Tag Archives: Wittgenstein

How Celtic Might Win in Turin, From a Philosophical Point of View

When the eminent philosopher of football, Friedrich Nietzsche, was asked for his opinion on how referees make decisions in high profile European games, he replied that ‘All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth’.

Alberto Mallenco would appear to be the type of referee who likes to follow the rules of the game exactly to the letter. For him, it would appear to be about truth, not power. Of course, Nietzsche was also keen to remind us that appearances can be deceptive.

However, this is what FIFA’s Law 12 on Fouls and Misconduct states:


So although it frustrated, angered and confused a number of people at the time, it would seem that Mallenco was correct not to award a penalty when Juventus defenders held and wrestled with Celtic players during last week’s Champions League game.

But if that is the case, then perhaps Celtic should hope for a similarly minded, letter of the law type referee for the return leg in Turin. Wrestling like Juventus might turn out to be a winning strategy, if all else fails.

The relevant section of Law 12 states:

“The following conditions must be met for an offence to be considered a foul:

It must be committed by a player.
It must occur on the field of play.
It must occur while the ball is in play.

Remove any of these conditions and the offence is not and cannot be a foul.”

With that in mind, what would stop Celtic players flooding into the Juventus box at corner kicks and holding all of their defenders back, or pinning the keeper to the front post, whilst the ball is still dead, allowing the Celtic strikers to casually stroll into unmarked positions to wait on the corner being taken?

Of course, this could end up as a 21 man scrum (assuming the corner kick taker is left unshackled). But surely if the tactics used by Juventus were judged to be within the rules, then so too would this absurd scenario? Perhaps the same referee should be appointed across both legs, just to ensure consistency across the tie and to give teams the opportunity to take advantage of his particular interpretation of the rules from the first leg? Surely there would be nothing he could do about it?

When Ludwig Wittgenstein was working on the philosophy of mathematics he noted that ‘rules leave loop-holes open and the practice must speak for itself’; and when his good pal Friedrich Nietzsche asked him for advice on some of the vexing problems in the philosophy of football, he declared that ‘rules leave hoops hopes open and the passion must speak for itself’.

So I conclude, this is how Celtic might win in Turin, from a philosophical point of view.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Who or What Defines Sporting Integrity?

Albert Camus wrote that what he knew most surely about morality, he owed to sport.

Camus was an author, philosopher and amateur footballer (he played in goals for the University of Algiers).

He held the view that political groups, religious bodies and other similar authorities, tend to create moral systems and frameworks that impose artificial and overly complex values on our lives, typically to suit their own ends and purposes.

Whereas he believed that a more simplistic sense of morality could be forged through resilient participation in basic human activities and practices. A sense of collective purpose, work ethic, bravery, discipline and fair play, characterise playing in a football team, for example, just as much as they give a sense of meaning to our own individual lives.

Building our idea of morality from the ground up as opposed to receiving it from external ‘authorities’ is the best we can hope for, according to this way of thinking. And there is a strong sense in which this view appeals to me.

But there is a problem with it, which the analogy with football highlights perfectly: it would be one thing to cultivate a sense of collective purpose among a group of naturally individualistic thinkers; it would be another thing entirely to use this as a foundation for morality, especially when our individualistic preferences rarely leave us.

There are too many instances of cheating and rule-breaking, bias and discrimination, self-indulgence and psychological egoism in football, as in the vast majority of human activities, that it hardly serves this purpose well. But on the other hand, Camus does seem to have a point regarding the artificiality and tendency to bias inherent in the alternative approach.

So the question we are left with is this: through which source do we come to understand the values of honesty, equality, fairness and integrity that are assumed to sit at the heart of sport, morality and life? Who or what defines them?

If we define these values through engaging in basic human activities and practices, they become susceptible to individualistic preference; if we have them imposed on us through external authorities, they become susceptible to authoritarian bias and corruption.

When we talk about upholding the value of integrity in sport, how do we know that our understanding of integrity is authentic; how do we know that our sense of integrity is not in some way tainted by our own individual preferences, particularly in football, when individual preferences are partly definitive of the competition itself?

Do we rely on the relevant authorities to define integrity in terms of the notions of fair play, sportsmanship, transparency and tolerance? Do we assume we understand this definition in a non-circular way? And how do we know that we can rely on footballing authorities not to subtly modify the meaning of integrity, as a direct consequence of their commercial responsibility to maximise revenue in the game?

The crux of the problem is that if you try to define the notion of sporting integrity from a vantage point within the system that it is supposed to regulate, it comes under pressure from competing and contradictory demands. If you try to define it from outside that system, there is a danger that the definition will fail to cope with the complexities that emerge from within the system.

It is incredibly difficult to get out of this tangle.

Our interpretation of what sporting integrity consists in is dangerously close to losing its authenticity whichever way you define it.

And its function as a standard is just as useful as one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s elastic rulers that shrinks or expands to fit the size of the object it is measuring.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Does it make sense to say that the brain thinks?

The remark that ‘the brain cannot think’ might seem quite surprising; astonishing even. What on earth do you mean that the brain cannot think, of course it can?! Obscene amounts of money have been spent researching the neurobiological basis of human thinking, pinpointing precise locations in the brain where our thinking takes place, and volumes upon volumes of research papers and articles have been written about it. So, what a ridiculous claim to make…of course the brain can think!

Well, at least, that was my initial reaction when I heard this remark during many discussions about Wittgenstein’s approach to well-worn issues in the philosophy of mind. Wittgenstein remarked: ‘Only of a living human being and what resembles (behaves like) a living human being can one say: it has sensations; it sees; is blind; hears; is deaf; is conscious or unconscious’, and he then goes on to say, ‘We only say of a human being and what is like one that it thinks’, adding that this is not an empirical remark…

What Wittgenstein means by this is that it is not a matter of fact that we only say of a living human being that it thinks. It is rather a matter of grammar. And whilst this sounds like a rather mundane and boring linguistic point to make, and not at all controversial, it actually has a more significant impact on our approach to understanding how to make sense of the relationship between the mental and the physical, or the mind-body problem, as it is more traditionally referred to.

To say that ‘the brain cannot think’ is also a grammatical statement. It simply means that it does not make sense to say that the brain thinks, anymore than it makes sense to say that a stone feels pain, or that a tree has beliefs; it only makes sense to say that the human being, the person, thinks – it does not make sense to say that the brain that thinks.

Wittgenstein spends considerable time drawing out the point that psychological concepts, such as believing, wishing, thinking, and so on, only have application and use within the context of human life, within the background of human interaction, behaviour, relationships and recurring patterns in ‘the weave of human life’.

Without the relevant background and context, such concepts simply would not even begin to get a foothold; without the appropriate level of human interaction, conversation and behavioural responses, it simply would not make sense to use a vast range of everyday psychological concepts. And hence, to say of a stone, an inanimate object, or a mechanically constructed machine, that it feels, wishes or thinks, just doesn’t make sense because we lack the required foothold for these concepts. And in the same respect, so too with the brain.

What this throws light on is the point that various efforts to find a way of linking the mental processes that, at first glance, appear to be ephemeral processes going on within the seclusion of our mind, to neurobiological processes going on within the structures of our brains, are already setting off on the wrong track.

Wittgenstein often repeated that his aim in philosophy was to show the fly the way out of the fly bottle; put in context, his aim in this respect is to disarm the philosophical problem of how the mind is connected to the brain by showing that there really is no question to ask in the first place, and a careful review of grammar, a careful ‘weighing of linguistic facts’, will help us understand why that is.

Tagged , ,

What I perceive in the dawning of an aspect…

Wittgenstein spent a considerable amount of time trying to untangle the concepts of experience, perceiving, thinking, interpreting, and others, particularly at the point where they merge rather messily into one. The particular juncture where he focused much of his attention was on the experience of seeing aspects; and one of his main interests in doing this was to make sense of the grammatical relations between these concepts.

Gaining clarity with respect to the latter would help to give us a better understanding of perceptual experience in general, and also shed light on the point that many of our visual experiences are logically dependent on having achieved a certain level of conceptual mastery (and all that that entails).  

Wittgenstein used the example of the dawning of an aspect, such as in the famous duck-rabbit picture, which may be perceived now as a picture of a duck, now as a picture of a rabbit, to focus his investigation, and it is precisely this switching experience that Wittgenstein rather cryptically referred to in Philosophical Investigations, when he remarked that, ‘what I perceive in the dawning of an aspect is not a property of the object, but an internal relation between it and other objects’.

But what does he mean by this last remark? If we consider that many of our visual experiences, such as seeing a picture of a rabbit, logically depends on our having mastery of the relevant concepts which are constitutive of these experiences, then we can begin to make sense of what Wittgenstein might have been getting at.

Wittgenstein clearly states that when we experience the switch from seeing the picture of the duck to seeing the picture of the rabbit, we are not actually seeing a new physical characteristic of the object itself. What is happening is that when we are looking at the picture and seeing the duck, our visual experience is partly constituted by the concept ‘duck’, which has been elicited, or drawn on, by the physical properties that are presented to us, namely the lines and shapes that make up the picture.

These same lines and shapes also depict a rabbit, and so when we experience the dawning of this new aspect, our visual experience shifts through a change in the concepts that are being elicited in looking at the picture. The ‘internal relation’ is between the shapes or lines that can be said to depict either the duck or the rabbit, but it is a relation that holds only in virtue of the concepts that are constitutive of the experience itself.

So in so far as Wittgenstein’s investigation into seeing aspects was a means of making sense of perceptual experience in general, what it helps us realise is that many of our experiences are logically dependent on having mastery of a range of concepts. And it also helps us understand the point that in analysing our perceptual experiences, it doesn’t make sense to isolate some kind of psychologically neutral visual component and then go on to work out how that visual component could have somehow causally triggered a psychological component to generate the experience with the conceptual content we have been referring to; and this, of course, begins to shed some light on where some of the difficulties lie with many causal theories of perception.

Tagged , , ,