Make Believe

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Nils-Hennes Stear

Is Sports Participation a Form of Make-Believe?

“Sports and competitive games of many kinds”, writes Kendall Walton, “are occasions for make-believe”. (Walton, K. (2010). "It's Only a Game!": Sports as Fiction (Draft Version - February 23rd, 2010)). Broadly speaking, he draws upon two considerations to make his argument: (1) sports participation—whether as player or spectator—shares important similarities with participation in other forms of make-believe; (2) sports participation appears to prompt emotional responses at levels exceeding those warranted by the competition’s importance, even as judged by the participant herself. Understanding sports participation as a form of make-believe, he claims, explains these otherwise puzzling considerations.

In my paper, I examine the claim that sports provide occasions for make-believe. I argue that the claim is ambiguous between a number of readings, some of which are less philosophically interesting than others. I also offer a number of considerations that should dissuade us from accepting the claim on its only interesting reading. In particular, I show how accepting a make-believe analysis of sports participation brings with it a number of unpalatable commitments. Finally, I tackle the puzzling features of sports participation under discussion by sketching a novel kind of explanation that avoids the problems of a make-believe analysis. I do this by suggesting that sports participation be understood as a species of play rather than make-believe specifically.

About Nils-Hennes Stear:

I’m a PhD student in philosophy beginning my third year at the University of Michigan. My small corpus consists of a paper published in Hypatia in 2009. In it, I argue that SM role-play is compatible with feminism by showing that this follows once we understand SM as a form of make-believe in Kendall Walton’s sense. I have also presented work on imaginative resistance at the University of Sheffield’s graduate student seminar, and at the University of Michigan’s Aesthetics Discussion Group. My research interests are in value theory generally, particularly in aesthetics and applied ethics.