Sport: A Philosophic Inquiry
Man, Sport and Existence: A Critical Analysis
How far can philosophy be subdivided into departmental pieces? Can there be a philosophy of anything? These questions are inspired by the books by Paul Weiss and Howard Slusher, each of which proclaims itself to be a pioneering contribution to the philosophy of sport. Not all that long ago the recognized divisions of philosophy were logic, metaphysics, and ethics, three territories whose frontiers had been authoritatively drawn by Aristotle (the subjects named in his other main treatises, physics and politics, for example, having come under new, non-philosophical management). Until the last couple of decades little had been done to elaborate this trinity of disciplines beyond dividing metaphysics into ontology and epistemology and tacking on aesthetics as a poor relation to ethics.
Nowadays the course offerings of university philosophy departments and the sub-classifications of academic libraries that have gone beyond the embarrassing inclusiveness of the Dewey decimal system, with its accommodation for works on palmistry and bed-wetting within the philosophical domain, are very much more diversified. There are philosophies of art, science, history, religion, the social sciences, action, mind, and a host of others. But these sub-philosophies generally have as their object some essentially intellectual enterprise, a kind of thinking, a distinguishable way of searching for knowledge.
No one, of course, is going to be much astonished to come across books or articles with titles like “A New Philosophy of Haybox Cookery,” “The Philosophy of Seduction,” or “My Philosophy of Interior Decoration.” But in such cases we are dealing with an accepted figurative use of the word “philosophy,” a kind of genial, unserious exaggeration like calling one’s wife “the boss.” Where we are invited to consider the philosophy of some specific, everyday, practical activity we know that we shall find general reflections about how and why the activity in question should be carried on, laying down broad principles for doing it effectively and a justification, perhaps, for doing it at all. But Weiss and Slusher are not philosophers of sport in this sense. They face the novel task they have imposed on themselves with the fullest professional solemnity.
They are both conscious of being innovators. Slusher observes, in his unforgettable prose, “In a way, this effort is representative of a ‘Model-T’ of things to come. To expect this work to be a definitive analysis of sport is to forget the present stage of relative infancy in the conceptual literature germane to this area.” And Weiss, less memorably, remarks, “On physiological and related issues there are, fortunately, a number of excellent studies. Apart from these, I have not found much knowledge or insight in the literature…. The best writings are technical. They offer hints and advice…. But they leave a place for only an occasional idea, and this is usually borrowed and rather frayed.”
Weiss attributes the neglect hitherto of the philosophy of sport, and of the so far unexplored philosophies of sex, work, play, and worldly success, to the obsession of philosophers with the genteel and respectable, prevalent since the…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.