Examined Sport: Nicholas Dixon, “A Moral Critique of Mixed Martial Arts”

In this episode of Examined Sport, I discuss Nicholas Dixon’s “A Moral Critique of Mixed Martial Arts” published in Public Affairs Quarterly in 2015. This paper is one of the first philosophical analyses of the sport of MMA.

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CFP: Studies in Philosophy of Sport

This is an active and ongoing call for proposals for the Studies in Philosophy of Sport series from Lexington Books.

This series 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.

The series encourages scholars new to the philosophy of sport to bring their expertise to this growing field. These new voices bring innovative methods and different questions to the standard issues in the philosophy of sport. Well-trodden topics in the literature will be reexamined with fresh takes and new questions and issues will be explored to advance the field beyond traditional positions.

A few possible topic ideas:

  • A deep analysis of one of the central concepts or theories in philosophy of sport.
    • Internalism, conventionalism, mutualism, etc.
    • Fouls and rules
    • Technology and its philosophical implications
    • Competition
    • Sportsmanship
  • Epistemological issues in sport: can sport teach us anything about how and what we know?
  • Metaphysical issues in sport: mind/body, personal identity, time, etc.
  • Application of contemporary approaches to philosophy to sport.
  • Look at a specific sport (rugby, tennis, gymnastics, etc.) and examine what philosophy can tell us about that sport and/or what that sport can teach us about philosophy.
  • Philosophical/ethical issues in the Olympics, college athletics, or youth sports.
  • Adaption of dissertation to a monograph.

Proposal Information

Review the proposal guidelines.

The series publishes both monographs and edited volumes. The “philosophy of sport” should be construed broadly to include many different methodological approaches, historical traditions, and academic disciplines.

I am happy to discuss topics before a formal proposal is submitted. Just email me and we’ll get the ball rolling.

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McNamee Student Essay Prize in the Philosophy of Sport

Reposting from: http://philosophyofsport.org.uk/mcnamee-student-essay-prize-in-the-philosophy-of-sport/

For questions or inquires please contact BPSA (contact info below)

McNamee Student Essay Prize in the Philosophy of Sport

Sponsored by Routledge / Taylor & Francis

The British Philosophy of Sport Association (BPSA) invites submissions for the McNamee Student Essay Prize in the Philosophy of Sport. The Prize is named in honour of Prof. Mike McNamee (Swansea and KU Leuven), founder of the BPSA, and it is kindly sponsored by Routledge / Taylor & Francis.


Winner – £500 cash + £50 Routledge voucher

Runner-up – £200 cash + £50 Routledge voucher

Commendations x 3 – each of the three commended essays will receive £100 cash + £50 Routledge voucher

The Winner and Runner-up will be invited to present their essays at a BPSA online work-in-progress seminar in November ’21.

Essay Format

2500 words (including footnotes / endnotes but excluding works cited) on any topic in the Philosophy of Sport.

To become acquainted with topics considered in the Philosophy of Sport, please consult the Association’s journal Sport, Ethics and Philosophy:



Candidates must be enrolled in a full-time university undergraduate or graduate level course on 1 September ’21. Submissions must be single-authored and the candidate’s own work, and they must address an issue in the Philosophy of Sport. Each candidate may submit one essay only and submissions must be in English. There is no geographical restriction on eligibility.


In assessing submitted papers, the jury will place a strong emphasis on the following considerations:

  • Originality of the essay topic and its treatment;
  • Analytical rigour of the essay’s argument;
  • Critical engagement with relevant philosophical literature, including relevant work in the Philosophy of Sport.

Candidates will not receive feedback on their submission. The jury reserves the right not to award a prize if submissions fail to achieve an appropriate standard. The decision of the jury is final.

To Enter

Submissions should be emailed in Word or PDF format to j.w.devine@swansea.ac.uk with subject line ‘BPSA Essay Prize’
Candidates should submit two separate documents:

  1. Cover sheet that includes the candidate’s information (i.e. name, email address, university, and essay title); and
  2. Essay document that is anonymised so as not to reveal the identity of the candidate.


September 1st, 2021

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Examined Sport: Nicholas Dixon, “Boxing, Paternalism, and Legal Moralism”

In this episode of Examined Sport, I discuss Nicholas Dixon’s “Boxing, Paternalism, and Legal Moralism” published in Social Theory and Practice in April 2001. While Dixon is not the first to address moral questions about the sport of boxing, this paper is important because Dixon focuses on what he calls pre-emptive paternalism as the basis for restrictions on boxing. This conception of paternalism has since been influential in the philosophy of sport on a wide range of issues from doping to banning of American football.

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Examined Sport: Scott Kretchmar, “From Test to Contest: An Analysis of Two Kinds of Counterpoint in Sport”

After a long hiatus, Examined Sport is back! Look for new episodes every two weeks.

In this episode of Examined Sport, I discuss Scott Kretchmar’s “From Test to Contest: An Analysis of Two Kinds of Counterpoint in Sport” published in the Journal of Philosophy of Sport in 1975. One of the foundational papers of the discipline, Kretchmar examines the distinction between tests and contests. The paper introduces several ideas that are influential on Kretchmar’s later work and on other thinkers in the field.

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Brief Review: From Ritual to Record

Guttmann’s classic From Ritual to Record is, in many ways, two books. The first “book” fits the title: it explains modern sport as something that comes out of but differs in essential ways from pre-modern sports. He provides a context and theory that attempts to account for the change. This first part of the book is (has been) the more important one for scholars of sport.

The second “book” is an attempt to try to account for the (somewhat) unique popularity of baseball and (American) football in America. Although this discussion is personally interesting, both because I’m a fan of both sports and because Guttmann makes extensive use of literature and film to provide illustrations and support of his ideas, it ultimately is too out of date to be all that relevant. Writing in the late 70s and appealing to data and sources from even earlier decades, Guttmann identifies some of the origins of some of the trends we see today (e.g. the slower growth of baseball relative to the growing popularity of football). But to be useful in a contemporary discussion of how American sports differ from the sports of other nations (and what that might tell us), we’d have to update most of that data.

Guttmann starts the “main” book with an attempt at a definition of sport. Working through the ideas of various thinkers, including Suits, Huizinga, Callois, Sutton-Smith, and others, Guttmann draws distinctions between play, games, and sport; and defines sport as a playful physical contest. I have several quibbles with his topology of play, games, and sport, in particular in the manner in which he treats play. He follows the line of thought (which I think is mistaken) that treats play as purely autotelic, with no room for the instrumental or the purposive. This leads, I think, to several errors in how Guttmann conceptualizes sport and its role in our lives. That aside, the general thrust of his description of sport are sufficient to make sense of his argument about the shift from pre-modern to modern sport. His discussion examines how sports modernized in terms of seven main characteristics:

  • Secularism
  • Equality of opportunity to compete and conditions of competition
  • Specialization of roles
  • Rationalization
  • Bureaucratic organization
  • Quantification
  • Quest for records

While discussing all of these, secularism and quantification seem to be the essential characteristics. These are the ones he focuses on the most, and in many ways they undergird and explain the other characteristics. For example, the quest for records seems to me to be a function of quantification – since the statistics and measures used for the records are things quantified.

Guttmann explains secularism as the long term shift from the origins of many sports and games in terms of the sacred towards sports as secular. In most cultures, athletic contests were, like most things, bound up with religion, the sacred. The games honored the gods or the contests were themselves sacred rituals (not recreation). Most know that the ancient Olympics and other Pan-Hellenic games were (at least in part) sacred religious events.

As he argues, part of the development of the modern world is a process of secularization. By this Guttmann doesn’t mean an outright rejection or eschewing of religion. It is that things that were sacred move in to the mundane. Sport modernize by moving from the sacred realm into the ordinary, everyday world.

Guttmann does briefly touch on the idea that sports have become a kind of secular religion, that it involves many rituals and myths of its own (26). After all, what sports fan hasn’t prayed to the “sports gods” at some point! But Guttmann argues that the point and role of sport in our lives is secular: it’s not about the transcendent or the sacred. It’s about fun, play, and profit.

I think this might dismiss the idea of a sacred secular, if such a thing makes sense. It’s not a transcendence that is mystic or other-worldly; it’s of this world and time but still sacred insofar as it is acknowledged and seen as extraordinary and special. A sacred secular just might be an essential aspect of modern sport. We all, I think, have the need for the sacred and sport might be a secular, non-supernatural way to experience the sacred. Towards the end of chapter 2, Guttmann seems to suggest something like a sacred secular: “Once the gods have vanished from Mount Olympus or from Dante’s paradise, we can no longer run to appease them or to save our souls, but we can set a new record. It is a uniquely modern form of immortality” (55).

The other key element of modern sport is the quantification: the desire to measure and quantify each aspect of sports. Again this is a broad modern trend we see in most aspects of modern life. It deeply impacts sport because there is so much to measure! And these measures become a (or maybe even the) means of comparison and evaluation. How many yards? How many baskets? How many strikes? And this is before we even step in to the age of advance metrics!

Another element of the book is Guttmann’s critique of Marxist (and neo-Marxist) analyses of modern sport. Though he takes pains to point to some positive contributions, he rejects these approaches as the nonsense they are. (In the Afterword, added in 2004, he walks this critique back a little bit and is a bit more accommodating, while still nonetheless rejecting these approaches).

Guttmann’s conclusion about the development of modern sport is best summed up by his claim that: “The emergence of modern sports represents neither the triumph of capitalism nor the rise of Protestantism but rather the slow development of an empirical, experimental, mathematical Weltanschauung[a kind of world-view]” (85). The modernization process, in sport and elsewhere, is a function of this world-view: a view that looks to reason and evidence to understand, make sense of, and organize the world in which one lives. Modern sport is an outgrowth of this process. I’m inclined to think that capitalism (understood as the freedom of consenting adults to produce and freely trade goods and services) is equally a result of the same modernization process. But Guttmann’s point still holds that modern sport is not the result of market economies per se; it is rather a parallel, inherently modern development.

Guttmann’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of sport and how modern sport is different from early forms of sport. Though I am less convinced that modern sport is different in kind from earlier forms (though that may not be Guttmann’s point), I think Guttmann is right about the slow development of the world view that ultimate brings about what we recognize as modern sport.

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Foul Strike Rule Change Proposal

Many in baseball think there is a need for rule changes to help create more action and excitement in baseball. There are many rule experiments going on in the minor leagues and some recent changes in the major leagues as well. Personally, I think most of these are terrible ideas. They are artificial feeling (starting the tenth inning with a running on second base); they require changes to the make-up of the field (moving the mound back), or they introduce new and external elements to baseball (a pitch clock – an abomination). So, I want to offer a rule change that fits with the history of the game as it has evolved.

In 1901, the National League introduce a rule that required the first two foul ball hit by a batter to be counted as strikes. The American League adopted the rule in 1903.

In part this was introduced to prevent batters from endlessly hitting foul balls. It was meant to incentivize putting the ball into play to help create more action and excitement.

My proposal is to further restrict the number of foul balls allowed. I am not sure what the precise number should be, but let’s say, after the first two foul strikes, the batter is allowed four more fouls before the next foul is a third strike and the batter is out. This incentivizes the batter to put the ball in play, creating more action. It shortens the at-bats, creating a quicker game pace. By reducing pitch counts, it allows the starting pitcher to stay in the game longer (reducing the delay from changing pitchers).

This fits with the evolution of the foul strike rule. It doesn’t require any changes other than tracking the extra fouls.

A full count would be 4-3-2 (fouls, balls, strikes). And it really would be a full count. We would have an actual pay-off pitch: the next pitch will either be in play, be a walk, or be an out. This creates more tension and excitement as well: rather than the anticlimactic foul ball on the ‘pay-off’ pitch, we know something is going to happen.

The only downside I can see is that this tilts advantage to the pitcher/defense. The batter cannot simply foul off pitches waiting for ‘his’ pitch. And in line with that, we would lose some of those epic batter-pitcher battles at the plate. But the trade-off seems worth it to me. We get the faster paced game many want without doing anything radical to the sport.


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Fall 2021: Sports Ethics (PHI 370) @ ASU

I will be teaching PHI 370: Sports Ethics at ASU in fall 2021.

For ASU students: Check with your academic advisor, but this course may be used to meet your HU general studies requirement and your general upper-division hours requirement. It may also be used as one of your upper-division electives in both the Philosophy and the Morality, Politics and Law majors, as well as the Ethics Certificate.

This course is also one of the required courses for the Sports, Cultures and Ethics Certificate.


Course Description:

A study of moral issues in sports, including but not limited to the nature and application of sportsmanship, the prohibition of performance enhancing drugs, ethical issues in the economics of sports, the role of violence, and fandom.

Prerequisite(s): ENG 102, 105, or 108 with C or better; minimum 25 hours; Credit is allowed for only PHI 370 or PHI 394 (Sports Ethics)

The class is scheduled for T/TH 9-10:15 am on the Tempe campus (COOR 199). SLN#: 91210

Tentative Weekly Reading and Unit Schedule
(subject to change)

Module: Course Introduction

Module: Philosophy and Sport: What is ‘sport’ and why study it?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Carson, Chad. “A Three-Pointer: Revisiting Three Crucial Issues in the “Tricky Triad” of Play, Games, and Sport.” Defining Sport. Edited by Shawn E. Klein. Lexington Books: Maryland, 2017, pp 3-21.
    • Reid, Heather, “Socrates at the Ballpark.” Baseball and Philosophy. Edited by Eric Bronson. Open Court: Chicago, 2004, pp 273-283.

Module: What is Sportsmanship?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Keating, James, “Sportsmanship as a Moral Category,” Ethics 75, No 1, 1964, pp 25-35.
    • Feezell, Randolph, “Sportsmanship,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 13, 1986, pp 1-13.

Module: Is it ethical to run up the score?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Dixon, Nicholas, “On Sportsmanship and ‘Running Up the Score”; Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 19, 1992, pp 1-13.
    • Feezell, Randolph, “Sportmanship and Blowouts: Baseball and Beyond” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 26, 1999, pp 68-78.

Module: Is it wrong to foul?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Fraleigh, Warren. “Intentional rules violations — One more time,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 30, No, 2, 2003, pp 166-176.
    • Simon, Robert. The ethics of strategic fouling: A reply to Fraleigh,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 32, No. 1, 2005, pp 87-95.

Module: Is competition moral?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Kretchmar, R. Scott. “In Defense of Winning,” Sports Ethics: An Anthology. Ed. By Jan Boxill. Blackwell Publishing, 2003. pp. 130-135.
    • Simon, Robert. “The Critique of Competition in Sports,” Fair Play: The Ethics of Sport. 2nd Edition. Westview Press: 2004. Pp 19-35.
    • Kohn, Alfie. “Fun and Fitness w/o Competition,” Women’s Sport & Fitness, July/August 1990.

Module: Are playoffs fair?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Torres, Cesar R., and Peter Hager, “The Desirability of the Season Long Tournament: A Response to Finn,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 38, pp 39-54.
    • Harper, Aaron, “’You’re the best around’: an argument for playoffs and tournaments,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 43, no 2, 2016, pp 295-309

 Module: Should fighting in sport by allowed?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Dixon, Nicholas. “A Moral Critique of Mixed Martial Arts,” Public Affairs Quarterly, Vol 29, No 4, 2015, 365-384.
    • Dixon, Nicholas. “A Critique of Violent Retaliation in Sport,” Journal of Philosophy of Sport, Vol 37, No. 1, 2010, pp 1-10.
    • Zakhem, Abe. “The Virtues of a Good Fight: Assessing the Ethics of Fighting in the National Hockey League,” Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2015, pp 32-46.

Module: Can playing dangerous sports be justified?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Russell, J.S. “The Value of Dangerous Sport,” Journal of Philosophy of Sport, 32, No. 1, 2005, pp 1-19.
    • Findler, Patrick, “Should kids play (American) football?” Journal of Philosophy of Sport, Vol. 42, No. 3, 2015, pp 443-462.
    • Pam Sailors, “Personal Foul: an evaluation of moral status of football,” Journal of Philosophy of Sport, 42, No. 2, 2015, pp 269-286. (focus on pp 269-76)

Module: Should performance-enhancing drugs be banned?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Savulescu, Julian, Roger Crisp, and John Devine, “Oxford Debate: Performance enhancing drugs should be allowed in sport” University of Oxford, 2014.
    • Simon, Robert. “Good competition and drug-enhanced performance,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 11, 1984, pp 6-13.
    • Hemphill, Dennis. “Performance enhancement and drug control in sport: ethical considerations,” Sport in Society, Vol. 12, No. 3, 2009, pp 313-326.

Module: How should sport deal with sex and gender equality? 

  • Assigned Readings:
    • English, Jane. “Sex Equality in Sports” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol 7, No 3, 1978, pp 269-277
    • Sailors, Pam. “Mixed Competition and Mixed Messages.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2014, pp 65–77.

Module: Where should transgender athletes compete?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Coggon, John; Natasha Hammond; and Søren Holm, “Transsexuals in sport – fairness and freedom, regulation and law,” Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, Vol 2, No. 1, 2008, pp 4-17.
    • Gleaves, John and Tim Lehrbach, “Beyond fairness: the ethics of inclusion for transgender and intersex athletes.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 43, No. 2, 2016, pp 311-326.

Module: What ought to be the social impact of sport?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Eig, Jonathan, “Some Good Colored Players” Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season. Simon and Schuster: New York, 2007, pp 26-34.
    • Leavy, Jane, “The King of the Jews,” Sandy Koufax. Perennial: New York, 2002, pp 167- 174, 193-4.
    • Sailors, Pam, “Zola Budd and the Political Pawn.” FairPlay, Revista de Filosofía, Ética y Derecho del Deporte, vol. 10, 2017.

Module: What should the role of money be in sport?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Duncan, Albert. “Does A-Rod Deserve So Much Money? Yes” Baseball and Philosophy. Ed. by Eric Bronson. Open Court: Chicago, 2004. pp 297-299.
    • Shuman, Joel. “Does A-Rod Deserve So Much Money? No,” Baseball and Philosophy. Ed. by Eric Bronson. Open Court: Chicago, 2004. pp 300-302.
    • Collins-Cavanaugh, Daniel. “Does the Salary Cap Make the NFL a Fairer League?” Football and Philosophy. Ed. Michael Austin. The University Press of Kentucky, 2008. pp 165-180.
    • Sheehan, Joe. “Salary Cap,” Baseball Prospectus. Feb. 19, 2002.

Module: Is being a fan moral?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Dixon, Nicholas. “The Ethics of Supporting Sports Teams,” Journal of Applied Philosophy, 18, No. 2, 2001, pp 149-158.
    • Mumford, Stephen, “The Philosophy of Sports Fans,” PhilosophyFile, The University of Nottingham, 2011, video.
    • Aikin, Scott F., “Responsible Sports Spectatorship and the Problem of Fantasy Leagues” International Journal of Applied Philosophy 27, No. 2, 2013, pp 195-206.

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Arizona Legalizes Sport Gambling

Followers of my blog will know that I support the legalization of gambling, including wagering on sports. So I was excited to learn this morning that the governor of my state (Arizona) signed into law a bill that legalizes sports betting. The bill also includes daily fantasy sports and other forms of fantasy sports wagering. This site has a good summary of the legal changes.

Some of my blog posts on sports, gambling, and fantasy:

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Review: Play Ball!: The Rise of Baseball as America’s Pastime

This is a great course. Wonderfully delivered by Bruce Markuson of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the course covers the early years of baseball. From the early beginnings to 1920, the course looks at rules changes, equipment changes, field changes, as well as many of the social and culture changes that impacted baseball. As an overview course, it doesn’t go into as great detail as one might want for some topics, for example, the history of the Negro Leagues. While this is discussed, the history of these leagues is much richer (as admitted by Markuson) than could be covered here.

Markuson examines the different theories of where baseball comes from: the different pre-baseball ball games that were played widely in America and England in the 18th century and how they may have influenced the development of what become known as baseball. He covers how the professional leagues developed in the second half of the 19th century. He discusses how the baseball itself changed the game as the baseball changed. It even goes into how baseball fields themselves changed and developed as baseball evolved (and the changing fields drove some of the changes in the game as well).

If there is one thing you can take away from this course is that Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams was wrong. I love the movie and the speech Mann makes, but he was wrong. He says: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.” Sorry, but the history of baseball shows that it has changed again and again just like America. As America rebuilt and reinvented itself through the decades, baseball has changed right along with it, reflecting America’s greatness and her worst faults.

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