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Short Story

Ethics, Logic & Hockey: A Dialogue

What happened when the game’s authorities got serious about cleaning up hockey? Ryan Baker on philosophy in action.

Characters In Dialogue

Rick Smith of Winnipeg
Cory Black of Hartford
Haaken Naslund of Winnipeg
Shane Lawson of Hartford
Esa Takkoinen of Winnipeg
Referee from parts unknown
Winnipeg's Head Coach
Invisible P.A. Announcer

The setting is the Winnipeg Arena in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada during Winnipeg's home opening hockey game against Hartford. Amid increased pressure from fans following a violent incident in the previous season's championship game, the Professional Hockey League agreed to educate its players and officials in philosophical ethics and logic in a bid to curb hockey violence. Here was the result.

Narrator: The puck dropped in the home opening game at the Winnipeg Arena, but the action didn't last long. Hartford's Cory Black punched Winnipeg's Rick Smith in the head, as the speedy winger tried beating the Hartford defenceman to the outside along the boards. The referee stopped play, but Smith started punching Black in the head.

Referee: Hey, what are you doing, Smith? Black's already got a roughing penalty. If you keep it up, you'll have one too.

Smith: I was just acting according to Kant's categorical imperative. Black's punch endorsed that action for all others, so I punched him.

Black: I would argue, Ref, that Smith's retaliation was done out of self-interest, rather than duty, by which Kant believed all action should be motivated. It's not his or anyone's duty to punch people in the head.

Smith: There, Ref, Black acted out of self-interest rather than duty in the first place.

Black: But you acted out of self-interest rather than duty by retaliating, so we both should go to the box for roughing.

Smith: What do you know, Black? Connecticut's university isn't as prestigious as Manitoba's.

Referee: Wait, that's a fallacy of logic.

Narrator: The Ref skated right over to the penalty box to verify with the off-ice officials upstairs that in fact a fallacy of logic had been committed.

Referee: Look, guys, Smith in fact committed a fallacy of relevance, so he'll get two minutes for that. But, Black, I think you're right regarding Kant's treatise. Both of you should go to the box for roughing, as you acted out of self-interest rather than duty.

P.A. Announcer: Hartford penalty to number 22, Cory Black, two minutes for roughing. Winnipeg penalty to number 16, Rick Smith, two minutes for roughing and two minutes for Argumentum ad Hominem. That's Black, two minutes for roughing, and Smith, two minutes for roughing and two minutes for Argumentum ad Hominem at seventeen minutes, thirty-seven seconds.

Narrator: Winnipeg's captain, Haaken Naslund, immediately protested to the Ref.

Naslund: Smith shouldn't get an extra two minutes for Argumentum ad Hominem because Nietzsche condemns Kant's categorical imperative as merely a cultural constraint based on Judeo-Christian morality that impedes the superman's ascendance to power.

Referee: Naslund, you're arguing the wrong point. Both Black and Smith received roughing penalties, but Smith received an additional two minutes for attacking the university Black attended rather than Black's arguments. That amounts to attacking the man, or abuse, which is Argumentum ad Hominem. Therefore, your appeal to authority, Nietzsche, has nothing to do with Argumentum ad Hominem, meaning you've committed your own fallacy of relevance and will also be penalised.

P.A. Announcer: Winnipeg penalty to number 2, Haaken Naslund, two minutes for Argumentum ad Verecundiam. That's Naslund, two minutes for Argumentum ad Verecundiam at seventeen minutes, thirty-three seconds.

Winnipeg Head Coach: God damn it. We can't take these stupid penalties. Make sure you don't commit any fallacies of logic. Come on, boys, get your heads in the game.

Narrator: Hartford's captain, Shane Lawson, skated up to the Ref next.

Lawson: Ref, Black shouldn't have obtained his penalty in the first place. According to Nietzsche, Black merely asserted his will to power. He was penalised because of a slave morality espousing sympathy, humility, and a warm heart. Really Black is a good man, a man who arouses fear and seeks to arouse it. Black is a complete man who has the ability to rise to the top because of his physical and intellectual capabilities. He was merely using Smith, a weaker element, as scaffolding to allow his growth.

Narrator: Winnipeg's assistant captain, Esa Takkoinen, skated up to the Ref to challenge Lawson's premise.

Takkoinen: Ref, according to Thomas Hobbes, Nietzsche's ideas would lead to chaos. The main purpose of life is self-preservation, not the will to power. Unchecked competition leads to chaos and ultimately death, meaning that a strong Leviathan should be established that should never be disobeyed. So rather than Black's penalty being revoked, it should stand unless he wants to be kicked out of the league, or commonwealth.

Further, Plato propounded that if you live in and benefit from a society, you are bound by its laws. You cannot ignore them when it's in your best interest.

Lawson: Wait, Ref. Epicurus thought the individual should only remain part of the group and follow its laws as long as it suited him. Once the individual was strong enough, he should leave the group to make it on his own.

Referee: If Black is strong enough to be a league of his own, so be it. If not, the penalty stands.

Lawson: Ref, if we break down the argument into syllogistic form, perhaps you'll see my point:

All slave morality is good
All Plato, Hobbes, and Kant is slave morality
Therefore, all Plato, Hobbes, and Kant is good.

Because Hartford didn't accept the first premise, they cannot accept the conclusion, meaning that Winnipeg's arguments can be challenged.

Referee: Okay, I suspend play. The league office must sort out what premises should be accepted and what conclusions should be inferred. Everyone off the ice until further notice.

Narrator: Hopefully one winter soon they'll sort out the issue and the game can begin again.

© Ryan Baker 2005

Ryan Baker spent the past five years teaching history and philosophy at a university preparatory school in London, Ontario. Currently he works at a law firm in Hamilton, Ontario. His hockey background includes being drafted to an OHL Major Junior A hockey team and playing four years of Junior B hockey in southern Ontario.

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