Slacker and a Cheat

July 16, 2010

I’ve been slacking this week on the blog front, but all this slacking has given me a little time to catch my breath and get some real writing done, which has been refreshing. Plus I’ve doubled down as daddy this week. My wife’s been away, so I’ve been playing dinosaur and other fun things with my son.

At any rate, here’s at least one thing I would’ve commented on, but didn’t, this past week.

Namely, Peter Singer has an interesting piece on cheating in the World Cup. Here’s a nice quote where, I think it’s clear that he agrees with my position:

Players should not be exempt from ethical criticism for what they do on the field, any more than they are exempt from ethical criticism for cheating off the field – for example, by taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Sports today are highly competitive, with huge amounts of money at stake, but that does not mean it is impossible to be honest. In cricket, if a batsman hits the ball and one of the fielders catches it, the batsman is out. Sometimes when the ball is caught the umpire cannot be sure if the ball has touched the edge of the bat. The batsman usually knows and traditionally should “walk” – leave the ground – if he knows that he is out.

What I think is important about this quote is that, ethically speaking, Peter Singer and I aren’t entirely on the same page. He’s one of the foremost representatives of utilitarianism, and I’m…well, I’m nobody really… just a sapling of an academic with affinities for neo-Kantian and pragmatic ethics. Yet we both agree on the nature of an ethical reason, on the nature of ethical scrutiny.

No doubt, Singer would offer different arguments as to why we should call out cheaters — consequentialist arguments, for sure — but I think it’s important to see that even among widely differing ethicists, there is critical convergence. In effect, rules are not made to be broken. They are binding. When we break them, we can be called out for it.

Roger Pielke Jr., one-time climate blogger and now enthusiastic soccer buff — though I will say that more than half of the faculty at CSTPR have gone ga-ga for soccer puffs, partly because Roger and Max are around to explain the rules to us — has this to say about sports being a perfect laboratory. He is, of course, absolutely right about sports offering very interesting cases. That’s one of the reasons that I like chess, and even edited a book on philosophy and chess. It’s maybe not the hard crunching sports that Roger is talking about, but philosophers for quite some time have been interested in games, in rules, and in the nature of play. If you’re looking for a little summer reading, and you don’t feel like digging deeply into Wittgenstein on games, check out this light and amusing, albeit academically very interesting, work by philosopher Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. If you like Socrates, if you like games, this is absolutely delightful summer hammock reading.

I have a few other posts cooking, so stay tuned.


  1. Pay attention to what Eli says

  2. Words to live by.

  3. Not for Ms. Rabett;)

  4. I haven’t read Suits’ book, but what I’ve read about it makes me question whether it is a fair representation of Wittgenstein. I know some reputable philosophers have supported Suits’ work, but I also know Wittgenstein tends to get misunderstood.

    There was some good coverage of this at Methods of Projection, but that blog’s no longer available. Still, N.N. (the pseudonymous author of Methods of Projection) indicates the nature of his defense of Wittgenstein in the comments section here.

    Also, I’m not so impressed by Suits’ proposed definition of “game.” Simon Blackburn says counter-examples would be hard to come by, but there’s a discussion of straight-fowards counter-examples here.

    Not that Suits’ book can’t be of academic interest, but I wonder if it should be espoused as a substitute for engaging Wittgenstein on games. Even if Suits had offered a compelling definition of “game,” that wouldn’t be the mark against Wittgenstein which many take it to be.

    Wittgenstein’s point, as I understand it, was that the use of the word “game” is not based on any pre-existing criteria, and that any definition of necessary and sufficient conditions for a game will be a creative act–it will draw lines where none had been drawn before. It’s not that we cannot draw such lines. It’s that, when we draw them, we aren’t revealing a pre-existing truth. We aren’t indicating lines which had in some sense already been there.

    I got into a lengthy discussion of this over at PhilPapers not so long ago, though it was not specifically about Suits’ work.

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