Fall 2015

Sporting Life

Moodle site: Course


Joseph G. Moore (Section 01)


Most of us play sports, and many of us also follow the sporting accomplishments of others. Sport plays a significant role in education, in culture, and even in politics. It’s also a multi-billion dollar international business. Yet sport has received scant theoretical attention, especially within philosophy. Perhaps this is because sport is conceptually connected with play, and so seems unworthy of serious study. Yet sport raises many fascinating questions that touch on the human condition.

Can we even say what counts as a sport (hiking, cheer-leading, beer-pong)? How do rules figure in sports, in helping us distinguish, for example, between gamesmanship, cheating, and being a spoil-sport? Is sport a form of art? What do modern sporting institutions say about our society—about issues of race, class, nationality and gender, for example? Is sport a good thing, especially since it centrally involves competition, which can lead to alienation and violence? What exactly is wrong with doping and other enhancements in sports? And finally, what’s the proper role of sport in higher education—in particular, at Amherst College? Over the course of the semester, we will explore these and other questions about the nature of sport, and the role it plays in our own lives.

This is a discussion-based seminar. Close attention will be paid to student writing both in required papers and in informal assignments. The goal of the seminar is to sharpen our ability to think and write argumentatively, but also flexibly about the nature of sport in its many aspects. For this reason, we will investigate the way that sport is approached in texts of different types—philosophical, psychological, historical, sociological, scientific and literary.

Fall semester.  Professor Moore.


Attention to Writing


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015