Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Philosophy and Football II

Given that again it is world cup year, I was wondering if the philosophers have much to say about the beautiful game. Heidegger was reputedly a great lover of Beckenbaur, Camus was a goalkeeper and Sarte suggested that football was a game complicated by another team. One philosopher who has used the football analogy to underline their philosophy has been Merleau-Ponty. This will be interesting maybe to those of you on Phil 204 who do are interested in Drefyus. In The Structure of Behaviour Merleau-Ponty suggests that:

“For the player in action the football field is not an ‘object,’ that is, the ideal term which can give rise to an indefinite multiplicity of perspectival views and remain equivalent under its apparent transformations. It is pervaded with lines of force (the ‘yard lines’; those which demarcate the ‘penalty area’) and articulated in sectors (for example, the ‘openings’ between the adversaries) which call for a certain mode of action and which initiate and guide the action as if the player were unaware of it. The field itself is not given to him, but present as the immanent term of his practical intentions; the player becomes one with it and feels the direction of the ‘goal,’ for example, just as immediately as the vertical and the horizontal planes of his own body. It would not be sufficient to say that consciousness inhabits this milieu. At this moment consciousness is nothing other than the dialectic of milieu and action. Each manoeuvre undertaken by the player modifies the character of the field and establishes in it new lines of force in which the action in turn unfolds and is accomplished, again altering the phenomenal field.” (Merleau-Ponty, Basic Writings, 53)

What is important for Merleau-Ponty is avoiding a strict demarcation between the mind and the empirical. Merleau-Ponty would later find an intermediary in the idea of habituation and the body. The point is, that a footballer who is playing football does not know his environment as a thing or object, rather a footballer will relate to the environment in term of a number of possibilities or practical intentions. So if we take a great player like Pele when is performing at this optimum his knowledge of footballing is not derived from him going: "Well I will kick the ball at 35 miles an hour now, and this should be sufficient to traverse the distance between me and goal, taking into account wind resistance, the atomic density of the pitch and this big bruiser of defender who is bearing down on me." For Merleau-Ponty, our orientation to the world is never one that is wholly objective. As he says in the above quote the way we relate to the world is always at the intersection of milieu and action. The good and well trained player will be able to manipulate the optimum number of possibilities that are given to them in a given game. That is why football and sport in general is interesting, because in an Aristotelian way, it offers the perfect blend of form and content, or structure and behaviour as Merleau-Ponty would have it,. It is always a case of know-how rather knowing-that.

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