ASU: Philosophy of Sport in Spring 2023

I will be teaching Philosophy of Sport again in Spring 2023 at ASU!

PHI 371: Philosophy of Sport

Course Description:

An inquiry into philosophical issues in sport. Topics and readings will vary, but may include: the nature and definition of sport, an examination of the main theories of sport, metaphysical and epistemological issues, and the aesthetics of sport. Since PHI 370 Sports Ethics examines ethical issues in sport, this course will not primarily deal with ethical issues.

This course counts as an elective for the Sports, Cultures and Ethics Certificate.

The course also counts towards the Humanities General Studies (HU) requirement as ASU.

Here is tentative schedule for the readings:

Week One: Introduction and overview

Week Two: Defining Sport

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Bernard Suits, “The Elements of Sport” in Osterhoudt, Robert G. The Philosophy of Sport: a Collection of Original Essays. Springfield, Ill., Thomas, 1973
    • McBride, Frank. “Toward A Non Definition of Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 2, 1975, pp. 4–11.

Weeks Three and Four: Sport and Play

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Suits, Bernard. “Words on Play.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 4, 1977, pp. 117–131.
    • Roochnik, David. “Play and Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 2, 1975, pp. 36-44.
    • Feezell, Randolph. “A Pluralist Conception of Play.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 37, 2010, pp. 147-165.

Weeks Five and Six: Sport and Games

  • Assigned Reading:
    • Suits, Bernard. “Tricky Triad: Games, Play, and Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 15, 1988, p. 1-10.
    • Meier, Klaus V. “Triad Trickery: Playing With Sport and Games.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 15, 1988, pp. 11–30.
    • C. Thi Nguyen, “Philosophy of Games.” Philosophy Compass, Vol. 12, No. 8, 2017, p 1-18.

Week Seven: Sport and Art

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Cordner, Christopher. “Differences Between Sport and Art.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 15, no. 1, 1988, pp. 31–47.
    • Holt, Jason. “Sport as art, dance as sport.” AUC Kinanthropologica, Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 138–145.

Week Eight: Are E-Sports Sport?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Hemphill, Dennis, “E-sports are Not Sports.” Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, Vol 13, 2019, pp 3-18.
    • Gawrysiak, Joey, “E-sport: Video Games as Sport” in Defining Sport, edited by Shawn E. Klein, Lexington Books, 2016, pp 207-221

Spring Break

Week Nine: Theories of Sport: Formalism

  • Assigned Reading:
    • D’Agostino, Fred. “The Ethos of Games.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 8, no. 1, Fall 1981, pp. 7–18.
    • Morgan, William J. “The Logical Incompatibility Thesis and Rules: A Reconsideration of Formalism as an Account of Games.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 14, no. 1, Jan. 1987, pp. 1–20.

Weeks Ten and Eleven: Theories of Sport: Broad Internalism/Interpretivism

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Simon, Robert. “Internalism and Internal Values in Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 27, no. 1, 2000, pp. 1–16.
    • Russell, John. “Are Rules All an Umpire Has to Work With?” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 26, 1999, pp. 27–49.
    • Dixon, Nicholas. “Canadian Figure Skaters, French Judges, and Realism in Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 30, no 2, 2003, pp. 103–116.

Week Twelve: Theories of Sport: Practices and Narratives

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Brown, W. Miller. “Practices and Prudence.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 17, no. 1, Jan. 1990, pp. 71–84
    • Gleaves, John. “Sport as Meaningful Narratives.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 44, 2017, pp. 29–43.

Week Thirteen:  Theories of Sport: Deep Conventionalism

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Morgan, William. “Broad Internalism, Deep Conventions, Moral Entrepreneurs, and Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 39, 2012, pp. 65–100.
    • Moore, Eric. “Against Deep Conventionalism.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 45, no. 3, 2018, pp. 228–40.

Week Fourteen: Mind and Body

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Breivik, Gunnar. “Zombie-Like or Superconscious? A Phenomenological and Conceptual Analysis of Consciousness In Elite Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol. 40, no 1, 2013, pp. 1–22.
    • Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine, “Rationality and Caring: An Ontogenetic and Phylogenetic Perspective,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 29, no. 2, 2002, pp. 136-148.

Week Fifteen: Knowing in Sport

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Steel, Margaret, “What We Know When We Know A Game,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 4, no. 1, 1977, pp. 96-103.
    • Birch, Jens Erling, “Skills – do we really know what kind of knowledge they are?” Sport, ethics and philosophy, Vol.10, no. 3, 2016, pp.237-250

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The Abomination of the Pitch Clock

Major League Baseball has announced rule changes for 2023 that would introduce a pitch clock into the major leagues. This is an abomination; a violation of the metaphysics of the game.

Baseball is a game outside of and separate from time. More precisely, it is a game without measured, clocked time.

There is no game clock or play clock. At-bats, innings, games do not have a set or defined time.

Games have an official time only in the descriptive sense of how long the game took: the official game time has no bearing on the game itself. There is no extra time, injury time, half time, two-minute warning, or even time-outs.

It is true that we often here that “time-out” has been called: in broadcasts, game write-ups, etc. This is, however, just a confused borrowing of the concept of “time-out” from other sports. The rules of the game don’t mention a ‘time-out’. They mention ‘time.’ The umpire can call ‘time’ to suspend play (and players/managers can request ‘time’). Notice the suspension of play, the stoppage of play, is not marked by calling for a time out but instead by calling for ‘time.’ This suggests that time is being introduced, rather than stopped. And then when the umpire calls ‘play’: time ceases and play begins. In baseball, play is outside time: the introduction of time stops play.

 Rule 3.12 When an umpire suspends play, he shall call “Time.” At the umpire-in-chief’s call of “Play,” the suspension is lifted and play resumes. Between the call of “Time” and the call of “Play” the ball is dead.

There are several points in the rules that give the umpire some discretion regarding game-action or, more typically, delay based on “reasonable time” passing. And there is Rule 8.04 which specifies (or rather specified) 20 seconds for the pitcher to pitch. (It was later reduced to 12 seconds and with the recent MLB announcement has changed to some new baroque arrangement). And the basis for rule 8.04 goes back at least to 1910, but probably further (1910 was the earliest reference I found). So, this is no modern fluke. However, the 20 seconds was never measured or clocked. It was always up to the umpire (and rarely enforced).

Pace of Play

Many think baseball needs a pitch clock to increase the pace of play. There is a worry that the games have gotten too long and that has affected viewership and fan interest. I am not sure that’s true, but I also don’t think this is the solution. We can agree pace of play is an issue without introducing time into the game.  There are other ways to incentive faster play that are more consistent with the history and essence of the game.  (See my foul strike proposal for one example.)

Play and Sport

The relationship between play and sport is a complex one, but in all sport, even professional sport, an element of play remains. Johan Huizinga was one of the premier scholars of play and its importance to culture. In his famous work, Homo Ludens, he argues that one key element of play is that it is out of the ordinary: “It is rather a stepping out of “real” life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all of its own” (8). Further on he says that “Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration” (10). Play is extra-ordinary: it has its own time and space, its own internal boundaries and limitations. It is the carving out of this special time and place that marks something as play; that gives play its magic, so to speak. It either allows us to be entirely absorbed (as we while away the hours unaware, totally enmeshed in a world-building game like Civilization or Minecraft) or creates the tension of the activity: the way in which the last few game-minutes of a timed-game like football or basketball can take much longer in real time, creating the tension of running one last play in the last two seconds—something not possible without the game’s special construct of time.

Baseball utterly and purposely disregards discrete measurement of time. It is measured by other things: strikes, balls, outs, runs. Time is not a factor in any of these. To introduce the discrete and clocked measurement of time, so that batter has 8 seconds to get set, a pitcher 15 seconds to pitch, etc., is to introduce something totally alien to baseball.

Part of the magic of baseball is that there is no time: as long as you have an out to give, you have a chance. It doesn’t matter how many runs you are down by or how long the game has gone on: if your side still has an out, you have life. The battle between pitcher and batter is one of the central games within the game: and it is not limited by time. The pitcher either gets the batter out on strikes, walks the batter, or the batter puts the ball into the play: this might be an out, a hit, or run. But there are no other limits. This makes it purely a contest between the pitcher and batter. And that’s the essence of baseball. Bringing in time undermines this. It introduces an external limitation on the play of the game; one that violates the metaphysics of the game.

As a comparison, consider taking away the discrete measurement of time from American football. The clock runs without stopping: this would fundamentally change the nature of the game: the tactics, the plays, the style of play, etc.  Football is all about the discrete and precise measure of space and time: baseball is the opposite: space and time are not measured or, rather, is rarely measured as part of the play (yes a home run has to go a minimum distance, but that’s kind of secondary to it: once it’s gone that far, it’s a home run). In each sport, these relationships to space and time are essential to the nature and play of the game.

To many this might sound like a cranky baseball purist who doesn’t want to see the game evolve or change. That is to entirely misread the argument here. The point is not that there shouldn’t be rule changes to improve and progress the game. Of course, there should; and there always has been. But there is a difference in kind between changing the mound height or the rules about foul balls as strikes, on one hand, and introducing time into a time-less game. The former are emendations, revisions, or extensions to the game as it is. They might be judged better or worse, for example, at how well they help to create a balance between batting and pitching or even the overall spectacle. The latter kind of change, however, is a fundamental change to the game’s essence.  It might improve the spectacle by some measure but at the cost of the game itself.

That is why the pitch clock is abomination.


Filed under baseball, play

JPS: Book Reviewers Needed

The Journal of the Philosophy of Sport is looking for book reviewers. Specifically, they are looking for people to review the following:

If you are interested, reach out to Emily Ryall, associate editor and book review editor, at JPS.

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Podcast: The Tully Show

I had the great pleasure of joining Mike Tully on his podcast: The Tully Show. We had a wide-ranging conversation about sports ethics and the ethics of sports fandom. Check it out:

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Examined Sport: Leslie Howe “Gamesmanship”

In this episode of Examined Sport, I examine Leslie Howe’s “Gamesmanship.” Published in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport in 2004, this article quickly became a classic, the go-to article on the topic of gamesmanship. In the article, Howe defines the concept of gamesmanship and analyses the ethical dimensions of gamesmanship in sport.

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Related Links and Information:

  • Leslie A. Howe, “GamesmanshipJournal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 31, 2004, pp 212-225.

Opening and Closing Musical Credits:

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Post IAPS Conference Reflections

I recently returned from the IAPS annual conference. This was a special one: the 50th anniversary of the organization. Founded in 1972 as the Philosophic Society for the Study of Sport, it has grown to be the premier philosophy of sport organization in the world. It changed its name to the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport (IAPS) in 1999 to reflect its international stature. In addition to the standard philosophy panels, there was a wonderful celebration of one of the central founders of the society, the late Warren Fraleigh.

My talk went, I think, really well. I got a lot of great feedback from folks with suggestions for developing the paper further. I was honored to be paired with two great philosophy of sport scholars, Jeff Fry and Nick Dixon. Jeff spoke about free will and Nick about immoral attitudes in sport. Both talks gave me lots to think about.

I chaired a session on ancient philosophy that was really wide-ranging and interesting. The first paper, by Oh-Ryun Kwon and Jeong-Hyo Kim drew some fascinating comparisons between Plato and Confucius on mind-body issues. Breanna McCoy then discussed the interrelations between the concepts of democracy, sport, and philosophy. Lastly, Jenny Schiff examined Aristotle’s virtue of bravery and its application to sport.

I few other highlights:

  • John Russell critique of Suits utopia of games showed many pitfalls in Suits’ otherwise brilliant account of games.
  • Adam Copeland and Tom Rorke examined the idea of athletic citizenship as a way to understand athletic role models. I don’t agree with them, but their paper raises important issues.
  • Mitchell Berman laid out a robust framework for thinking about transgender participation.
  • Jo Morrison and Eric Moore presented some really compelling evidence about placebo performance enhancing that calls into question a lot of the assumptions about PED. In particular, Jo Morrison was exciting to listen to: I’d love to have taken some science classes with her.

There were many other terrific talks, and many more I wished I could have attended.

Next year’s conference is in Split, Croatia. It looks to be another great one; the location is amazing. Alas, it’ll likely be too far and too expensive for me to go. But the year after that is in Nova Scotia, so that is much more doable for me.


Filed under Conferences, IAPS

New Book: Sport Realism: A Law Inspired Theory of Sport

I’m thrilled to announce the publication of the newest book in the Studies in Philosophy of Sport Book Series.

Sport Realism CoverIn Sport Realism: A Law-Inspired Theory of Sport, Aaron Harper defends a new theory of sport—sport realism—to show how rules, traditions, and officiating decisions define the way sport is played. He argues that sport realism, broadly inspired by elements of legal realism, best explains how players, coaches, officials, and fans participate in sport. It accepts that decisions in sport will derive from a variety of reasons and influences, which are taken into account by participants who aim to predict how officials will make future rulings.

Harper extends this theoretical work to normative topics, applying sport realist analysis to numerous philosophical debates and ethical dilemmas in sport. Later chapters include investigations into rules disputes, strategic fouls, replay, and makeup calls, as well as the issue of cheating in sport. The numerous examples and case studies throughout the book provide a wide-ranging and illuminating study of sport, ranging from professional sports to pick-up games.

Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1: Interpretivism
  • Chapter 2: Hard Cases for Interpretivism
  • Chapter 3: Legal Realism and Sport Realism
  • Chapter 4: Cheating
  • Chapter 5: Sport Realism and Ethics

About the Author:

Available now at AmazonLexington, and other book sellers.

Studies in Philosophy of Sport Book Series

Series Editor: Shawn E. Klein, Ph.D. ( // )

The Studies in Philosophy of Sport series from Lexington Books encourages scholars from all disciplines to inquire into the nature, importance, and qualities of sport and related activities. The series aims to encourage new voices and methods for the philosophic study of sport while also inspiring established scholars to consider new questions and approaches in this field.

More on the series.

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Conference: IAPS 2022 @ Penn State

I will be attending and presenting at the IAPS conference at Penn State in August.

The 49th IAPS 2022 Meeting celebrates the organization’s 50th anniversary. The meeting will be held from Sunday, August 14, 2022 to Wednesday, August 17, 2022 at Penn State University. More info about the conference here.

I am presenting my paper: “Gamesmanship as Discovery Process”

Here’s the abstract:

In her classic article, “Gamesmanship,” Leslie Howe argues that gamesmanship is wrong when it “subverts excellence in favor of wining” (216). She also acknowledges that certain forms of gamesmanship are compatible with the ideals of sports and excellence. Subsequent work on gamesmanship has explored what kinds of gamesmanship fit into this latter category.

In this presentation, I argue that a more permissive view of gamesmanship, of even the subversive type, is important for helping to discover essential features of sport. I will do this through an analogy to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is often described as a process by which individuals discover information about the needs, desires, or plans of market participants. This information is not known to anyone a priori; it has to be discovered. This entrepreneurial discovery process is one of speculative trial and error, daringness, imagination, and alertness. Acting from a place of imperfect and necessarily incomplete information, entrepreneurial discovery is essential for identifying the kind of knowledge needed for market success.

The entrepreneur is not primarily motivated to act in order to create this knowledge. She is first and foremost looking for profit opportunities. But through the discovery process of searching for and acting on such opportunities, this knowledge about our needs and desires and how to better satisfy them is identified.

By analogy, gamesmanship can also be a discovery process. This process is not, of course, about discovering anything about market participants. Instead, the process helps to discover the meaning of the rules and other central elements of our understanding of sport. It is widely recognized that the meaning, extent, and application of the rules of sport are underdetermined. We cannot foresee every possibility or relevant case. We also never have an authoritative or complete understanding of the underlying principles or norms of the sport. Gamesmanship can help to discover and form this vision.

Through trial and error and imagination, gamers, seeking mainly competitive advantage, push the boundaries of rules, discovering loopholes that were not intended or foreseen. This allows us to reflect: do we like what was done by the gamer? In so doing, we discover new things about the underlying vision, norms, and principles of the sport. More than that, this process helps us to form that vision.

For example, Coach Belichick lines up the running back as a receiver but has him declared ineligible. This confuses the defense and the Patriots score a touchdown. Is this a creative or cynic use of the rules? Is this the way we want NFL offenses to operate? Since the NFL later changed its rules, their answer seems to be no. But we didn’t know that until Belichick’s “artful manipulation of the rules” (Howe 213). His gamesmanship allowed us to discover something new about the rules and the underlying vision of the sport. In this presentation, I will argue that permitting such manipulation is valuable for discovering how to understand and evaluate sport.


Howe, Leslie A. “Gamesmanship.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 31, no. 2, 2004, pp. 212–25.

Johnson, Christopher, and Jason Taylor. “More Than Bullshit: Trash Talk and Other Psychological Tests of Sporting Excellence.Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, vol. 14, no. 1, 2020, pp. 47–61.

Kirzner, Israel M. “Entrepreneurial Discovery and the Competitive Market Process: An Austrian Approach.” Journal of Economic Literature, vol. 35, no. 1, 1997, pp. 60–85.

Morgan, William J. Sport and Moral Conflict: A Conventionalist Theory, Temple University Press, 2020.

Russell, J.S. “Are Rules All an Umpire Has to Work With?” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 26, no. 1, 1999, pp. 27-49.

Simon, Robert L. “Internalism and Internal Values in Sport. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 27, no. 1, 2000, pp. 1–16.

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Filed under Conferences, gamesmanship, IAPS, Philosophy

IAPS @ Pacific APA 2022

IAPS is hosting a session at this year’s Pacific APA. The Pacific APA is being held in Vancouver, BC Canada , April 13-16, 2022.

The session is Friday April 15, 2022, 7-9 pm

Chair: Shawn E. Klein (Arizona State University)


Christopher C. Yorke (Langara College)
“Bernard Suits and the Paradox of the Perfectly Played Game”

Comments by: Jack Bowen (Independent Scholar)

Jeff Fry (Ball State University)
“Is Anyone on First? Sport, Agency, and the Divided Self”

Comments by: Nathanael Pierce (Arizona State University)

More Information about the Pacific APA 2022.

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Examined Sport: Cesar Torres and Peter Hagar, “The Desirability of the Season Long Tournament: A Response to Finn”

In this episode of Examined Sport, I look at Cesar Torres and Peter Hager’s article: “The Desirability of the Season Long Tournament: A Response to Finn.” Published in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport in 2011, this article, as the title suggests, is Torres and Hager’s response to Stephen Finn’s “In Defense of the Playoff System.” While Finn defended a playoff system, in their article, Torres and Hager challenge that defense and offer arguments for superiority of the season-long tournament model over the playoff system.

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Filed under Examined Sport, playoffs, podcast