I wonder what is the philosophical significance of sports? Some people play sports for competition, some others play for exercise while some play only for fun. Generally speaking westerners like competing while easterners like exercising. So British people invented soccer and Americans like basketball while Indians like Yoga and Chinese play Taichi. Why do people take such pains with their bodies to play an activity which would produce no any tangible outcome? I wonder. BTW, I think sports are the least activity man has ever invented.

The question is an interesting one, although it seems to me to be an empirical, rather than a philosophical question--or rather, several empirical, rather than philosophical questions. The first question is why people play sports; the second question is why people play the kinds of sports that they do; the third question is why people in different countries play different types of sports. (What follows is highly speculative; this is not an issue about which I have any special expertise.) The first question seems to me to be closely related to the question of why peoople--or, for that matter--animals, play at all. (Sports seem to be a particular kind of play engaged in only by human beings.) Considerable research has been done on the topic of animal play. It has been claimed that there are close parallels between animal and human play, and various hypotheses have been offered as to why humans and animals play: for example, that play reduces stress, overcomes boredom, enables creatures to form bonds with one another, etc.. (For more on the topic of play, you might consult the following books--there are many works on the topic: Play in Animals and Humans and The Genesis of Animal Play.) The second question--why certain sports are played in certain countries--seems to me probably to be due to patterns of immigration and colonization: cricket, I believe, spread to East Asia and the West Indies on account of the fact that the British were the colonial rulers of those areas. Finally, as for why certain kinds of sports are played in certain countries, this seems to me to be due to differences in the cultural values of the countries in question.


Sean has correctly pointed out that part of what you are asking calls for empirical answers. But your last sentence - about sports being the least thing humans ace invented - raises an issue of value. And what you seem to be saying is that since sports produce no tangible outcome, in your words, it's hard to see what their value could be.

I'd like to suggest that this isn't the best way to look at the matter. After all, why are activities that produce tangible results (making shoes, or painting pictures, or building houses) valuable? The plausible answer is that they contribute in some way or another to human welfare, happiness, or flourishing. Some things we need for basic survival - food for example. But a flourishing life calls for a lot more than mere survival. And if something is a reliable source of otherwise harmless pleasure, that pretty clearly gives it value.

I suggest that this gives us at least part of the answer to your question. Playing sports gives many people a great deal of complex enjoyment. (Exercises of skill tend to do that, or so the psychologists tell us.) But watching sports also provides people with a good deal of pleasure - as do listening to music, looking at paintings, and a great many other activities.

Not everyone enjoys sports, but that doesn't take away from the point. After all, not everyone appreciates Beethoven. And the fact that sports are reliable sources of pleasure need by no means be the end of the story. But I'd suggest it goes a long way towards taking the mystery out of the value question.

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