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In sports (especially boxing) fans love to rank the best boxers, players or

In sports (especially boxing) fans love to rank the best boxers, players or teams. So when ranking the Greatest Boxers of All-Time -- is it ethical to include boxers you or anyone else (alive) have never seen before (for no footage exists of them - e.g., Harry Greb)? (Provided that you put in as much research as possible - e.g., books, news archives, boxing historians writings.)

I am a professional boxing writer who has to vote on who gets into the Boxing Hall of Fame so this question certainly resonates with me. With your mention of Harry Greb it is clear that you know your boxing because based on his record and opposition there are many of us who believe he is one of the greatest of all time. But is it legitimate to rank fighters from different eras-- or teams. Not if you imagine "legitimate" implies that there is some science behind it. But I think it is legitimate if you take your ratings with two grains of salt -- maybe 3. You look at a boxers overall ledger and whom he or she competed against. Fighters from the modern era such as Floyd Mayweather, will end their careers with 1/4 -1/3 the contests of a Sugar Ray Robinson - is it legitimate to compare them? Yes and no, but if no, it can be great fun. And perhaps from a Pragmatist vantage point that makes it legit. Thanks.

Is it immoral to play poker (a game that inherently involves bluffing) full time

Is it immoral to play poker (a game that inherently involves bluffing) full time to make a living even if it is more profitable for someone than a traditional job? Even if we consider it a sport akin to tennis or golf, it does not create economic value in the sense that's it's usually not being broadcast and there are no spectators or advertising. Players do not contribute to the tax base and social insurance; money is just being passed around from person to person.

If gambling is your job I think you would end up paying taxes on your winnings, and gambling is certainly taxable in the United States, for instance. What is wrong with bluffing? When everyone knows that bluffing may be involved, it makes it part of a systematic attempt of winning a competition which adds interest to it for the participants. The fact that it is often a rather private activity does not make it problematic as such, and surely those who enjoy poker get both enjoyment and mental stimulation from considering the games of others as they are observed or reported to them. There is then perhaps more to say in favor of poker than your question suggests.

When playing games, be they sports, board games, video games or what have you,

When playing games, be they sports, board games, video games or what have you, there are almost always fixed rules, and violating these rules is usually accepted to be illegal within the game. However, there are also often informal rules of good sportsmanship and fair play which would prohibit certain kinds of behavior. However, such informal rules aren't explicitly a part of the game, and it seems that violating them is still within the rules of the game. If a person participates in a game, expecting good sportsmanship of some kind or another, but is instead treated to a game where their opponents demonstrate poor sportsmanship, is it within the player's rights to complain about that poor sportsmanship? Has the player been wronged? It seems that on the one hand, in consensually participating in a game without explicit rules of conduct punishing poor sportsmanship, the player has set themselves up for a situation in which they have no right to complain. On the other hand, it seems entirely...

They are legitimate since implicit rules are important too. If we all play as though the rules of sportsmanship are being observed and someone does not, then he or she gains an unfair advantage and others can rightly object. It is all a matter of establishing an even playing field, and if there is not general agreement on how the game is to be played, then at least we know what to expect. Once there is such agreement, the occasional malefector will have an advantage over others, something which will itself often be dealt with on the sportsfield in an informal and painful way!

I am a soccer fanatic. I watch as much soccer as possible. So it was no question

I am a soccer fanatic. I watch as much soccer as possible. So it was no question that I saw the Women's World Cup Final. But as I watched the US play Japan in the Women's World Cup Final, I became aware later in the game that I was rooting for Japan just out of compassion because of their recent natural disaster. Also, it looked like Japan needed the win more than the US. As someone who is born in the US, is it wrong to root for the opposing team out of empathy?

Not wrong at all, I'd say.

The only reason I can think of for thinking otherwise is that it would amount to not being loyal to one's country. We can agree that there are at least some kinds of loyalty we can normally expect from a good citizen. (Not committing treason is the most obvious example.) That said, it would be very bad if the demands of loyalty went all the way to which side you root for in a sporting match. That would be well down the road to mindless jingoism.

In one way it's a small point, but it has some real-life relevance. Noisy, thoughtless accusations of being "unpatriotic" are a far-too-familiar part of political discourse. If we worry that rooting for another country in a soccer match crosses the line, then the worry that we shouldn't disagree with any of our country's policies will seem all too real. That, however, is a disaster for thoughtful citizenship.

So root for the team of your choice. Root for them because they're the underdog, or because you like the way they play, or because you like the color of their jerseys. It is, after all, just a game. And you are, after all, not just a citizen of the United States but also of the world.

Dear Philosophers,

Dear Philosophers, My question is about the morality of actions in games. Can our behaviors in a game - however friendly or cruel if they are inside the borders of the game's rules - be regarded as immoral acts? For example, is hitting a person during a game a sort of immoral act? (in this case I know that it might be punished by the referee but is the act in itself immoral?) What about deceiving your rival in a game? Is it lie and thus an immoral behavior? and killing (suppose there is a game in which two people agree on a fight which would end in one side's death)? Thanks.

Great set of quetions. I think the concept of a game has shifted. In Ancient Rome, "games" included gladiator fights to the death, but today any intentional killing in the course of a game would be seen as no longer a game. If in the middle of a baseball game the batter beat the short stop to death with his bat we would think the game was at least interrupted. And in a case when two people agree to fight to the death this appears to be a duel and thus (at least in many countries) illegal. My colleague, who also serves on this panel, Gordon Marino, is a great boxer and defender of the virtues of this sport, so at least he would defend the permissibility of hitting other persons under controlled conditions. (Check out some of his answers to questions on this site.) I personally have reservations about games in which intentional harm is a goal (hence I prefer tennis to boxing, personally), but Marino makes a good case for how boxing can be done to build up self-repect and can be done while respecting one's opponent. As for deception and lying, some games explicitly build into them a reward for success at both, but only in defined areas. Actually, we might be quite hesitant to equate deception and lying in a game that calls for craft. A tennis player who makes her opponent think she will hit long but then only taps the ball over the net is considered smart. But some forms of deception seem at least to be bad sportsmanship. Although I doubt there is any rule against it, but I would think ill of a tennis player who made everyone think he has a severe injury when in fact he is perfectly fit and simply trying to lull his opponent into a state of reckless self-confidence.

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.

How can we precisely define cheating in sports? It does not appear sufficient to

How can we precisely define cheating in sports? It does not appear sufficient to say that any instance of willful rule-breaking in sports counts as cheating. For instance, no one would say that one basketball player who fouls another is "cheating," even though there is an obvious sense in which that player is breaking the rules. The difficulty seems to consist in the fact that practically all sports infractions have corresponding penalties (such as opponent free throws) built into the rules of the game. It isn't obvious how we're to distinguish banal infractions, such as fouling a player in basketball, from obvious cases of cheating, such as blood doping in competitive cycling. If a cyclist has his title revoked after being caught doping (or if he is fined, or is banned from future races, or whatever), what would prevent us from saying that his infraction was accounted for by the rules of cycling in the same way as fouls are accounted for in basketball, and that it therefore did not constitute cheating?

A good question.Here are some very limited thoughts.

I suggest that we distinguish between rules external to the gameor sport that set it up such that it can begin -- e.g. rules thatdefine the conditions under which participants take part -- and theinternal rules that define how the game is played, such as permitted'moves'. A violation of an external rule is not so much a violationof this or that particular rule, as an attempt to subvert the gameentirely. Not doping is an external rule, and likewise the rulesgoverning permitted equipment, the size and shape of the court/field/ route. Rules like travelling in basketball, or committing afoul, are internal rules. (It may be that this distinction cannot berigorously maintained, and that some rules appear to fall into bothcamps.) Nevertheless, we seem to be able to then say that mostinstances of things we call ' cheating' fall into the infraction ofan external rule.

However, there are circumstances where the infraction of aninternal rule is generally considered cheating. To me, the mostobvious example is diving in football/ soccer. Although it looks likea violation of an internal rule, diving is a deliberate attempt todeceive the referee, and thus to subvert the rules of the game. Forthat reason, I suggest it is analogous to an external ruleinfraction.

Not an entirely adequate answer, but it may be a start.

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.

My question deals with fair play and the relative value that we ascribe to

My question deals with fair play and the relative value that we ascribe to victories in sports that are either earned through no apparent cheating or that are earned through a clear (though at the time undetected by officials) cheating (for example, the "hand of god" moment by the Argentine soccer player, Maradona). Have philosophers opined on this issue? As an aside, I note that it has been famously said by certain athletes in sports that "if you're not cheating, you're not trying." So perhaps there is a related though tangential question regarding the perceived amount of effort employed by players themselves in a sporting event -- that if you are not trying to bend the rules to some extent then you are not trying hard enough, and consequently you are not placing a sufficient amount of value on the purported end of the game or match, i.e., victory. I am not inclined to favor the "cheating is just really trying" angle, but it is offered as a frequent enough justification.

The issue, it seems to me, is that there are more than one set of criteria for what is a good game of football, or even what is fair. So, from the player, fan, coach and owner's point of view, whatever it takes to win might be considered both good and fair and 'part of the game' (thus the 'cheating is really trying' claim). The referee, on the other hand, is interested only that the game runs strictly according to the rules. The commentator or neutral fan is interested in the game as an exhibition of skill, dedication and drama, and blatant cheating (especially if the camera sees it but the referee does not) is likely to be seen as ruining the game. The broadcaster wants something that will raise viewing figures, and controversial or even violent acts might be just the ticket – everything of that type is 'fair' to them.

One might be tempted to say that the referee's view is the most valid because it is the most regulated by the rules that define the game, and is free from extraneous factors such as the owner's or broadcaster's profits, a player's sponsorship deal, or the fan's heartbreak. However, that is a bit like saying the 'game' of eating is to consume nutrients and avoid toxins. The taste of the food, the joy of the successful cook, the dedication of the farmer, sharing a meal with friends in a restaurant, the the supermarket's profits, or learning about new cultures through their cuisine (not to mention the occasional modest intake of toxins) would all be 'extraneous' criteria. Is it possible meaningfully to describe a cultural event like a football game, or a meal, in terms of its minimum conditions? Or is it an essential feature of such events that they involve the intersection of different purposes and thus criteria?

I have two questions about hunting and fishing: First, is it is ethical to use

I have two questions about hunting and fishing: First, is it is ethical to use powerful machinery and high-technology to find and harvest fish and game? Second, is "professional" fishing ethical? It is unlikely that the human race would have survived without the dietary protein derived from hunting and fishing. At some point, hunters and fishers became "sportsmen" as well as providers, but still universally accepted the ethical principle that one must kill or catch only what would be used as food for the family. For my 70 years thus far on this earth, I have sought and caught fish to cook, and eat; and I have hunted and killed game birds and animals to cook and eat. Any excess has always been given to others for consumption or preserved for future meals. I regard this practice as ethical and in a proud human tradition dating from as far back as ancestry can be imagined. My hunting has always been on foot or horseback, sometime accompanied by a dog, and my fishing from the bank or in a small boat...

I think you would really enjoy a new anthology from Wiley-Blackwell--Hunting. It is written largely by and for hunters, and looks at the sort of ethical questions you raise in a way you will find hospitable.

I think hunting is extremely difficult to justify. Though once necessary to obtain necessary nutrients, clothing, etc., killing animals to obtain these things is no longer necessary. It doesn't really help justify hunting/fishing to eat what you kill, if you could have eaten something else.

Even assuming it was necessary to eat meat, it would still be problematic to engage in killing as a recreational leisure activity--which is what hunting/fishing are for most people. If the main goal of sport hunting/fishing are having fun, and food is just a byproduct, something odd is going on (as I argue here). But now getting to you question...

Hunters who are concerned about fairness at least see animals as "subjects" instead of merely as "objects." That's all to the good. Fair hunters will probably kill far fewer animals. But should they really think in terms of fairness? Hunting an animal is not a sport involving two competitors, since the animal doesn't participate voluntarily and has no idea what's going on. In a competition between two humans, fairness is mutually beneficial, but that's not necessarily so in the case of hunting and fishing. The "unfair" hunter at a hunting ranch will lure a tame animal to a hunting station, and then shoot him at close range with a powerful rifle. The "fair" hunter might chase a terrified deer for miles, and then shoot him from a distance with a bow and arrow, so the animal dies a slower death. The extra "fairness" in the second case doesn't benefit the deer, and in fact harms him!

I agree with you that all hunting is not equal, and if one is going to hunt, one should do it "the right way." But the right way, it seems to me, is just less wanton and more humane, not necessarily the way that involves concepts of fairness imported from human sport.