Category Archives: Philosophy

The Sports Ethics Show: The Value of Play

This episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is the audio version of my talk “The Value of Play”. Recorded at The Atlas Summit on June 22, 2014, the full video (including a Q&A period) is available at http://www.atlassociety.org/as/value-play and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=texwMP6W9U.

The following is the description from The Atlas Society website:

Work and career are central values in Objectivism. Play doesn’t get a lot of focus in Ayn Rand’s fiction or in Objectivist philosophy. Play, though, offers many positive benefits and is a ubiquitous feature of human civilizations.

In this video, author  Shawn Klein presents an Objectivist conception of the value of play by way of answering the following questions. What role is there for play in an Objectivist life? Can play be a part of one’s central purpose? What is the relationship between the virtues (such as productivity and rationality) and play?

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The Sports Ethics Show: Are Video Games Sport?

In this episode of The Sports Ethics Show, Joey Gawrysiack (Shenandoah University) and I discuss whether video games can be sport. Can video games be considered Sport? A controversial question because it raises questions about the nature of sport and the nature of video games as well as the value of each. Dr. Joey Gawrysiak of Shenandoah University joins the show to discuss the ways in which we can understand video games as sport.

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Video: The Value of Play

This past summer, I presented my talk, “The Value of Play,” at The Atlas Summit. In the presentation, I discuss how play, properly understood, can and should be a part of a purposive and well-lived life.

Here’s the recording of the talk. (or go to youtube)

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Ray Rice, the NFL, and Theories of Punishment

Update Sept 8, 2014: After a new video was released to the public, Rice was cut by the Baltimore Ravens and then suspended indefinitely by the NFL. ESPN story.

Let me join my voice to the cacophony of criticism crashing into the NFL regarding the Ray Rice suspension.

Rice, a running back with the Baltimore Ravens, received a two game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. He allegedly hit his fiancée (now wife) in an Atlantic City hotel in February. The incident was caught on video and Rice was arrested for assault. He avoided trial by entering an intervention program.

Since the league announced its suspension last week, there has been near unanimity in opinion that the suspension was too light and that it sends the wrong kind of message. Like most, I was surprised that Rice was only suspended for two games. I expected at least four.

I don’t have much to add to what has been said all over the internet and airwaves. Like all decent human beings, I abhor this kind of violence and think Rice deserved a harsher punishment (both from our legal system and from the NFL). The first fault lies with our justice system which allows one to avoid justice through so-called intervention programs. The second fault lies with the NFL system of administrating violations of its personal conduct policy. It is arbitrary, lacks consistency, and has little transparency. Both of these need serious reform.

I decided to write a post on this because there is a philosophically issue worth pointing out. It might help explain the disconnect between the NFL and the rest of the country (but it might not!).

What is punishment for? Is the point of punishment to give wrongdoers what they deserve? Is the point of punishment to deter other like behaviors? Is punishment about giving something back to the victim? Many of the ways people respond to cases like Rice’s depends in part on how they answer these questions.

There is a long philosophically history to these questions that, like all interesting and worthwhile philosophical questions, traces back to the Ancient Greeks. I don’t intend to answer them here (I refer you to the Stanford Encyclopedia and the Internet Encyclopedia for good summations of various theories and views).

Most of the public response to the Ray Rice case centers on the question of sending a message about domestic violence. The perception is that the NFL went light on Rice and so is implicitly saying to the world, especially to its players, that domestic violence isn’t all that bad. The league has wide discretion in cases like this and so it could have suspended Rice for much longer. In not doing so, it looks like it doesn’t take domestic violence as serious as the rest of think it should. It isn’t so much about Rice, his actions, and what he deserves; it is about the perception and impact of the punishment on society. (Call this the ‘message’ view.)

On the other hand, the NFL might not be thinking about punishment as a message. It may be that they are looking at specifically what Rice deserves in this particular case. (Call this the ‘desert’ view.) Rice was a first-time offender. He has a good reputation for community work and as a teammate. His wife, the victim, went to the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, to plead for leniency in Rice’s case. In his meeting with Goodell, we have to assume (based on Goodell’s comments) that Rice was contrite, that he took responsibility for his actions, and that he outlined the steps he is taking (counseling and what not) to make sure he doesn’t screw up again.

If Goodell’s thinking on punishment is primarily about what the wrongdoer deserves (as opposed to the message sent or the broader consequences for society), then maybe Goodell looked at all of this and determined that Rice didn’t deserve in this case a harsher punishment.  (I don’t think this; I am only suggestion a possible way to interpret Goodell’s decision.)

If this is the case, then it helps to explain (maybe) the disconnect between the NFL and the rest of us. We are looking for the message, the consequences for society. We want to see a powerful institution like the NFL tell the world that domestic violence is intolerable under all circumstances. Goodell and the NFL, on the other hand, might just be looking at the specific circumstances of Ray Rice and what his case of assault deserves independent of any social message.

This leaves open the question on both theories of punishment of what the appropriate punishment ought to be.  What amount games would have been appropriate for the ‘message’ view? Four? Eight? The whole season? And for the ‘desert’ view, is two games really what Rice deserved? I don’t envy judges or commissioners who have to make these determinations. But it is essential to be clear on what standards one uses and what justifies those standards.

Furthermore, it is an interesting ethical question about which standard ought to be in play here. Should the NFL make its disciplinary process one primarily about the message it sends? That seems like a recipe for injustice in cases where the message demands a drastically different penalty (either harsher or more lenient) than what the individual really deserves. On the other hand, treating each case as only about what the wrongdoer deserves misses the potential impact (positive or negative ) of such discipline.

In the end, though, I don’t actually think Goodell and the NFL were taking what I have called the ‘desert’ view. The NFL is always concerned about the message. The conduct policy is there, as we hear so often, to protect the shield. That is, to keep the image of the NFL pristine. Since that is its primary concern, the NFL missed the uprights wide right.

 

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Emily Ryall on Philosophy of Sport

The University of Gloucestershire Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics website has several good short videos about the Philosophy of Sport with Dr. Emily Ryall. Dr. Ryall is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Gloucestershire.

I don’t agree with every take, of course, but the videos are nice introductions to some interesting questions and important issues in Philosophy of Sport.

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The Sports Ethicist Show: Sports Studies Symposium 2014

A new episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is available!

The 3rd annual Sports Studies Symposium was held April 25, 2014. In this episode, the symposium participants discuss the ideas raised by the papers given at the symposium. In the first part of the episode, Mike Perry and Shawn E. Klein talk with Sean Beckmann and Kevin Schieman about the 10,000 hour rule and what distinguishes sport from other kinds of physical games. In the second part, Shawn E. Klein, Zachary Draves, Huston Ladner, and Carl Robinson discuss the relationship between sport and society, cyborgs, and the value of spectatorship.

Related links:

You can download the podcast here:
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/the-sports-ethicist-show-sports-studies-symposium-2014/

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes.

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Filed under Conferences, Fitness, games, NASCAR, Philosophy, play, podcast, RadioShow, Sports Ethics, Sports Studies, wrestling

The Sports Ethicist Show: Santayana on the Value of Sport

Apologies! Rockford College Radio is replaying Psychology of Mental Toughness show. You can still get the podcast for the Santayana show here right now: http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/the-sports-ethicist-santayana-on-the-value-of-sport/

The Sports Ethicist Show airs this Monday at 6 pm CDT on Rockford College Radio.

George Santayana is one of the great American Philosophers and his essay “Philosophy on the Bleachers” he argues for the value of athletics for both participants and spectators. In this episode of The Sports Ethicist Show, Shawn Klein and Matt Flamm discuss Santayana’s essay and his ideas. Profs. Klein and Flamm cover a wide range of themes from the connection between athlete and spectator to role of the martial virtues in human life to the effect of industrial revolution on human existence.

Related/Discussed Links:

Prof. Flamm’s articles in the Bulletin:

Listen on Rockford College Radio (6pm Central):
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/ (Click on the Listen Live button)

A podcast of the show will be available after the show airs.
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/category/thesportsethicist/

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IAPS at Central APA: A Worthy Conception of Virtue for Sport

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport (IAPS) is holding a group session at the American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting in Chicago, IL.

February 27, 2014; 5:30 – 7:30pm

Chair: Shawn E. Klein (Rockford University/SportsEthicist.com)

Speaker: Mary Gwin (Oklahoma State University)

Commentators: Craig Carley (Phoenix College) & Shawn E. Klein

Dr. Gwin will present her paper: “A Worthy Conception of Virtue for Sport”

The following is the introductory paragraph from Dr. Gwin’s paper.

My goal in this paper is to discuss a particular conception of virtue for sport that I think is more apt than competing conceptions of virtue found in the virtue epistemology and virtue ethics literature.  While we often talk about virtues in sport, as far as I can tell from the literature on virtue and sport there has been little or no discussion of the particular conception of virtue that is most apt for sport.  For example, Michael Austin (2009) develops a neo-Aristotelian notion of magnanimity for sport to argue that a magnanimous athlete will use sport to develop her own moral character.  Heather Reid (2012), as another example, uses a Mengzian/Aristotelian notion of honesty to argue that the virtue of honesty in sport should be understood as accurate self-assessment of one’s own abilities.  As someone who is sympathetic to both projects of virtue epistemology and virtue ethics, I applaud these efforts, and I do not think that anyone can deny that virtue plays an important role in the philosophical analysis of sport, whether it is ethical or epistemological.  In this paper, I begin with a brief discussion of two competing conceptions of virtue—reliabilism and responsibilism—found in the virtue epistemology and (and somewhat arguably) virtue ethics literature.  Then, I turn to Baehr’s alternative, though responsibilist aligned conception of virtue, the personal worth conception.  Finally, I argue that practical wisdom and honesty, two goals central to an athlete’s achievement of the lusory goal of sport, are best understood on this conception.  As a consequence of my view, I argue, possessing these virtues makes the athlete better qua person and athlete.  If I am right about a personal worth conception of virtue being an apt conception of virtue for sport, then we may be able to further the discussion of virtue in sport in general.

 

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New Course: PHIL 340 Philosophy of Sport

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The Rockford University Philosophy Department is offering a new course this spring: PHIL 340 Philosophy of Sport.

Course Description:

An inquiry into philosophical ideas and issues in sport. Topics and readings will vary, but may include: the nature and definition of sport, the mind-body relationship in sport, the effects of technology on sport, epistemological issues in officiating, and the aesthetics of sport.

The course will be using Heather Reid’s Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport (Elements of Philosophy) as well as supplemental articles from the philosophy of sport literature. The course does carry a pre-requisite of a previous philosophy class. Of course, if you have taken my Sports Ethics class, then you have satisfied this requirement.

The course meets T/TH, 1-2:15 pm. Please contact me if you have any questions about the course.

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Player vs Theory

One of the more common experiences of teaching sports ethics is the eye-rolling response of students. The theoretical account of some issue (e.g. intentional fouls or the proper ends of sports) is met with a cynical glare or what I call the “yeah, but…” response. As in: “Yeah, sounds good in theory, Prof, but that’s not the way it really works.”

For example, Robert Simon defines sport as “the mutual quest for excellence.” On this view, athletes and participates are guided, constrained, and motivated by this cooperative quest for achievement and excellence at the skills and practices of the sport. Overly aggressive play or cheating undermine this quest and so are prohibited. Players play hard in order to achieve their own excellences but also to provide the challenge to their opponents so that they might be pushed to achieve their excellences. There is a lot appealing about Simon’s account. I particularly like the emphasis on the fundamental cooperative nature of athletic competition. But a common student response is “Yeah, that sounds all nice and such, but I play to win. Excellences, challenges, whatever: I want to win.”

Or, in the discussion of intentional fouls, we discuss the range of principles that theorists like Simon and Fraleigh argue ought to constrain a player’s actions in regard to intentional fouls. While Fraleigh is far more restrictive than Simon and others, most share the view that there is something wrong when a player strategically uses explicitly prohibited actions to gain an advantage or negate an opponent’s advantage. The typical student-athlete response is again “Yeah, that sounds all nice and such, but I am going to do what it takes to win the game.”

This might just be that the typical student is unwilling to move from or challenge their pre-reflective beliefs, that they are too cynical or too uncritical to consider accounts that defy the standard narrative. There is a lot of truth to that (a lot!). But at the same time, I think there is something more going on here that needs attention.

While I see this phenomenon in most of the philosophy classes I teach, it is more acute in Sports Ethics. Most of the students are or have been serious athletes. Unlike say in business ethics or biomedical ethics where the students have little or no direct experience with the issues being discussed, the students in sports ethics have a lot of practice in the field under examination. This gives the students a perspective that is typically not there in with students in other classes. (For example, I see something similar when I teach business ethics in my school’s degree completion program where I have students who are already in the business world.)

When the disconnect between students and theory occurs here, it suggests to me something more than mere student stubbornness. These students are practitioners. They may not have given the issue a lot of deep thought, but it is not something new to them. They have views on the issue at hand that have developed from experience, not just the floating uncritical acceptance of a social norm (like minimum wage laws help the poor or everyone ought to vote). Dismissing the rejection of the theoretical-norm as mere cynicism or lack of reflection potentially misses something important.

This is not to argue that we merely ought to accept the player-norms. That would be to shift philosophy to something just descriptive. But I think philosophers and theoreticians ought to pay attention when practitioners in the fields they are analyzing reject the theories. This could point to errors in the theory or a misunderstanding of the practice by the philosophers. It might very well just be student cynicism or lack of criticalness but we don’t really know that unless we look more at the rejection by the players.

Practitioners, too, should pay attention to the theory and not just assume that because they play sports they know what the best account is. Where the theory conflicts with their own practice, it might point to ways in which one is mistaken about their own norms. At the very least, it provides an opportunity for the player to consider in new light what is that he or she is doing.

 

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