reaping the benefits of a healthy and sound mind and body working harmoniously, as the dictum promised, I find myself split in body and mind, pulled between the lure of the sporting life and the siren song of wisdom (whether western or eastern depending on the direction of the wind). But in a twisted and Sisyphean way, I would not have it any other way.   Accordingly, I am currently an assistant professor of philosophy at Linfield College (nestled in a tidy pocket of the American Northwest) who "meditates" spinning on the hilly roads in the area.   My professional interests center on the philosophies  of sport, literature, and art and aesthetics (brewed all together for best results). If pushed I will confess a certain "professional deformation" for metaphysical issues in those areas, but truly all philosophical types of inquiry are fair game.  Teaching is another professional facet to which I am addicted in the best and worst senses of the word. When "off duty" I enjoy bicycle racing (seriously so), a pursuit I share with my "way-tougher-than-I-am" wife, Irene.  I am looking forward to sharing some of the musings that Sophia may inspire me with as I think or ride in this great race that life is.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Contributor Introduction - Emily Ryall

I am a senior lecturer in Philosophy in the Sport, Health and Social Care faculty of the University of Gloucestershire, UK. My interest in the Philosophy of Sport came about accidentally. Although I have always been involved in sport from a playing perspective, my background is in Philosophy and Linguistics. Nevertheless, I was fortunate enough to secure a funded PhD in Philosophy in a sports department, which opened up a whole new field of research that, as an undergraduate in Philosophy, I never even knew existed. My hope is, as the study of sport gains greater credibility (as it is still a fairly young academic subject) to see courses on the Philosophy of Sport becoming as common on undergraduate philosophy curricula, as those on the Philosophy of Religion, Aesthetics, or the Philosophy of Science.
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.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Contributor Introduction - Milan Hosta

I am an associate professor for the philosophy of sport at Faculty of Sport, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Due to lack of teaching hours, we are in the stage of curricula changes, I have devoted some of my recent time to development of practical guides for coaches and PE teachers in order to address fair play, discrimination and violence in sport Beside sport ethics, I found main interests in radical social ecology and dynamics of social changes, symbolic and social power of sport, and game theory. As an asthmatic, I teach buteyko breathing therapies as well, which brings me to the core principles of life habits i.e. breathing and eating. Through intensive observation of these bodily functions, the interest for spirituality spontaneously arises.