Aesthetics, Ethics and Emotion
Here is a quiz. What is your idea of the perfect sports-watching experience: a) watching your team crush its rival in a one-sided, humiliating contest, or b) watching two top-quality opponents, neither of which you support, in an epic, closely fought match, highlighted by brilliant individual performances?
Your answer to the question indicates what kind of sports fan you tend to be: the partisan, whose interest in sports is rooted in devotion to a particular team, or the purist, who watches sports for the thrill of athletic prowess and competitive drama. Certainly, two natures can beat within the same breast.In my heart of hearts is the longing to watch my team lift the championship trophy. But I am resigned that this will not happen in my lifetime (if ever). So I have taken to watching sports for the sake of sports.I must admit: it is quite liberating.
Stephen Mumford had a similar conversion from agitated partisan to serene purist. The change brought the realization that there is so much we miss in sports when we are cheering, or more often cursing, our teams. A professor of philosophy and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Nottingham University, Stephen inquires into these potential benefits in his book Watching Sport: Aesthetics, Ethics and Emotion (Routledge, 2011). As the subtitle indicates, he sees three ways in which sports can touch us: the realization of beauty, the appreciation of moral lessons, and the fulfillment of our emotions. In our interview, Stephen discusses these three areas of benefit–as well as more specific questions of contemporary sports, like how we should view the athletic performances of a Tiger Woods or a John Terry in light of their off-the-field failings, and whether or not the transcendent mastery of Barcelona is good for world football. We hear plenty on those questions from the guys on sports radio. Sometimes, though, it’s good to hear from a philosopher.