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Au Coquelet,

2000 University Ave · Berkeley, CA

How to find us

usually in front of the dining area

Location image of event venue


Sportsmanship?? It does sound a bit more wholesome than our usual theme. While I'm sure we can find controversy within it, we might benefit more by exploring just how much "lip service" can be replaced with "philosophical substance." After all, sportsmanship is a code that encompasses both selfish and groupish behaviors, that is taught from an early age: I'd wager that it is a stronger prosocial ethic than religion. (Uh-oh, courting controversy seems to be a habit.)

"The most important life lesson we are teaching kids is to be graceful in triumph and humble in loss."

- Buena Vista Middle School, statement of "Sports Philosophy & Sportsmanship"

Americans are certainly competitive, but are we graceful losers? Well, we would be (promise!) if we ever lost (ha,ha)! How can we reconcile our self image, which seems to come almost entirely from winning, with this humbug about humility? What does it mean to be "graceful in triumph," beyond white lies about what a good game the losers played, and not exhibiting behavior you wouldn't want visited on yourself when you yourself stumble? In other words, is sportsmanship just a compromise, or is it something deeper?

"Sportsmanship Checklist: I played fair. I was respectful. I accepted the outcome of the game." (Poster)

Sportsmanship invokes other concepts with unclear definitions. Its fungibility even permits some to try to recast it as determination, teamwork, or spirit. So sportsmanship is a fine example of a concept whose meaning is being publicly negotiated. That makes it a good subject for us: as philosophers, might we seek to define it as creatively as possible? That is, before it can be right or wrong, good or bad, doesn't it have to be interesting?

"It's good sportsmanship to not pick up lost golf balls while they are still rolling." - Mark Twain

I haven't played golf in many years, but I think I have been guilty of labeling shots as "lost" before they had lost their momentum. How about you? Think of how much of the population conceives of life situations in terms of sports: business, law, politics, even courtship. Whatever ethical program a philosopher wants to push, wouldn't relating it to sportsmanship be a wise "pitch"?

So those are some things to think about during the World Cup. The plan is to choose the topic for July 15 from something related to sportsmanship that arises during Tuesday's discussion. Welcome to team-style philosophizing!