In Sport Realism: A Law-Inspired Theory of Sport, Aaron Harper defends a new theory of sport—sport realism—to show how rules, traditions, and officiating decisions define the way sport is played. He argues that sport realism, broadly inspired by elements of legal realism, best explains how players, coaches, officials, and fans participate in sport. It accepts that decisions in sport will derive from a variety of reasons and influences, which are taken into account by participants who aim to predict how officials will make future rulings.
Harper extends this theoretical work to normative topics, applying sport realist analysis to numerous philosophical debates and ethical dilemmas in sport. Later chapters include investigations into rules disputes, strategic fouls, replay, and makeup calls, as well as the issue of cheating in sport. The numerous examples and case studies throughout the book provide a wide-ranging and illuminating study of sport, ranging from professional sports to pick-up games.
Aaron Harper is associate professor of philosophy at West Liberty University.
Chapter 1: Interpretivism
Chapter 2: Hard Cases for Interpretivism
Chapter 3: Legal Realism and Sport Realism
Chapter 4: Cheating
Chapter 5: Sport Realism and Ethics
About the Author
Aaron Harper, who is associate professor of philosophy at West Liberty University, with his book has made a valuable contribution to sport philosophy. The book is well-written and well-argued. It gives a good overview of existing theories and presents good arguments to support his realist account. Like Morgan’s new version of conventionalism, the book shows that the wider context of sport needs to be considered when one wants to discover how decisions are made in sporting contexts. Rules and the idea of sport, its values and ideals, are not enough to give a realist picture of how sport is played.
The publication of Aaron Harper’s Sport Realism: A Law-Inspired Theory of Sport is excellent news for sport philosophers. The book not only proposes a new philosophical theory of sport, but it also brings a breath of fresh air into scholarly debates around sport by discussing myriad legal-philosophical theories and sport-related cases that sport philosophers have not contemplated before. Moreover, in defending sport realism, Harper critically analyzes widely-accepted philosophical theories of sport, advancing objections that will certainly encourage sport philosophers to reconsider their conceptions of sport and critically revise the principles and assumptions upon which such conceptions rest. I look forward to seeing how sport philosophers receive and react to Harper’s fascinating book.
This book is a first-rate contribution to philosophy of sport. Aaron Harper defends a new theory of sport, which he calls sport realism, as an alternative to competing theories: formalism, conventionalism, and various types of interpretivism. He offers a masterful discussion of the relevant literature and grounds his view of sport in legal theory - legal realism. Using numerous specific examples from different sports, he argues persuasively that sport realism offers a better explanation of how sport is actually played, as well as useful normative guidance, rooted in pragmatist ethics and virtue jurisprudence. Harper also offers an insightful account of cheating. His argumentation is characterized by charity, in the way he discusses opposing positions, and boldness, in his attempt to face the challenges of working out a new theory. This book is clearly written, finely organized, and well-argued. It is sure to be widely read and discussed by scholars, often cited, used in courses, and highly praised. For those who might wonder, “What in the world do philosophers of sport talk about?” this book is an apt presentation of high-level thinking about the nature of sport, yet its abstractions are firmly rooted in the realities of sport. With this excellent work Harper shows that he is an important player in a fascinating philosophical game!
Sport and law are close kin, as philosophers of each domain have long understood. They are both institutionalized normative systems comprised of rules, principles, and precedents, designed to serve a broad array of human interests, overseen by impartial adjudicators. In this smart and carefully argued book, Aaron Harper draws on deep commonalities between the domains—and salient differences too—to develop and defend an original theory of sport that he dubs sport realism and offers as an alternative to the familiar extant theories of formalism, conventionalism, and interpretivism. This is a valuable addition to a burgeoning literature on the application of legal philosophy to sport. It will repay attention by anyone interested in the nature of sport or the practice of officiating.
It is important for the philosophy of sport to continue to widen its scope, to develop new tools with which to analyze the problems that plague this powerful human creation. For those new to the field, Harper’s contribution is a valuable starting point to understand the journey of sport philosophy. For those more familiar, Harper challenges us to think differently, to add more nuance to the disciplinary discourse.
Those who search for a contemporary overview of all current positions in the philosophy of sport discourse, will have a satisfying journey through the new perspective of sport realism. The richness in iconic stories, actual examples, case studies and urgent moral topics in the heart of the game, lead the reader towards a different, pragmatic, legally founded understanding of sport. To summarize, Harper contributes with this book to the search for a more material kind of sport ethics, as a particularization of the plea for moral agency in our sport ethics tradition.