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Sports and Thoughts

by Rick Lewis

Mens sana in corpore sano! A healthy mind in a healthy body has always been the ideal of philosophers, at least in theory. Aristotle put his money where his mouth was by organizing gymnastics classes at his Lyceum, and Chinese and Japanese thought has always had a physical expression in Tai Chi and Kung Fu, for instance. Most philosophers, though, have tended to pay lipservice to the importance of physical health while pursuing knowledge by the route of vast quantities of stimulants, hours in stuffy libraries and (like Descartes) staying in bed until midday. My own earliest recollection of organised sports is of shivering miserably in the cold drizzle on a quagmire of a soccer field, swapping gossip with the other eight-year old intellectuals. Once every half hour or so the games master would jog over and say “What’s this – a mothers’ meeting? Run around a bit.” Happily the mud-covered leather ball generally stayed down the other end of the pitch and rarely bothered us.

I did later discover sports that I enjoyed much more, but nonetheless, one of the great advantages for me of becoming at least nominally an adult was that there would be no more compulsory games, ever. In retrospect I missed one opportunity at school – the chance to be cleverly condescending about the world of sport by writing about its shortcomings in words so long that the muddy oafs who were good at games couldn’t even understand them. Kantian. Nietzschean. Sociopolitical. Microcosm. Marvellous.

Happily, Tim Delaney has now remedied that omission by putting together this issue on sports and philosophy. He has recruited contributors who satisfyingly focus on the myriad problems that sport engenders – drugs, cheating, violence, moral decay. Admittedly Gordon Marino weighs in powerfully on the other side of the debate by saying how wonderful boxing is for one’s moral character, but I have no problem with that. (Nobody ever made me take part in boxing, and though it probably involves strenuous physical effort and some risk of personal injury, it does at least take place indoors, out of the rain.)

Most of our contributors do seem to be sporty types themselves, however – being either active participants or else knowledgeable, enthusiastic spectators. They know their stuff, and this issue will hopefully provide plenty of material for cogitation both for the sports fanatics (you know who you are) and the couch potatoes among our readers. But for further justification for this rather sweaty intellectual project, may I commend to you Tim Delaney’s own article here?

Some philosophers have been athletes too; a philosophy lecturer called Mike Brierley even went on to captain the England cricket team in the 1980s. But even those who aren’t remotely interested in sport should be interested in this issue, because as Tim Delaney himself says, it gives us a chance to consider issues of great importance to us all, such as fair play, cheating, the nature of violence and the effect of external pressures and of our own actions upon our moral characters.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s many fans among our readers will doubtless be pleased to see old Freddy making several guest appearances in this issue. It’s getting very hard to keep him out, these days. Despite being a sickly and unathletic type, his testosterone-charged aphorisms – “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” “I want to conquer everything comfortable within myself” – are perennially popular with those athletes whose IQs exceed their bicep measurements. Linda Williams defends some of his more outrageously sexist aphorisms against charges that they are merely the outpourings of an incurable misogynist. When I interviewed the wise and perceptive Philippa Foot, however, she roundly attacked Nietzsche’s ‘aesthetic’ approach to ethics.

For the benefit of the people who keep ringing us to ask if we have any copies of Issue 24 (sold out 1999), Issue 1 (nope – ran out in 2000) or other back issues, I am happy to announce that we’ve finally made them available again by putting all our back issues onto two CDs. Please take a look here for more details.

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