Philosophy and sport

by Chris Bertram on October 26, 2003

Sometimes, when I’m reading or listening to a paper which excites me with its novelty and brilliance, perhaps because it contains some really elegant move, a mental image comes into my head of Steve McManaman running with the ball, circa 1996. Colin McGinn, “writing in the latest Prospect”: about how he became a philosopher, would see the parallel:

bq. The metaphor that best captures my experience with both philosophy and sport is soaring: pole vaulting, gymnastics and windsurfing clearly demonstrate it, but the intellectual highwire act involved in full-throttle philosophical thinking gives me a similar sensation – as if I have taken flight, leaving gravity behind. It is almost like sloughing off mortality. (Plato indeed thought that acquiring abstract knowledge is a return to the prenatal state of the immortal soul.) There is also an impressiveness to these physical and mental skills that appeals to me – they evoke the “wow” reflex. Showing off is an integral part of their exercise; but as I said earlier, I don’t have any objection to showing off. In any case, there is not, for me, the discontinuity between sports and intellectual activities that is often assumed. It is not that you must either be a nerd or a jock; you can be both. It has never surprised me that the ancient Greeks combined a reverence for the mind with a love of sports: both involve an appreciation of the beauties of technique skilfully applied. And both place a high premium on getting it right – exactly right.



jdsm 10.26.03 at 6:24 pm

I read the same article earlier today and posted on my blog about it. Interesting that you added more weight to my suspicions that to be a professional philosopher you have to love the activity as much as you care about the truth. Or am I reading it wrong?

But Steve MacManaman? You must be a Liverpool fan.


Ruth 10.26.03 at 7:04 pm

Tom Stoppard probed the connections between philosophy and acrobatics in Jumpers.


dsquared 10.27.03 at 6:46 am

So Chris, are you trying to tell us that most of the papers you read just tend to peter out in the last third and then either never really go anywhere or make a monumentally misguided stab which misses its target completely?


Chris Bertram 10.27.03 at 7:17 am

No, _that_ goal against Celtic in the UEFA cup a few years back is more what I had in mind.

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