Philosophy of Sport


Sport (or sports) is a social practice that involves competitive contests in which participants seek to achieve specific goods and excellences internal to the practice of the sport. These goods and excellences are typically derived from the distinctive nature of sport and the experiences participants have while engaged in it, but they may also be external to the practice.

Various philosophers have explored the nature of sport and its role in human life. From Ancient Greece to the Renaissance and beyond, philosophers have considered sport as a formative activity that cultivates human excellence.

Aristotle and Plato believed that the pursuit of excellence through athletic contests was necessary to cultivate a balanced body and mind, thus promoting human flourishing. Even Protestant thinkers such as Martin Luther and John Milton embraced the practice of athletic activities for their formative value.

Conventionalism – Rule Based Approach

The conventionalist view of sport maintains that games are practiced in specific contexts and require collectively agreed-upon norms called ‘conventions’. These conventions operate despite the presence of written rules, and vary by the level of play. In soccer, for example, amateur players often suspend the offside rule while professional players must abide by it.

Descriptive – Theory Based Approach

A descriptive theory of sport attempts to provide an accurate account of the central concepts of a particular sport. The central concepts of sport include physical performance, the rules that govern competition, and the goals of the game. Defining these concepts is the first step in establishing an adequate theory of sport.