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SAAP Annual Meeting 2018

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The Moral Equivalent of Football

There are ample reasons to be morally concerned about football. Yet, from a pragmatic perspective, the declaration that football is morally indefensible is less than helpful. Even if philosophers could prove that football is irredeemably evil, it is unlikely that this would make any difference in the contemporary United States. Football simply means too much today for our response to end with a declaration about its moral acceptability. In this paper, I argue that the problem Americans currently face with football is analogous to the problem that William James faced when attempting to advance the cause of pacifism against the apparently intractable problem of war—and that we can learn from James’s response. But although James was right to approach the problem of war by looking for a moral equivalent, accepting his specific conceptualization of the content of that equivalent would only serve to reinforce football's very problems.

Erin Tarver
Emory University, Oxford College
United States


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