Friday, July 28, 2017

David Papineau's "Knowing the Score"

David Papineau is a professor of philosophy of natural science at Kings College London and a distinguished professor of philosophy at the City University of New York. The author of eight philosophy books, he lives in London, United Kingdom.

Papineau applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Knowing the Score: What Sports Can Teach Us About Philosophy (And What Philosophy Can Teach Us About Sports), and reported the following:
On this page of the book you will find some examples of rule-stretching in sport, including Fosbury’s Flop, belly-putting in golf, and Kevin Pietersen’s switch-hitting. This is in the course of a chapter that takes a largely tolerant attitude to gamesmanship (in Stephen Potter’s original definition: “How to win games without actually cheating”) – on the grounds that someone who isn’t looking for new ways to win isn't really trying.

Not that the book endorses all kinds of sporting transgressions. The chapter on Gamesmanship is the last of three in a section of the book entitled ‘Rules’, which distinguishes carefully between the formal rules applied by the officials, the code of fair play recognized by the athletes, and forms of sporting behaviour that are genuinely acceptable. My general line is that it’s generally all right to break the official rules, as long as it’s in line with the code of fair play – but that we need to watch out for cases where the athletes’ code starts licensing objectively nasty practices (like rampant drug use in cycling, or faking injury to get an opponent penalized in soccer).

I also use this discussion of sporting ethics to draw some general philosophical morals. Just as codes of fair play trump the official rules on the sports field, so do moral considerations trump the law of the land: it is often morally best to break the law and take the penalty, I argue, in real life as in sport. Similarly, the sporting context clarifies the relation between socially arbitrary conventions and objective morality: by and large, conventions simply specify the means by which different societies, or sports, uphold such universal values as courtesy and keeping your promises (which is why one and the same action can be moral in one society, or sport, but immoral in another).

This illustrates the general message of the book: sports offer philosophical insights that aren’t easily available elsewhere. I use sporting themes to probe a wide range of central philosophical issues: mind and action, altruism and cooperation, citizenship and nationality, identity and tradition. Time and again, the sporting evidence casts a novel light on long-standing philosophical problems. I've come to think of sports as the philosophical equivalent of particle accelerators in physics. Just as particle accelerators allow physicists to find out how matter behaves in exceptional high-energy conditions, so sports show us things about human beings that aren’t normally apparent in less testing conditions.
Visit David Papineau's website.

The Page 99 Test: Philosophical Devices.

--Marshal Zeringue