When Worlds Collide: Philosophy and Soccer

If an earmark of comedic genius is the longevity of a one’s work, Monty Python’s Flying Circus stands out as brilliant. Every few years, the titanic battle between the Greeks and the Germans on the soccer field surfaces and reminds of the fact. Though produced and first aired in 1972, the sketch still makes the rounds and if YouTube statistics are to be believed, there are over 3 different posts of the sketch with almost a billion views between them. The sketch is funny even if one is not a philosopher because it plays off of common perceptions of both philosophy and soccer and this is part of what makes it brilliant. It reminds me of the philosophy light bulb jokes I received in email a few years ago that attempted to capture the essence of various philosophies by describing how many representatives of that philosophy it would take to change a light bulb. 

By putting famous philosophers on a soccer field and toying around with how they would play the game, the Flying Circus juxtaposed two seemingly opposing worlds. Philosophy by nature is slow, methodical, introspective, and analytical. How would people who spend their days in this type of activity do in a game that is faced-paced, requires immediate decisions, and physical? Clearly not very well (and it’s no accident that the game-winning goal is a head shot). While Monty Python did an hilariously fine job of show why the two disciplines should never mix, a new book edited by by Ted Richards titled Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game attempts to bridge the gap.

A review by John Heilpern for The Wall Street Journal briefly explores the book and some of the topics it raises. As a truly global sport, soccer (football) does have wide appeal and a book that explores philosophical topics under the rubric of the game may resonate with many. Heilpern concludes,

But from the fan's point of view, the secular religion of football is all about mad, obsessive love and awesome bias, it is about irresistible skill and glory and, yes, a certain divine, beautiful transcendence. All the rest, according to the rewarding "Soccer and Philosophy," is thinking aloud enthusiastically.

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