Challenges, Achievements, and Uncertainties: The Philosophy of Sport Since the 1980s

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The philosophy of sport has flourished in some ways and struggled in others since the publication of George Brooks’s anthology Perspectives on the Academic Discipline of Physical Education: A Tribute to G. Lawrence Rarick in 1981. In this article, the authors trace challenges faced by the philosophy of sport, discuss trends and hot topics, analyze opportunities for integrations with other subdisciplines, and speculate on the current issues in and the future of the philosophy of sport. While they conclude that the philosophy of sport’s prospect within kinesiology is uncertain and that it has work to do, they also conclude that this subdiscipline is uniquely positioned to provide kinesiology with the clarity and unity of purpose it needs.

Over the past 40 years, the philosophy of sport has flourished in some ways and struggled in others. On the positive side of the ledger, the parent discipline of philosophy has more fully embraced the philosophy of sport. An increasing number of philosophers have turned their attention to our subject matter, and more philosophy departments now have a course in sport philosophy or sport ethics. Our literature in sport philosophy has grown in both volume and quality. Moreover, the two most highly respected international journals in our field typically have a good mixture of articles from both philosophers and kinesiologists.

On the other side of the ledger, sport philosophy has faced several challenges coincident with the birth of kinesiology’s disciplinary movement in the 1960s. Some of these challenges are related to the fact that kinesiology is a natural science-intensive field. In such settings, philosophy may be overlooked. A case in point is George Brooks’s (1981) anthology Perspectives on the Academic Discipline of Physical Education: A Tribute to G. Lawrence Rarick, whose 40th anniversary is celebrated in this special issue. Philosophy was not represented among the subdisciplines included in that volume.

The absence of philosophy is ironic, surprising, and yet also understandable. It is ironic because the single essay in the anthology that even touches on philosophy suggests that it might be the one subdiscipline that can best help our diverse and splintered field unite and find its way forward. Sport historian Roberta Park wrote:

In the final analysis, it may be philosophy, man’s oldest scholarly concern, which will provide the key to achieving a new synthesis and help to clarify the uniqueness of physical education as an academic discipline. Although it is by no means the only field of study which does so, philosophy’s emphasis on reasons rather than causes, logical rather than experimental methods of substantiation, and its dedication to eliciting presuppositions which lie behind questions, may provide a useful corrective for such limitations as may exist in more dominant modes of modern 20th century thought. (all emphases original, 1981, p. 40)

Philosophy’s absence from Brooks’s volume is also surprising for several reasons. Philosophy was consistently identified in the mid-20th century as a core content area for what was then called physical education. For instance, The Big Ten Body-of-Knowledge Project in Physical Education in 1966 identified history and philosophy as among only six areas suitable for academic specialization in physical education. This commitment to philosophy was reiterated and reinforced by several follow-up symposia (see, e.g., Zeigler & McCristal, 1967).

The omission is also surprising because the Philosophic Society for the Study of Sport (the precursor to what is now called the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport) was founded in 1972, 9 years before the publication of Brooks’s volume (Torres, 2015). The Journal of the Philosophy of Sport was then preparing to publish its eighth volume. Moreover, graduate programs in the philosophy of sport existed during all or parts of the 1960s and 1970s at The Ohio State University, the University of Illinois, the University of Southern California, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Oregon, and the University of Western Ontario, among other places in North America.

Finally, the surprising absence of philosophy in the Brooks anthology, is also understandable. The divide between both the natural and social sciences and the humanities has a long history in higher education. Snow (1959/1964), in his book titled The Two Cultures and a Second Look, famously underlined several biases, misperceptions, and tensions that hindered collaboration, curricular complementation, and mutual respect. Snow cast the blame, for what he saw as an unhealthy division, toward both offending parties—those in humanities and those in the natural and social sciences.

The omission is also understandable because many of the architects of the disciplinary movement in kinesiology had distinguished careers in the natural sciences of human movement, including the first three authors in the Brooks anthology—Brooks himself, Franklin Henry, and Lawrence Rarick. Henry, who many give credit with driving a wedge between the discipline and the profession of physical education, did not even mention philosophy by name as he attempted to conceptualize the scope of the new discipline. Neither did he describe nor endorse philosophic methods of research. Whether intentional or not, this was a reflection, at least in part, of the times in which he wrote.

Much has changed over the last 40 years. This special edition of Kinesiology Review bears testimony to that fact. A comparison of the two tables of contents reflects, we believe, a maturation of the discipline and a move in the direction of interdependence and increasing levels of mutual understanding and respect among the diverse contributors to our field.

In our article, we will trace challenges faced by the philosophy of sport, discuss trends and hot topics, analyze opportunities for integrations with other subdisciplines, and speculate on the current issues in and the future of sport philosophy. We begin with hurdles encountered over the past four decades by sport philosophy.

Challenges Faced by the Philosophy of Sport

In some ways, the philosophy of sport enjoyed greater visibility and support immediately prior to, and during, the early days of the disciplinary movement than it has today. A variety of headwinds have inhibited forward movement for the humanities, in general, and the philosophy of sport, in particular. To be sure, some of these same countercurrents affected other subdisciplines too, but arguably, several of these forces affected the philosophy of sport to a greater degree. Briefly, five of these countervailing winds are the following:

Unfavorable Trends in Higher Education

Kinesiology, like other fields, has been affected by broader trends that have changed the shape of higher education in general. Over the past 50 years, courses, faculty lines, and major programs in the humanities have declined in relative numbers. For instance, in 1971, 1% of the baccalaureate graduates in the United States majored in philosophy. By 2018, this had decreased by 50%, falling to approximately 0.5%. By way of contrast, health and health-related majors grew from 3% in the graduating class of 1971 to over 12% by 2018 (Digest of Education Statistics, 2020). While causes for this shift are complex and are still being debated, the fact remains that philosophy, including the philosophy of sport, found itself on the short side of this trend.

Increased Pressure on Kinesiology Curricula

The expansion of disciplinary courses in kinesiology in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s put increased pressure on undergraduate major programs in our field. Disciplinary faculty wanted more curricular space for their own courses as well as such prerequisites as biology, physiology, nutrition, mathematics, and physics. Professional faculty resisted and argued they could not give up any curricular ground if they were to prepare students for the marketplace, professional graduate programs, or demanding certification examinations. Something in this zero-sum curricular situation had to give, and once again philosophy and other humanities courses found themselves in vulnerable positions.

The Evolution of Faculty Training and Education in Philosophy

The disciplinary movement in kinesiology put additional pressure on academic expertise. This was true for all our subdisciplines—in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. However, the landscape in the humanities was somewhat different. Several faculty prior to mid-20th century were educated in graduate school under a “generalist” paradigm. While they focused in an area, such as health education or administration, they also took graduate courses in other areas, sometimes in the philosophy of education, often in the history and principles of physical education. Because of this, departments around the country during the middle decades of the 20th century had faculty members who had taken at least one course in something related to the humanities. Rightly or wrongly, these individuals were deemed qualified to teach the local history and principles course.

However, after the disciplinary specialization movement began to take root, such generalists were not sufficiently prepared to deal with the new philosophy of sport literature or to teach the new philosophy of sport courses. Because of Trends 1 and 2 noted previously, the hiring of a well-educated sport philosopher was not high on many department heads’ list of priorities. Consequently, history and principles courses or offerings in history and philosophy were often made electives or dropped from the curriculum altogether.

Resistance From the Parent Discipline

In the decades prior to the disciplinary movement in kinesiology, very few inroads had been made into mainstream philosophy, let alone the applied subdiscipline of educational philosophy. In other words, prior to the 1960s, the philosophic work we produced was almost entirely “in house.” Because of this, we had not laid any foundation for collaboration with mainstream philosophy. Even early disciplinary works by physical education philosophers, such as Slusher (1967) and Metheny (1968), did not receive much notice in the philosophic community.

Philosophy, at that time, was a staid and conservative discipline. The topic of sport, according to many card-carrying philosophers, was not worth investigating. While this academic elitism was challenged by well-known philosopher Weiss (1969) with the publication of Sport: A Philosophic Enquiry, biases against the topic of sport remained in place. Consequently, in the mid- to late-20th century, we had to start building bridges between kinesiology and philosophy largely from scratch.

Errors Made by Early Disciplinary Sport Philosophers

We contributed to our own problems. Those of us who worked during the early years of the disciplinary movement may have taken Franklin Henry’s advice too much to heart. We were determined to fully honor the distinction between disciplinary philosophy (with its broad scope and stringent scholarly requirements) and professional or educational philosophy (with its applied focus and lesser intellectual status). We may have tried too hard to think and write as “real philosophers,” and we generally avoided applied topics, such as education, health, and fitness. This resulted in an increased inability to communicate with, and appear relevant to, other kinesiologists and our students.

Earle Zeigler, one of the senior members of the philosophy group, would stand up at our early meetings and warn us that our arcane erudition would make us irrelevant. To a degree, he was right. We philosophers found ourselves talking mostly to ourselves. This, of course, made us more expendable in corporate settings, such as physical education departments, and less useful for collaborative purposes, such as developing an undergraduate physical education curriculum.

Many of these challenges, as we will detail in the remainder of our analysis, have been overcome or ameliorated over the past 40 years. Some of the external factors have changed. New reasons have emerged for collaboration between those in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Attitudes and skills of sport philosophers have evolved. The result has been a strengthening of sport philosophy, even if its value is still questioned in some kinesiology settings, and even if its future remains uncertain.

Hot Topics Since the Formalization of the Philosophy of Sport

This section briefly traces the trajectory of the philosophy of sport since the creation of the Philosophic Society for the Study of Sport (now the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport) and the launching of the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, both in the early 1970s. These two developments marked the formalization of the philosophy of sport, not just in English-speaking circles, but around the world. Specifically, the focus of the section is on the topics that generated the most intense activity and interest at different times since the 1970s and thus were in relevant ways representative of the contemporary state of the philosophy of sport. That topical trends were discernible does not deny, of course, that other areas of concern were also present in the specialized literature.

During the 1970s and into the 1980s, the budding philosophy of sport had plenty of inquiries attempting to understand with some precision the notion of sport and how it differed from other practices. That is, there were abundant metaphysical analyses regarding sport’s “extension (the class of practices to which the term sport correctly applies) and intension (the set of elements a practice must have in order to fall within sport’s extension)” (Morgan & Meier, 1995, p. 3). A most notable milestone was the publication of Suits’s (1978) brilliant book The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia, “[comprising] a definition of game playing which is developed and defended against a series of objections” (Paddick, 1979, p. 73). His proposal is that games are activities governed by rules that create unnecessary obstacles to the achievement of stated goals and that the rules are accepted for the sake of the activity they make possible. Suits’s work extended the definitional undertaking for greater clarity and accuracy, and simultaneously served as fertile ground to further the study of the characteristics, distinctions, and relations among game, play, competition, and sport.

That this period included much conceptual effort by the founding scholars of the subdiscipline is hardly surprising. By demarcating “just what sort of social practices and forms of life are captured by the concept of sport” (Morgan & Meier, 1995, p. 3), they were forging and deliberating about the possible contours of the philosophy of sport and, at the same time, imagining and shaping a program for it. For instance, comprehending the extension and intension of sport would prove to be a key resource for its axiological and moral assessment (Simon et al., 2015, pp. 23–24).1

Another topic of relevance during the 1970s and the 1980s focused on the connection between sport and beauty, an inquiry that falls within the branch of philosophy known as esthetics. The scholarly efforts of this period investigating the esthetic dimension of sport were “largely concerned with the legitimacy of considering and including the aesthetic and artistic aspects of various forms of sport production, experiencing, or contemplation” (Morgan & Meier, 1995, p. 375). One significant question addressed was whether sport merited identification as a form of art, such as dance, theater, painting, or sculpting. Similarly, given that play had been long associated with esthetic experience, including but exceeding qualities, such as spontaneity, creativity, and novelty, scholars asked if play could be considered an esthetic or even artistic feature of sport. A third area of analysis proposed to categorize different types of sport based on the relative significance of the esthetic dimension. For instance, Best (1974) distinguished between purposive and esthetic sports. While in the former “the purpose or end can be specified independently of the manner of achieving it as long as it conforms to the limits set by the rules,” in the latter “the aim cannot be specified in isolation from the aesthetic” (pp. 201–202). Regardless of any categorization, during this period, the literature also questioned the validity of what Mumford (2015) calls the esthetic hypothesis: that esthetic considerations are a central aspect of sport.2

Increasing interest in the relationship between sport and moral values, gave way in the 1980s and early 1990s to broader theorizations of sport. The first such theory was known as formalism, and it grew out of Suits’s account of sport. According to formalism, “the various derivative notions of a game are to be defined exclusively in terms of its formal rules” (Morgan, 1987, p. 1). Thus, for instance, what counts as a legitimate part of and as engaging in (and thus too winning) a game, is derived from the relevant rules of that game. A most relevant upshot of this theory was the logical incompatibility thesis, which advances that one cannot play and emerge victorious in a game if one violates the rule(s) of that game.

A rival theory, emphasizing the role of the ethos of a game, soon argued that formalism was defective. The ethos of a game refers to the “set of unofficial, implicit conventions which determine how the rules of that game are to be applied in concrete circumstances” (D’Agostino, 1981, p. 17). Known as conventionalism, this nonformalist rendition of sport maintained that the prevailing ethos should be considered alongside the formal structure if sport is to be better understood and its moral dilemmas more fruitfully addressed. After all, conventionalists advance, rules cannot establish their own application and they fail to cover all potential eventualities in a game. In short, for this theory, sport is comprised of its rules as well as the collectively but implicitly agreed upon customs. As expected, formalists defended formalism’s thesis, which furthered the debate over the logic, values, and worth of sport.3

Some specific ethical issues also attracted the attention of sport philosophers, which exemplified a tempering of previous analytical approaches and a practical turn toward applied philosophy. One that emerged with much force around the mid-1980s, and that would occupy them for decades, was that of doping (i.e., the use of drugs to enhance athletic performance). Two opposing sides quickly emerged in the literature: one that regarded doping as a morally permissible practice and one that reasoned that restricting it was morally justifiable. Among other arguments, the latter claimed that doping was harmful to users and society, was unfair to those who respected the existing regulations against it, was coercive for others to engage in it, and violated the character of athletic excellence. The former countered by arguing that antidoping regulations restricted human freedom and were unjustifiably paternalistic, that dopers did not coerce others to engage in it, that other practices permitted in sport were equally or even more harmful than drugs, that sport authorized many other technological or medical interventions, and that doping regulations are impractical and difficult to enforce.4 In recent years, this debate has been subsumed under a more encompassing scrutiny of the methods available to enhance performance that should or should not be allowed in sport. In other words, the central question is currently about the conditions under which athletic excellence might be achieved. This includes pharmaceutical substances, medical interventions, and equipment but extend to training regimens and, starting around the early 2000s, genetic engineering. In regard to the latter, the discussion oscillates between transhumanists, who advocate human enhancement through different technological means, and bioconservatives, who subscribe to a view limiting those technological means of human enhancement.5

Another area of ethical concern that extends from the days of the formalization of the philosophy of sport to the present is that of gender equity in sport. It could be argued that the starting point was the opening question of English’s (1978) classic essay “Sex Equality in Sport,” which simply but powerfully reads: “What constitutes equal opportunity for women in sports?” (p. 269). Broadly speaking, the literature recognizes two models for promoting gender equity in sport: the assimilationist and the pluralist views. The first equates equality with blindness to sex and requires ignoring and assigning no special importance to sex differences. The second holds that equality requires acknowledging and assigning special importance to sex differences when they are consequential to social practices, such as sport for assuring equal opportunity to men and women. While pluralism endorses separate categories of competition for men and women, assimilationism rejects such segregation. In addition to the growing number of works devoted to scrutinizing several aspects of these models, there is also increased attention to “the knotty question of how women’s identities, their sense of themselves as individuated and socialized bodily beings, are constructed and deconstructed in bodily practices like sport and exercise” (Morgan & Meier, 1995, p. 329). Lately, the rigid sex binarism predominant in sport has been challenged by athletes who do not easily conform with the established categories of competition. Notably, there has been a voluminous and vigorous academic debate in the last 15 years or so about the inclusion of transgender athletes in sport, with those defending and opposing if and under what conditions these athletes, especially female transgender, should participate in sport.6

Although, in the 1970s, Novak (1976) explored the connection between sport and religion and “probe[d] the deeper meaning of sport for the true sports fan” (VanderZwaag, 1978, p. 89), the study of this connection and the potential meanings of practicing and watching sport remained relatively dormant for a few decades. However, the 2000s brought renewed interest to this area. Its scope is now larger and includes the complex and multifaceted intersection of sport and a “wider sense of spirituality, and questions about how both relate to ethical and wider cultural values and how they relate to the experience of athletes and the wider sporting community” (Robinson, 2015, p. 245). This renewed interest is strongly linked to the investigation of the role that game playing, especially sport, could have in promoting “the good life,” an investigation pioneered by Suits.7 There is no shortage of candidates to explain this linkage. Some, following Suits, offer a perfectionist rendering in which game playing, most notably sport, is the paradigm of modern value because “since its goal is intrinsically trivial, its value is entirely one of process rather than product, journey rather than destination” (Hurka & Tasioulas, 2006, p. 17). Others assert that the inversion of instrumentality seen in sport invites a life of “wholehearted engagement,” which expresses the notion of “active, passionate engagement in some enterprise, of engagement that is more mindful and self-conscious than habitual and unreflective, and more touched by élan because of the higher sense of purpose and aspiration it embodies” (Morgan, 2010, p. 141). Others argue that there is a human tendency to find and participate in games grounded on human evolutionary history. Games “are fundamental and fundamentally human activities” (Kretchmar, 2005, p. 189) through which humans flourish. The expanding views explaining the linkage between sport and spirituality as well as sport and the good life indicate that sport philosophers needed to redeem or elevate sport, a practice considered normatively suspect in many quarters, by explaining not only why it was not a banal or frivolous endeavor, but also that it could be central in a life well lived.8

The last two decades have also seen a reemergence of attention to the theories of sport, among other topics, such as the esthetics of sport. Formalism and conventionalism were challenged and influenced by interpretivism, a theory claiming, “that in addition to the rules of various sports, there are underlying principles that might be embedded in overall theories or accounts of sport as a practice” (Simon, 2000, p. 7). These intrinsic principles, such as commitment to moral equality and commitment to athletic excellence, serve as the foundation to interpret sport’s main goal and purpose and are best understood as “presuppositions of sporting practice in the sense that they must be accepted if our sporting practice is to make sense or, perhaps, make the best sense” (Simon et al., 2015, p. 32). Both formalists and conventionalists reacted by correcting and reformulating their theories and in the process responded to the interpretivist’s challenges to their previous positions. Furthermore, they also posed their own challenges to interpretivism.9 What these latest developments demonstrate is that there is a vibrant debate about the most cogent and supple theoretical approach not only to account for and understand the nature of sport but also to guide sportspeople as to how they should assess, value, and comport themselves in athletic settings. The likely ramifications of this debate promise to extend and illuminate ongoing interrogations in other areas of inquiry within the philosophy of sport.10

In 1974, Robert G. Osterhoudt, first editor of the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, wrote in the introduction to the journal’s inaugural issue that the subdiscipline was committed “to the presentation of genuinely philosophical examinations, or reflective authentic examinations of the nature and significance of sport . . . [and] systematic discussions of issues peculiar to sport until they are reduced to matters of a distinctly philosophic order” (Osterhoudt, 1974, p. 2). It could be argued without reservation that, as the ongoing debate on the theories of sport, among others, demonstrate, the philosophy of sport is moving forward, with ever increasing sophistication, scope, and diversity, in the enquiring spirit proposed by Osterhoudt almost 50 years ago.

Integration of the Philosophy of Sport With Other Disciplines

When Brooks’s volume was published 40 years ago, the philosophy of sport was not well integrated with other disciplines in kinesiology. As noted, philosophers of sport at that time were focused internally, attempting to do good philosophy, and trying to separate themselves from historical associations with educational philosophy. Philosophers of sport rarely reached out to natural and social scientists, and they rarely reached out to philosophers. Collaboration was time consuming and difficult, and relatively few incentives for integration existed four decades ago. External funding opportunities, tenure protocols, and discipline-specific scholarly journals effectively discouraged collaborative enterprises. To an extent, this is still the case today.

What has changed over these four decades, if only in modest degrees, is a growing realization of interdependence and interpenetration. It is one thing for silo-housed researchers to work alone and attempt to combine results afterward (Kretchmar, 2008). It is quite another to live in a single room and integrate research projects before getting started. We do not yet live in that “single room,” but we have found more pathways between our disciplinary silos than we had 40 years ago, and we are using them more regularly . . . sometimes, even “before getting started.” What follows are three examples of physical activity-related research that, in our opinion, could benefit from integrated approaches:

Ethics and Performance Enhancement

Ethics is a prime candidate for upfront collaboration and integration. The natural and social sciences are well equipped to analyze the what-is or the how-it-works of performance enhancement, but their research tools are not suited for examining what-should-be. Natural scientists can study, for instance, the performance and health effects of different enhancement substances and techniques used by athletes to gain a competitive edge. Social scientists can examine uses and prohibitions of enhancements and their effects on groups of people and individuals as well as institutions. Historians can provide context by uncovering performance enhancement practices that stretch back to the origins of the Olympics Games in Ancient Greece. This conversation, however, is still missing something philosophers can provide—namely, arguments related to fair play, analyses of how sporting traditions can be enhanced and made more valuable or alternately, harmed and diminished, and principled discussions about how we can sensibly distinguish permissible from impermissible enhancements. Philosophers do not have to lead collaborative efforts on such issues, but conversations must culminate in more inclusive studies (see, e.g., Gleaves, 2010; Sandel, 2007; Tamburrini, 2000).

Meaning and Motor Control

Meaning is a more controversial candidate than ethics for inclusion in upfront collaboration and integration. This is the case because it requires a journey into the subjective, a destination that frequently has been regarded as off-limits or taboo (Wallace, 2000). Integration requires that kinesiologists take subjective states—emotions, feelings, recognitions, perceptions, and even values—seriously. This complicates analyses of motor control grounded exclusively or primarily in physics, chemistry, biology, and physiology. However, these complications promise to produce a broader and more accurate understanding of human movement. As the effort to understand motor activity largely or solely in mechanistic terms wanes, the door for fruitful conversations between biomechanists, evolutionary biologists, cognitive psychologists, neurophysiologists, and philosophers of mind will be opened ever more widely. This should benefit both those who focus on motor control as well as those who study meaning and significance.

Foundations for this collaboration were laid years ago on the philosophic side with the publication of Merleau-Ponty’s (1942/1963) The Structure of Behavior in 1942 and on the motor control side in Nikolai Bernstein’s On the Construction of Movements first published in 1947 (in Latash, 2020). In these two publications, mechanistic concepts of motor control were elevated and enriched by appreciating the ubiquity of meaning and its causal effects in skilled movement. Conversely, idealistic concepts of meaning were pulled down to earth and enriched by appreciating the ubiquity and causal effects of material influences, evolution, biological factors, and the like.

Much work remains. Such collaborative research will provide further evidence for the interpenetration of the thoughtful and the physical and lessen the likelihood that kinesiologists will conduct research under the banners of materialism, on the one hand, or mind–body dualism, on the other (see, e.g., Damasio, 2003; McGinn, 1999; Merleau-Ponty, 1942/1963).

The Good Life, Health, and Longevity

Research on quality of life, conducted in philosophy by axiologists, is perhaps one of the least controversial candidates for inclusion in upfront multidisciplinary collaboration, particularly in health-related fields, such as ours. At one extreme, such philosophic research attempts to identify minimal requirements for life to be considered human. At the other, it examines those aspects of life that contribute to human flourishing, to what we commonly call the good life. Collaboration is needed because quality of life and life per se can be in tension with one another and, because of this, create any number of ethical dilemmas. This is becoming ever more apparent in a world in which modern medicine, coupled with our own efforts to promote active living, can extend life to the point where important cognitive, social, and physical capabilities are lost. Consequently, increased longevity per se exists as a mixed blessing. Because of this, efforts to extend life have to be balanced against criteria for a life that is worth living, and axiologists must be at the table to help carry this broader research agenda forward (see, e.g., James, 1978; MacIntyre, 1981/2007; Rojo-Perez & Fernandez-Mayoralas, 2021).

Incentives for collaboration and cooperation across disciplines are provided today by external granting agencies, an increased number of interdisciplinary journals, more democratic attitudes toward diverse research methodologies, and a growing recognition of mutual dependency in kinesiology departments. This suggests that integrative research might continue to increase significantly in the decades ahead and that it will be shaped, in part, by contributions from such philosophic domains as ethics, philosophy of mind, and axiology.

Current Issues in and Future Directions for the Philosophy of Sport

It is possible that the philosophy of sport has done better in philosophy departments than in kinesiology departments over the past several decades. Three factors appear to have fueled this trend. First, attitudes among parent-discipline philosophers toward applied topics and popular culture are now more accommodating. Philosophy has returned, to an extent, to Socrates’s marketplace. Second, courses in the philosophy and ethics of sport have proven to be popular. They have attracted new students to philosophy departments, an academic department that has been in dire need of additional majors and student credit hours. Third, philosophy professors have come to realize that sport can serve as an interesting and accessible entry point for the study of more traditional topics. Fair play in sport, for instance, can illustrate broader issues of justice. Participation in high-risk sports can generate broader discussions about free will, the ethics of autonomy, and the nature of the good life. These factors, and potentially others, have prompted philosophy departments to “discover” the philosophy of sport. None of these positive factors have come into play in kinesiology departments, at least not to the same degree.

Because of this, and because the philosophy of sport faces several headwinds detailed in the introduction, our subdiscipline faces an uncertain future in kinesiology. Graduate programs are close to nonexistent in North America. Faculty lines earmarked for philosophy and ethics of sport are few and far between. In Research I institutions, faculty in the natural and social sciences who can compete for large grants are viewed as being more valuable than faculty in the humanities who have fewer opportunities to secure significant external funding. Philosophic curricular content, if it exists at all, is squeezed into courses that have little to do with philosophy and are taught by individuals with no training in our subject matter.

Paradoxically, philosophy of sport is not lacking for endorsements in kinesiology. For instance, the American Kinesiology Association includes the following statement in their recommendations for core curricular elements: “A solid grounding in cultural, historical and philosophical aspects of Kinesiology is an essential component of a Kinesiology education” (emphasis added, American Kinesiology Association, 2009). Similarly, the North American Society for Sport Management formally acknowledges the importance of philosophy and ethics. Its accrediting agency, The Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (2016), indicates that legal, ethical, and diversity issues must be covered in sport management coursework. Once again, however, historical and philosophical aspects of kinesiology are not actually treated as “essential elements” in general undergraduate kinesiology curricula. In sport management programs, legal, ethical, and diversity issues are given little attention and are often farmed out to professors in law schools or business colleges.11 These endorsements therefore, as strong as they appear to be on paper, have generated little concrete support.

Philosophy, however, is not likely to disappear from the kinesiology landscape. Our field needs graduates who can think logically and critically and who can speak forcefully and clearly. Moreover, our field is coming to realize there is no such thing as value-free research, a value-free curriculum, or value-free professional preparation. Good judgments are required in all these areas, and they can be made thoughtfully and insightfully or not. Philosophy can help, and help considerably, in this process.

In some ways our fledgling discipline of kinesiology in the 1970s put the cart before the horse. Liberated to pursue our research agendas in unfettered ways, we made several assumptions before taking time to critically evaluate them. We got to work, in other words, before we had much clarity on where we were headed. Philosophy is uniquely positioned, as Roberta Park noted four decades ago, to help provide that kind of clarity.

What has been explained so far in this section, but more precisely in the whole article, leaves us with a significant question: what does the future of the philosophy of sport look like? Hopsicker and Hochstetler (2016) addressed this question in a recent article. After reviewing the status of the philosophy of sport, they analyzed past prognoses offered by various scholars, including ourselves. While Hopsicker and Hochstetler concluded that “Prophesies, both past and present, generally vacillate between optimism and pessimism,” they suggested that given the philosophy of sport’s successes and challenges since the 1970s, its future “trends somewhere in the middle” (p. 247). Their position is reminiscent of that of Gramsci (1973) when positing that his state of mind regarding the world synthesized and transcended pessimism and optimism, “my mind is pessimistic, but my will is optimistic” (p. 159). His pessimism of the intellect compels a view of the world as it is, his optimism of the will encourages courageous attempts to meliorate the world. In this vein, Hopsicker and Hochstetler pointed out the direction that the philosophy of sport should take in the future “to remain a viable area of study within kinesiology, more broadly establish an impact in higher education, and contribute outside of the academy to society at large” (p. 247). In addition to the training and hiring of sport philosophers and working toward valuing and incorporating philosophic thinking in the education of future kinesiologists, they identified three areas upon which progress will be dependent.

Expanding and Applying Sport Philosophy’s Body of Knowledge

The future of sport philosophy requires that its cultivators converse not only among each other but with other professionals who are interested in the study of physical activity. The aspiration should be “to engage in broad ways [with those professionals] while still retaining sub-disciplinary ties that continue to advance theoretical knowledge in the field” (Hopsicker & Hochstetler, 2016, p. 248). This could certainly lead to, as expounded previously, much needed connections and pollinations fostering more integrated approaches to research. This reaching out should not stop in academic circles, but also extend beyond them (i.e., sport governing bodies, governmental and community organizations, health care institutions, and media outlets).

Applying Theory to Societal Challenges

The future of sport philosophy requires that its cultivators increasingly apply their theoretical knowledge not only to pressing issues in sport and kinesiology, but also to larger societal challenges related to, for example, health, well-being, and good living. Sport philosophers are equipped to provide direction and leadership in this area “with expertise in their methodical and careful analysis of issues. Philosophers do not have a corner on critical thinking, to be sure, but their training emphasizes this skill, so it is indeed a strength and asset” (Hopsicker & Hochstetler, 2016, p. 249).

Responding to the Changing Nature of Global Sport and Physical Activity

The future of sport philosophy requires that its cultivators consider and adapt to the changes in the nature of sport and physical activity within a global culture. New forms of communication as well as the ever-increasing attention to sport and the growing spread of unconventional sports and forms of physical activity provide “a plentitude of opportunities to [engage in and] disseminate philosophical analysis” (Hopsicker & Hochstetler, 2016, p. 251). Sport philosophers would need to navigate the challenges and opportunities offered by present global changes, and those still to come, to flourish and make a positive social impact.

Undoubtedly, focusing on these three areas will be conducive to furthering the development of the philosophy of sport. We would add that such development is also dependent on expanding opportunities for scholars from underrepresented groups. Much like kinesiology at large, the philosophy of sport has been, at least in North America, largely dominated by White males. The low number of female and minority sport philosophers shows that these groups still face significant obstacles to pursue careers in kinesiology. “Hence,” as one of us contended a few years ago, “one of the challenges sport philosophy has for the future is to continue fostering a welcoming, nurturing and inclusive climate for women and other minority groups” (Torres, 2015, p. 8). Such a climate is right as it respects and honors diversity. At the same time, it enriches the philosophy of sport and its cultivators by expanding their interests, perspectives, and preoccupations. In this regard, the philosophy of sport could also benefit from paying renewed and systematic attention to issues related to the broader social, political, ideological, and economic context in which sport and physical activity are organized and practiced. This highlights a claim made by Hopsicker and Hochstetler (2016), that “there is no indication that the philosophic examination of sport and physical activity is needed less today than at any point in its history”; if anything, “evidence from both inside and outside of the academy suggests otherwise” (p. 247). This resonates with Park’s (1981) conclusion in her chapter for Brooks’s anthology. The philosophy of sport has work to do. While doing it, sport philosophers, both in philosophy and kinesiology departments, hopefully toiling cooperatively, would do well to remember Park’s claim that their craft could “provide the key to achieving a new synthesis and help to clarify the uniqueness of [the discipline we know now as Kinesiology]” (1981, p. 40).

Notes

1.

The following are five examples, among many others, of the work produced on the topic during this period: Hyland (1984), Kretchmar (1975), McBride (1975), Meier (1988), and Morgan (1977).

2.

The following are five examples, among many others, of the work produced on the topic during this period: Cooper (1978), Cordner (1988), Kupfer (1983), Postow (1984), and Roberts (1986).

3.

The following are five examples, among many others, of the work produced on the topic during this period: Redifford (1985), Morgan (1994 and 1998), Roberts (1998), and Russell (1999).

4.

The following are five examples, among many others, of the work produced on the topic during this period: Brown (1980), Burke (1997), Geeraets (2018), Holowchak (2002), Lavin (1987).

5.

The following are five examples, among many others, of the work produced on the topic during this period: Camporesi and McNamee (2018), Miah (2004), Sandel (2007), Schneider and Rupert (2009), and Tamburrini (2010).

6.

The following are five examples, among many others, of the work produced on the topic during this period: Francis (1993), Messner (1988), Sailors (2020), Teetzel (2006), and Young (1979).

7.

Kretchmar (2005) referred to the good life as “the experiences and conditions of living that we regard as desirable” and as “a composite of individual values that are woven into a person’s life” (pp. 206–207). See Graves (2019) also for an introductory discussion of this concept.

8.

The following are five examples, among many others, of the work produced on the topic during this period: Carlson (2018), Hoffman (1992 and 2010), Meyer (2012), and Parry et al. (2007).

9.

The following are five examples, among many others, of the work produced on the topic during this period: Feezell (2001), Loland (2004), Morgan (2004), Russell (2007), and Torres (2012).

10.

The following are five examples, among many others, of the ongoing debate on the theories of sport: Elcombe and Hardman (2020), Kretchmar (2015), Lopez Frias (2014), Moore (2019), and Morgan (2020).

11.

The Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (2016) recommends that legal, ethical, and diversity issues be covered in a course titled “Foundations of Sport.” Tellingly, of the 76 contact hours suggested for the course, only six are earmarked for these philosophic issues. Topics such as principles of marketing and advertising receive a far higher contact time allocation (p. 65).

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Kretchmar (rsk1@psu.edu) is with the Dept. of Kinesiology, Penn State University, University Park, PA, USA. Torres (crtorres@brockport.edu) is with the Dept. of Kinesiology, Sport Studies, and Physical Education, SUNY Brockport, Brockport, NY, USA

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Best, D. (1974). The aesthetic in sport. The British Journal of Aesthetics, 14(3), 197213. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjaesthetics/14.3.197

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brooks, G. (Ed.). (1981). Perspectives on the academic discipline of physical education: A tribute to G. Lawrence Rarick. Human Kinetics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brown, W.M. (1980). Ethics, drugs, and sport. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 7(1), 1523. https://doi.org/10.1080/00948705.1980.9714363

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Burke, M.D. (1997). Drugs in sport: Have they practiced too hard? A response to Schneider and Butcher. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 24(1), 4766. https://doi.org/10.1080/00948705.1997.9714539

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Camporesi, S. & McNamee, M. (2018). Bioethics, genetics and sport. Routledge.

  • Carlson, C. (2018). Game spirituality: How games tell us more than we might think. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 12(1), 8193. https://doi.org/10.1080/17511321.2017.1300603

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Commission on Sport Management Accreditation. (2016). Accreditation principles manual and guidelines for self-study preparation. www.cosmaweb.org > uploads > cosma_principles_516

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cooper, W.E. (1978). Do sports have an aesthetic aspect? Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 5(1), 5155. https://doi.org/10.1080/00948705.1978.10654140.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cordner, C. (1988). Differences between sport and art. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 15(1), 3147. https://doi.org/10.1080/00948705.1988.9714459

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • D’Agostino, F. (1981). The ethos of games. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 8(1), 718.

  • Damasio, A. (2003). Looking for Spinoza: Joy, sorrow, and the feeling brain. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

  • Digest of Education Statistics. (2020). Table 322.10. Bachelor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study: Selected years, 1970-71 through 2017-18. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_322.10.asp

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • English, J. (1978). Sex equality in sports. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 7(3), 269277.

  • Elcombe, T.L. & Hardman, A.R. (2020). Pragmatic conventionalism and sport normativity in the face of intractable dilemmas. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 47(1), 1432. https://doi.org/10.1080/00948705.2019.1673763

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Feezell, R. (2001). Sport and the view from nowhere. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 28(1), 117. https://doi.org/10.1080/00948705.2001.9714597

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Francis, L.P. (1993) Title IX: Equality for women’s sports? Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 20/21(1), 3247.

  • Geeraets, V. (2018). Ideology, doping and the spirit of sport. Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, 12(3), 255271. https://doi.org/10.1080/17511321.2017.1351483

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gleaves, J. (2010). No harm, no foul: Justifying bans on safe performance enhancing drugs. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 4(3), 269283. https://doi.org/10.1080/17511320903521068

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gramsci, A. (1973). Letters from prison (L. Lawner, Trans.). Harper & Row.

  • Graves, S. (2019). Love your opponent as yourself: A Christian ethic for sport. In R.S. Kretchmar & J.B. White (Eds.), Sport and spirituality (pp. 5069). Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hoffman, S. (Ed.). (1992). Sport and religion. Human Kinetics.

  • Hoffman, S. (2010). Good game: Christianity and the culture of sports. Baylor University Press.

  • Holowchak, M.A. (2002). Ergogenic aids and the limits of human performance in sport: Ethical issues, aesthetic considerations. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 29(1), 7586. https://doi.org/10.1080/00948705.2002.9714624

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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