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From athletics to arêtea- critique of the reification of sports

About Author

Master of Arts in Philosophy

Ateneo de Davao University 2013

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Contemporary athletics is intertwined with sponsorship and commercialization for success. The visible endorsement of products during major sports events has become the norm, and sports has become a marketable tool. This paper critiques the reification of sports, drawing from the Ancient Greek practice of play, where play is understood within the context of arête, and not simply instrumentally in terms of market concerns such as profit, wealth, and fame. To demonstrate the value of ancient Greek athletics, the paper will explore the works of Plato and Aristotle. The paper aims to show how the ancient Greek practices and the rumination of key thinkers may help us recover the lost value of sports as a profound and meaningful activity.

Keywords Athletics, arête, reification, Ancient Greek philosophy, excellence

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The paper has attempted to show the significance of the Ancient Greek conception of athletics as arête to counter the increasing market colonization of sports and games. The corruption of contemporary athletics, which alters how games are played, stems from a lack of virtue and is fuelled by the desire to gain fame and wealth. When athletes play for pay, they focus on the instrumental value of sports, ultimately diminishing its value. Sports lose its potential as a profound and meaningful activity that can make one virtuous. This is not to say that contemporary athletes could not be virtuous while benefitting from the market’s support. However, one can doubt the pureness of their intent to cultivate virtue, for as long as they are trapped in the level of the instrumental, driven by the desire to become a premium commodity. The Greek conception of arête, as espoused by Plato and Aristotle, is a virtue in accordance with the highest faculty of man, i.e., reason. A virtuous athlete is not moved by external motives or controlled by the desire to satiate the appetitive element. Athletics develops or cultivates physical excellence as a step up to the intellectual life, the life of contemplation that transcends the demands of the senses for gratification. What the Ancient Greek practice of athletics can teach us has to do with the non-instrumental, metaphysical moorings and value of the athletic activity. Plato teaches us to value what is essential to the soul, not just the temporary satiation of our appetite for wealth and fame. Meanwhile, Aristotle teaches us that athletes should cultivate an ethical character, which is required not only to play sports but also for human flourishing. Following Aristotle, a good athlete is not necessarily a good person. Some great athletes may be involved in doping, and some may batter their spouses. Being a good person requires more than excellence in one's craft. In the end, the deeper grounding of athletics on arête helps us contemplate the profound value of this activity.


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