We moved to an apartment behind the neighborhood’s basketball court when I was five years old. I will sit by the window every day after school and watch the big boys play basketball. Their body language indicated that they were having a great time and that they should play until dusk. Even though I had a lot of questions about basketball, I gradually developed an interest in it as time went on. What will motivate anyone to play until they are exhausted but refuse to give up? What motivated these guys to keep playing even though one of their hands was bruised or sprained? I could not honestly answer the questions myself, until one day I had the opportunity to hold a basketball in my hands and tried out some moves that I had watched on the pitch and television. The first day I played basketball, I realized that the primary motivator was the pleasure. That joy and happiness that sport gives to someone is enough to sacrifice every other thing. The next argument in my mind was as much as people derive pleasure from basketball, do they experience the same from spraining their hands, and getting bruises among other injuries that people suffer from in a basketball court? Technically an injury causes discomfort and pain, so how comes that the same individuals derive pleasure in what somehow causes them some pain and discomfort.
Utilitarianism and Sports
According to John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian theory, also known as the ‘greatest happiness principle’, an action is considered right if people can derive pleasure from it and promote happiness, the reverse effect of it is that when it courses pain and discomfort, then it should be regarded as wrong. According to Stuart Mill, anything that gives pleasure and happiness should be considered good, while anything that causes pain should be seen as wrong (Eylon 3). Technically, looking at it, basketball causes both pain and pleasure. So is it wrong or right to play basketball? Several players have succumbed to injuries caused by sport; even the professional players at some point had to quit basketball due to one or more injuries that they got while playing. With all the injuries, people still derive pleasure and happiness while playing basketball.
Stuart Mill continues and classifies pleasure into higher and lower pleasures. Humans only, and not animals, can enjoy higher pleasures or high-quality pleasure. People would choose to derive happiness and self-satisfaction from these higher pleasures even if they come with some discomfort. Mill states that individuals who participate in actions that derive greater pleasures would never trade it for any amount of other pleasures. Mill argues more that it is, in fact, unquestionable that given access to all kinds of pleasure, people would still prefer to participate in activities that appeal to their higher faculties (Yorke 219).
Mill’s philosophy almost solves my previous questions. First, Mill points out the two types of pleasures as upper and lower pleasures. Lower pleasures are both enjoyed by animals and humans, but only people can enjoy higher pleasures, and so is basketball among other games. In short, according to Stuart Mill, anything that humans do differently from the animals and what drives them pleasure should be classified as higher pleasures. Mill continues that people would choose to take part in activities that give them high-quality pleasure even if some discomfort accompanies the action. This explains why people participate in various types of games, including basketball, even if one is prone to injuries among other discomforts (Laine). This principle does not only apply to basketball but also to various sports which at some point, seem to be riskier, yet people derive happiness and pleasure from participating in them. The same principle explains why people always prefer one game more than the other; they would always choose it over any other sport. Mill reinstates that given access to all other kinds of pleasure, people would still prefer activities that appeal to their faculties.
According to Stuart Mill’s theory of pleasure, basketball falls under higher pleasure since it gives happiness to its participants. So if basketball is meant to give pleasure to men, then why do we need rules? Is there any satisfaction gained when rules are applied? Anarchist philosophers would argue that the world without laws to govern men brings the best out of humans concerning innovation and survival. In a situation where one is doing what he or she loves most, is it sensible to have rules to restrict people? According to Eylon (10), games could never play a significant role if they would not be solving moral problems or acting as means of social income or as a source of deriving happiness, pleasure, and satisfaction, just like in my case. To understand the arguments behind the purpose of games and its dynamics, we have to analyze Bernard Suits’ philosophy. In his book The Grasshopper, Bernard Suits argues that all games share three key features. They are as follows.
Lusory attitude is the psychological mindset of the basketball players in the game itself. For basketball to be a favorite game, constraints must be imposed by setting up some universal rules that apply to every player who wants to or is currently playing basketball. For example, basketball could not survive if the players refused to throw-in the ball inside the basket, or if the players refused to dribble the ball but instead run with the ball around the court. It is because of the rules that basketball currently exists (Yorke 221).
These are the results or the change universally accepted to be part of the game and cannot be detached from the match itself. For instance, in a typical basketball game, the prelusory goal would be to throw the ball into the basket. The prelusory goals are the rules and states of affairs of any game that help us keep score and define who wins or loses the game (Yorke 221).
Constitutive rules are the rules that define how prelusory goals are to be attained. In basketball, these rules are set up by artificial obstacles that constrain players and help them in achieving the prelusory goals legitimately. For instance, the most efficient way to score a basket in a basketball game would be to pick up the ball and run with it directly to the basket, but the rules set does not allow one to do this. A basketball player has to dribble the ball against the opponents, and in case he or she is unable to do so, they are allowed to pass the ball to another player. Such kind of constitutive goals make the game more enjoyable (Yorke 222).
After analyzing these three fundamental parts of a match, I can now understand the dynamics of basketball (or rather any other game) and why the rules exist in the game. Another questionable phenomenon could be the following: since people derive happiness in different games (as for my case, I draw satisfaction from basketball), can the world flourish if we have nothing to do apart from playing games? According to Kretchmar (49), this could be the best possible life ever. Deleuze and Félix add that this could be the best world in case man realizes technological perfection where technology would have taken all the duties currently being done by men. The only weakness with this school of thought is when men would have attained technological perfections and almost every task would be carried out by machines, what could prevent the same machines from taking part in the games?
Lastowka (142) takes another turn of thought. He argues that games help humans to realize two important kinds of values. The first value is about the structure of means-end reasoning which is sometimes referred to as practical reasoning. Practical reasoning/ means-end reasoning is something that relates to taking the most appropriate action to attain a particular objective. Basketball as a game allows its players to experience a lot of complexity as a means of achieving the end aim. So that when one meets the end there is a great sense of achievement (the fact that a player overcomes obstacles established by the rules of the game is indeed an achievement). This type of success is a source of value to the player, hence, a player realizes the higher degrees of pleasure and achievement.
To prove the above argument, it would be prudent if we compare theoretical reasoning and practical reasoning. In theoretical thinking, one tries to get the genuine insights of the structures within the environment. The conceptual framework allows one to know a distinct value and knowledge. It, however, requires more than just facts. One needs to identify the different principles and laws that would help in explaining various factors. When one has succeeded in coming up with the rules and laws, they would have attained a deeper level of description that has more value than just description. For instance, when Isaac Newton came up with the law of gravity, he provided various principles that could explain the facts which is more valuable than just describing facts about objects in motion.
The overlying point is that the theoretical reasoning presents extra value to the knowledge that is integrated in an informative way. Lastowka (143) points out that the opposite of this philosophy is known as practical experience. In any achievement that anyone makes, there is the greater good in it, but the greatest good lays in a performance that involves some means-end complexity. The more obstacles one overcomes, the more he/she achieves. Sports help players to develop practical knowledge. If the main aim of sports could be to invoke rational thinking, then the world would be a better place with humans participating in games only.
Basketball is one of many activities that people take part in. There are various reasons why people choose to get involved in different games, what is clear is that in each event that one voluntarily participates in, they definitely get the ultimate pleasure and happiness that they are seeking, otherwise they would never participate in such games or activities. Personally when I fell in love with basketball, I had to love all its rules and had to enjoy all the constraints that came with it. I guess that is the reason why such activities are called hobbies or passions.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. What is philosophy?. Columbia University Press, 2014.
Eylon, Yuval, and Amir Horowitz. “Games, Rules, and Practices.” Sport, Ethics, and Philosophy (2017): 1-14.
Kretchmar, R. Scott. “A Games” and Their Relationship to T and E Games.” Sport, Ethics, and Philosophy 9.1 (2015): 47-57.
Laine, Tarja. “A Pageant of Bravery: Emotion and Ethics in The Hunger Games.” Film-Philosophy Conference 2017. 2017.
Lastowka, Greg. “Utopian Games.” Critical Studies in Media Communication31.2 (2014): 141-145.
Yorke, Christopher C. “Endless summer: What kinds of games will Suits’ utopians play?.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 44.2 (2017): 213-228.