The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport(IAPS) is holding its annual conference in Whistler, BC, Canada, September 6-9, 2017. I will be attending and presenting. The title of my presentation is “The Value of Play and the Good Life”.
Here’s the abstract:
The dominant conception of play in sport philosophy is that it is must be autotelic. This conception, though, is the subject of some important criticisms. Stephen Schmid argues that the concept of autotelicity admits of many interpretations all of which fail to provide a clear and accurate picture of what play is. Randolph Feezell argues for a pluralistic conception of play, calling for us to acknowledge the variety of meanings and usages of play when we theorize about it. This pluralism seems to push back on the idea that play must always be autotelic and non-instrumental. Additionally, it is worth noting that the empirical literature on play focuses primarily on the external and instrumental benefits that play provides.
With these and other criticisms in mind, my paper seeks to move the discussion of play beyond the dichotomy of autotelicity and instrumentality. Even though most theorists acknowledge that players have mixed-motivations, purposes, and goals, there still is a tendency to treat autotelicity and instrumentality as exhausting the options for categorizing play. The underlying implicit assumption is that it must be either autotelic or instrumental: done for its own sake or done for the sake of something else. This assumption ignores or downplays a third possible category: an activity that is chosen for its own sake and at the same time chosen for the sake of something else.
Drawing a parallel to the role virtue and friendship have in a broadly construed (neo-) Aristotelian ethics, I argue that play is an important part of the good human life. Like virtue and friendship, play is chosen both for the sake of its importance to the good life and for its own sake. It is partly constitutive of the good life and thus chosen as part of and for the sake of the good life. At the same time, however, play is chosen for its own sake: for what it is distinct from any further ends it might bring about. Thus, play is not autotelic, but nor is it instrumental.
Recognizing play as a constituent value of the good life will allow us to integrate the internal and external, the autotelic and instrumental, and gain a better understanding of the value of play.