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Does there exist objective truths about what football (soccer) team is the best?

Does there exist objective truths about what football (soccer) team is the best? My friends keep telling me that it's possible, on the basis of statistics, to say that Spain objectively is the best national team in the world. I say there are no objective truths about these things. It would be extremely interesting to have a philosophers perspective on this!

Great question. I use a similar question on my first day of my Intro to Philosophy class to help my students see that not all questions have either objective answers or subjective answers. (I use "What is the greatest rock band of all time?" to make the point.) Objectively answerable questions are ones for which we have agreed-upon methods for finding a single correct answer: Is earth bigger than mars? How many humans are in this room? What is the capital of Nigeria? ... even if we don't yet know the answer: How many planets in the Milky Way have water on them? What will I weigh at noon on Jan 21, 2012?

Subjectively answerable questions are ones that depend only on the opinion of the person answering the question: What's your favorite color? What is your favorite rock band? What is your favorite soccer team?

But what about: What is the best rock band of all time? What is the best national soccer team in the world right now? (or: Why does Hamlet wait so long to avenge his father? What led to World War II?) These questions do not seem to be objective, nor subjective. I call them normatively answerable. By that, I just mean that we have norms about what counts as better and worse answers and also norms about what counts as better and worse ways or methods of answering them, though these methods may not point to a single correct answer. We also expect people to offer justifications for their answers to these questions and we make judgments about whether their justifications are defensible, irrelevant, etc.

The Beatles and Rolling Stones are defensible answers. Back Street Boys and In Sync are not. (Of course, the best answer is Led Zeppelin, which I can defend some other time.) Spain is a very defensible answer to what is the best soccer team. Alas, the USA is not. We could provide justifications both for the specific answer and for the methods we use to obtain it.

Here's a defensible method: The reigning champion of the World Cup is the best national team (especially if it is also the reigning European champion). So, Spain. But there are other defensible methods, including ones that use statistics (win/loss/tie ration, possession percentage, goals for/against, etc.). Without looking them up, I'd guess Spain is best on just about any of these measures. So, at this point the answer to this question may be easier than at other times.

Note that if the relevant community comes to complete agreement about how to answer a question, it looks objective. What is the best movie of the year? If we all agree it's the winner of the Oscar, then the answer is objective. But typically, we have lively debates about what methods are best to answer such questions, so they remain 'normatively answerable.' (I think most, if not all, ethical questions are normatively answerable.)

I hope this helps. And I hope that someday the US might be the best answer to the soccer question, but it might take a while.

Great question. I use a similar question on my first day of my Intro to Philosophy class to help my students see that not all questions have either objective answers or subjective answers. (I use "What is the greatest rock band of all time?" to make the point.) Objectively answerable questions are ones for which we have agreed-upon methods for finding a single correct answer: Is earth bigger than mars? How many humans are in this room? What is the capital of Nigeria? ... even if we don't yet know the answer: How many planets in the Milky Way have water on them? What will I weigh at noon on Jan 21, 2012? Subjectively answerable questions are ones that depend only on the opinion of the person answering the question: What's your favorite color? What is your favorite rock band? What is your favorite soccer team? But what about: What is the best rock band of all time? What is the best national soccer team in the world right now? (or: Why does Hamlet wait so long to avenge his father...

Any thoughts on being for or against bullfighting?

Any thoughts on being for or against bullfighting?

I am against needless animal suffering, such as factory farming, so I should probably be against bullfighting. But it offers an interesting test case for a purely utilitarian response to animal cruelty. Basically, utilitarians believe that an action is wrong if it leads to a net decrease in happiness. So, something like factory farming is clearly wrong because the amount of suffering produced during the lifetime of the animals raised in awful conditions outweighs any pleasure meat-eaters might get that they couldn't get from eating other food. (This is oversimplified because there are other considerations, like the environmental damage from factory farming.)

OK, but what about bullfighting? One might argue that the bulls are raised in relatively good conditions and then suffer pretty badly for some time, but that the suffering is outweighed by the happiness experienced by the spectators. Again, oversimplified--e.g., perhaps the spectators could easily find substitute sources of happiness that do not require animal cruelty--but it's an interesting case.

Of course, one might think that these sorts of calculations and conclusions show why utilitarianism is a problematic moral theory. There are certainly other arguments one might offer for why bullfighting is wrong. And it's not clear exactly what the arguments would be for why bullfighting should be preserved, except for tradition.

I am against needless animal suffering, such as factory farming, so I should probably be against bullfighting. But it offers an interesting test case for a purely utilitarian response to animal cruelty. Basically, utilitarians believe that an action is wrong if it leads to a net decrease in happiness. So, something like factory farming is clearly wrong because the amount of suffering produced during the lifetime of the animals raised in awful conditions outweighs any pleasure meat-eaters might get that they couldn't get from eating other food. (This is oversimplified because there are other considerations, like the environmental damage from factory farming.) OK, but what about bullfighting? One might argue that the bulls are raised in relatively good conditions and then suffer pretty badly for some time, but that the suffering is outweighed by the happiness experienced by the spectators. Again, oversimplified--e.g., perhaps the spectators could easily find substitute sources of happiness that...

I find that a very common discussion that I have with friends and family is

I find that a very common discussion that I have with friends and family is about which sport (baseball, football, soccer, etc.) is the "best" or which sport is "better." As my quotations may indicate, I find this discussion rather fruitless. For instance, I love baseball (watching or playing) but dislike soccer. But I do not know of a way--and am skeptical that there even is a way--to objectively measure the quality of a sport. Although they may share the common, but rather vague and general, attribute "sport," they nonetheless seem incommensurable with one another. At the same time, I am always wary of becoming a full-blown relativist, no matter the topic. So my question is whether or not there are fruitful ways to have an inner-sports dialogue that attempts to answer the question as to what sport is "better," "more praiseworthy," "more sophisticated," and so on? Or is our conception of what makes a sport good so tied up with our culture and (perhaps) our own athletic abilities that, in this case, we...

Soccer (futbol) is the best sport, and the World Cup is the best sporting event.

I believe this is as true as any normative truth can be, but I may be biased... and I may be suffering WCW (World Cup Withdrawal).

Soccer (futbol) is the best sport, and the World Cup is the best sporting event. I believe this is as true as any normative truth can be, but I may be biased... and I may be suffering WCW (World Cup Withdrawal).

If we turn up to spectate a sport for instance a football match is the outcome

If we turn up to spectate a sport for instance a football match is the outcome of the game any different to what it would have been, had we not been there?

Alas, probably not, especially if (a) the crowd is very large and (b) your seat would have been filled by another fan, especially if (c) that fan would have been cheering for your team and about as loudly as you. But even if a-c are not true, it's not clear how much the cheering of the fans changes the players' performances and hence the outcome of the game. On the other hand, it always amazes me how significant the home field/court advantage is in every sport, including soccer (I presume that when you said "football match" you were referring to the beautiful game, not American football). What could explain the fact that a team is at least 10% more likely to win at home than away against the same opponent? (OK, I'm making up the 10% figure, but if anything I bet it's low, and Wikipedia says in English Premier League home teams are almost 40% more likely to score goals.)

Well, several things could explain home field advantage other than the crowds, such as familiarity with the environment and not having to travel. And as far as I can tell, contributing to the crowd noise is the only chance we have of influencing the outcome of a game. Hence if a-c are true, it's not clear how you could have an influence on the outcome, barring a belief in weird causal powers (e.g., you can give the opposing players cramps by looking at them funny) or exceptional circumstances (e.g., you are close enough to yell insults at David Beckham which make him perform worse--watch out, they may make him perform better!).

On the other hand, it's kind of like voting. You should vote even if it is unlikely that your vote will make a causal difference in the outcome, because if people stopped voting based on that belief, it would make a difference. If all the fans started thinking their cheers made no difference, the overall silence would make a difference.

Anyway, I still like to believe I can influence the outcome of a game ... even by watching it on TV! Hence, there's no way I'm going to Tivo an important Duke basketball game--they need my magical energy to flow in real time! (Yes, philosophers can believe irrational things, though I'm not sure it's accurate to say I believe something I know is false, but that's a question for another day...)

Alas, probably not, especially if (a) the crowd is very large and (b) your seat would have been filled by another fan, especially if (c) that fan would have been cheering for your team and about as loudly as you. But even if a-c are not true, it's not clear how much the cheering of the fans changes the players' performances and hence the outcome of the game. On the other hand, it always amazes me how significant the home field/court advantage is in every sport, including soccer (I presume that when you said "football match " you were referring to the beautiful game, not American football). What could explain the fact that a team is at least 10% more likely to win at home than away against the same opponent? (OK, I'm making up the 10% figure, but if anything I bet it's low, and Wikipedia says in English Premier League home teams are almost 40% more likely to score goals.) Well, several things could explain home field advantage other than the crowds, such as familiarity with the environment and...