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The Game Game

  • Mary Midgley (a1)

Some time ago, an Innocent Bystander, after glancing through a copy of Mind, asked me, ‘Why do philosophers talk so much about Games? Do they play them a lot or something?’

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1 Revue Internationale de Philosophie, no. 70 (1964). Reprinted in Theories of Ethics, ed. Foot P., O.U.P., 1967. I shall call it henceforth PG, with pages as in Theories of Ethics. My objections obviously extend to the rather more subtle uses of ‘game’ by writers like Winch, and in part also to Phillips and Mounce's notion of a ‘Moral Practice’.

2 See the closing pages of Searle's ‘How to Derive Ought from Is’ for the assimilation of Marriage and Property to Promising. Hare seems to accept this (Philosophical Review, 73 (1964), Theories of Ethics, p. 112).

3 Philosophical Investigations, §67.

4 ‘Universals and Family Resemblances’, PAS, LXI (19601961).

5 See, e.g. Bell Clive: ‘I have no right to consider anything a work of art to which I cannot react emotionally…. Before the late noon of the Renaissance, Art was almost extinct’ (Art, pp. 18 and 36); Collingwood: ‘Palaeolithic paintings are not works of art, however much they may resemble them; the resemblance is superficial; what matters is the purpose, and the purpose is different’ (Principles of Art, p. 10).

6 I assume throughout that Hare is not making the trivial verbal point that the word ‘promise’, might be changed, but is talking about the general practice of promising, however carried on. The Promising Game, in fact, extends into the Undertaking Business.

7 Cf. Phillips and Mounce's similar (though converse) suggestion, ‘Let us consider a people who have the practice of promise keeping, and let us suppose that it is their sole moral practice’ (Moral Practices, p. 10, my italics). Just so a botanist might ask us to consider a plant which has fruit, and to suppose that that is all it has—no roots, stem, leaf or flower. What follows? Until you give us a context, anything you please.

8 Nietzsche , Genealogy of Morals, Essay 2.

9 Though I shall return to it briefly on p. 249.

10 Manser A. R., ‘Games and Family Resemblances’, Philosophy, 42, 1967.

11 Khatchadourian H., ‘Common Names and Family Resemblances’, in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, XVIII (19571958).

12 Epictetus , Dissertations, II, v. 120.

13 Laws, 803b-d.

14 See his brother Laurence's memoir, A.E.H., pp. 8990.

15 The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

16 See an excellent paper by Loizos C. on ‘Play Behaviour in Higher Primates’, in Primate Ethology, ed. Morris D., Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967.

17 See Khatchadourian, op. cit. Also Kovesi , Moral Notions, ch. I, for a most interesting development of the point.

18 Philosophical Investigations, §66.

19 Existentialism and Humanism, p. 41.

20 See Morris D., The Naked Ape, p. 32; Loizos C., op. cit., pp. 185, 214.

21 See Schaller G., The Year of the Gorilla, p. 210, and Köhler W., The Mentality of Apes, p. 266.

22 See Morris D., The Biology of Art, passim.

23 Hare , PG, p. 120.

24 The Shorter Oxford Dictionary gives as the first meaning of obligation, ‘The action of binding oneself by oath, promise or contract… also that to which one binds oneself, a formal promise’.

25 Benedict Ruth, Patterns of Culture, pp. 95, 123, 115 (my italics).

26 PG, p. 125.

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