Sport, Make-Believe, and Volatile Attitudes

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The outcomes of sports and competitive games excite intense emotions in many people, even when those same people acknowledge that those outcomes are of trifling importance. I call this incongruity between the judged importance of the outcome and the intense reactions it provokes the Puzzle of Sport. The puzzle can be usefully compared to another puzzle in aesthetics: the Paradox of Fiction, which asks how it is we become emotionally caught up with events and characters we know to be unreal. In this article, I examine the prospects of understanding our engagement with competitive games on the model of our engagement with works of fiction, thus enabling analogous explanations for both puzzles. I show that there are significant problems with such an approach and offer an alternative, mobilizing ideas from David Velleman and Thomas Nagel, that appeals to the volatility of our motivational attitudes.
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First archival date: 2019-04-08
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