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Philosophy of sport

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Title: Philosophy of sport  
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Subject: Philosophy of education, Social philosophy, Sportsmanship, Applied ethics, Paradigm classification
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Philosophy of sport

Philosophy of sport is an area of philosophy that seeks to conceptually analyze issues of sport as human activity. These issues cover many areas, but fall primarily into five philosophical categories: metaphysics, ethics and moral philosophy, philosophy of law, political philosophy, and aesthetics. The philosophical perspective on sport originated in Ancient Greece, having experienced a revival in the latter part of the 20th century[1] with the work of Paul Weiss and Howard Slusher.[2][3]

A philosophical perspective on sports incorporates its metaphysical relationships with art and play, ethical issues of virtue and fairness and more broadly sociopolitical.[1]

Sport and philosophy in ancient Greece

Ancient Greece is considered the birthplace of both ancient philosophy and Olympic sport. Hellenistic philosophies hung great significance on athletic performance. A leader's athletic prowess, according to the view of the times, reflected their ability to lead.[4] (Games of the Phaeacians in Homer's Odyssey) Sport was seen as an epistemic inquiry, a methodological process by which we learn the objective truth of a person's athletic potential by actualizing it in athletic competition. Athletics as a measure of individual worth was seen as a cure to social inequality. Sport was even seen as moral education, with Plato advocating the participation of women in sport for their moral enrichment. Aristotle emphasized physical activity as an ethical responsibility. Mentions of sport were also found in the work of Socrates.[1]

Contemporary philosophy of sport

The resurgence of interest in philosophy of sport was marked by Yale philosopher Paul Weiss' book publication Sport: A Philosophical Inquiry (1969), considered the first book-length text in philosophy of sport. In it, Weiss explains the dearth of work in philosophy of sport as a reflection of academic elitism. Sport was always considered vulgar or common, according to Weiss.[5]

Long before this, however, philosophical considerations of sport and physical and activity were discussed as a subset of educational reform in the late 19th century as the link between physical education and health and well-being gained appreciation among scholars. To many of the time, the health and educational benefits of physical activity were a component of public life. Inadvertently, many non-philosopher proponents of physical education took on philosophical positions on teleology, mind-body dualism and metaphysics as part of their model of human agency and personhood. In a broader context, political philosophy entered the picture as thinkers of the time, in response to pressing social and political issues of the day associated civic duty, responsible citizenship and other political features to sport.[3] While much of the focus has been on the work done in the West, philosophers of sport acknowledge the importance of work done in the East, particularly Japan.[6]

Important questions in philosophy of sport are concerned with the social virtues of sport, the aesthetics of sporting performances and display, the epistemology of individual and team strategy and techniques, sporting ethics, the logic of rules in sport, metaphysics of sport as a component of human nature or instinct, etc.[6]

Other areas of intersection with contemporary areas of philosophy include philosophy of education, philosophy of law, philosophy of mind, philosophy of rules, philosophy of science, social philosophy and political philosophy.

Issues in philosophy of sport


Ethical issues in philosophy of sport predominantly center on athlete behavior in relation to rules of the game, other athletes, spectators, external factors such as socioeconomic issues among supporters and communities, and issues of doping.

Issues of doping in sport focus on the ethics of medical intervention on athletic performance: what is acceptable versus what is not, and how boundaries can be drawn. Particular attention is given to the question of what factors ought to be taken into consideration when banning certain medical interventions.

These and other issues are usually compared and contrasted through the lenses of three significant moral theories: consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics.[7]


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Additional reading

  • Sport, Ethics & Philosophy (Routledge)
  • Journal of the Philosophy of Sport (Routledge)

External links

  • British Philosophy of Sport Association
  • European Association for the Philosophy of Sport
  • International Association for the Philosophy of Sport
  • University of Idaho Center for Ethics
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