Baseball
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

What is it

What can we learn from baseball? Are the passions we have for our baseball teams and heroes irrational?  If so, what makes passions for families, cities, countries, universities, or radio stations more rational? Are all allegiances and loyalties ultimately arbitrary?  Eminent Kant scholar and baseball fan extraordinare Allen Wood visits.

Listening Notes

What is philosophical about baseball? We are loyal to all sorts of things, such as family and country, and we are loyal to baseball teams. Is this rational? What are you loyal to? Some people think that baseball isn't intrinsically worthwhile, so there is no reason to care about it. Others think that caring about something makes it worthwhile. Ken introduces Allen Wood, professor at Stanford. Why do people care about baseball? Wood thinks that it is partly because of the dramatic elements of the game. There is both a team and an individual, a hero. Wood likens feelings for a baseball team to the hero in a play or story.

Why is baseball so popular with its fans? Wood thinks it may be because it requires a lot of attention and rewards study. One of its interesting features is that there is no clock. Games could, in theory, go on forever. John points out that even though baseball was created long before television, it has many aspects that are well suited to television. Does it make sense to remain loyal to a particular team given the mobility of our society? Wood thinks that it is only partly rational to be interested in aesthetic objects. It could also be for the connection to a particular town.

Why do we adore baseball players when so many of them have been awful people? Many of the heroes are constructions based loosely on the real players. But, do the constructions get into the hall of fame or the real players? Is the integrity of baseball being damaged by the players' use of performance enhancing substances? Is baseball any better than the diversions and low-minded entertainment that is around? John asks if we can't say the same of opera.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:35): Amy Standen interviews Ted Cohen, philosopher at University of Chicago, about the merits and value of baseball.
  • Sixty Second Philosopher (Seek to 37:50): Ian Shoales gives a brief biography of A. Bartlett Giamatti, a recent commissioner of baseball and president of the National League. 
  • Conundrum (Seek to 48:15): Mary calls in to ask if she has a responsibility to expose an affair that a friend's husband is having. Should she tell her friend? Should she let the husband know she knows? Should she do nothing? What does her friendship require?

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Allen Wood, Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University

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