Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In Defense of Philosophy of Sport


Some are skeptical that sport is worthy of the attention of philosophers. They may reject philosophy of sport because sport is an element of so-called “low” culture rather than high culture.[1] Others may be concerned about the violence, anti-intellectualism, fascistoid hero worship, and morally problematic tribalism that can be found in sporting contexts. And perhaps others simply find sport uninteresting as a context for doing philosophy.

 However, there are many reasons why sport merits the attention of philosophers.

First, many of the foregoing reasons for rejecting philosophy of sport are examples of the type of reflection upon sport done by people working in the field. Philosophers of sport engage the morally and socially troubling aspects of this realm of human life. Given the centrality of sport across numerous cultures, philosophers can provide a useful and important corrective to the excesses of sport and sporting culture. Fortunately, however, there are more hopeful reasons for engaging in philosophy of sport related to its more positive aspects, including the numerous connections that exist between morality and sport. I'll have more to say on this in a future post.

Second, philosophical work done in the context of sport is relevant to other areas of philosophy. It can illuminate issues in metaethics, normative ethical theory, philosophy of law, biomedical ethics, and issues related to race, gender, and social justice.[2]

Finally, moral philosophers should not only be concerned with a conceptual analysis of morality, seeking to understand the sources of our obligations, and elucidating a sound normative ethical theory. They should, in the tradition of Aristotle, also be concerned with becoming virtuous. Philosophical reflection upon sport and a philosophical approach to it can help us understand and engage in the process of moral development via the cultivation of virtue in our sporting lives which we may then transfer to the rest of our lives.

For those readers who are able to attend, this year's London Lectures at the Royal Institute of Philosophy all deal with philosophy of sport. And for those unable to attend, at some point videos will be made available at the website of the Institute.

[1] For a sustained argument against this view, see William J. Morgan, Why Sports Morally Matter (London: Routledge, 2006).
[2] For example, see Jan Boxill (ed.), Sports Ethics: An Anthology Anthology (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003; William Morgan, Ethics in Sport, 2d. ed. (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2007).