Sport and philosophy

Florence asked:

Hello! I am looking to do philosophy and politics at university however I am struggling to relate my achievements (outdoor sports/ qualifications, Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award etc) to the subject for my personal statement. What would you suggest for me to get involved within or read/ attend to make myself stand out from the crowd a bit more? Thank you in advance.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

There isn’t much talk about sports among the great philosophers. But as luck would have it, the ancient Greeks were pretty much obsessed with it, for which their Olympic Games are the best testimony. This is not forgetting their statuary art with its obsession for an ideal male physique. There is an ample literature on sport itself, and its reflection in art in ancient Greek and Roman culture, written by scholars.

The fact that Anglosaxon colleges and universities practised and promoted intensive physical exercise for the past 200 years, even to the level of professional commitment, is a return to this emphasis in ancient culture. It is an issue worth pursuing in light of the contempt for sporting activities in the preceding 1000+ years, when the Church despised everything physical and left it to the armed forces of the princes to pursue.

You could tie this in with reading Plato, especially his Republic, which is one of the primary sources for political philosophy of all time. There is plenty of debate and discussion in this work about the physical fitness of those who are chosen for a role in the governing tier of an ideal society — including dietary considerations, physical exercise, ethical issues involved with their spartan regimes, and so on. It would look pretty good on your CV if you can make a convincing case of your familiarity with Plato’s ideas and how the Greek predilections for it seeped back into modern culture. The name Thomas Arnold, appointed headmaster of Rugby College in 1828, springs to mind as a catalyst for this modern revival.

There is also a spate of quite recent books on “Philosophy and Sport”. You can find them easily by putting these three words in your web search field. I can’t promise you anything about their contents or relevance to philosophy; but a few actually try to blend sport with social ethics and the influence of sport on politics. E.g. one American philosopher (David Papineau) has a list of the 5 best books on the subject matter and written his own texts on it.

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