The Game called Philosophy | Dominican University College

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The Game called Philosophy

Friday, May 01, 2015

By Iva Apostolova

Philosophical arguments are like game-pieces on one of the most intricate playgrounds we humans have invented, a playground where life and thought are inextricably crisscrossed. Psychologists and neurobiologists claim that knowledge-growth registers the highest when the mind is in a play-mode. But what does it means to be in a play-mode? We tend to equate games and playing, in general, with fun. And it no doubt is, but as any chess player will tell you, game playing is the most serious activity there is. It astonishingly resembles life…

All play activities have rules and an end goal. The rules may vary from more strict to very flexible, but they are always there. No matter how extravagant your argument is, there’s no getting around modus ponens! Playing, just like philosophizing, is not about keeping a perfect score. It’s about being fresh and unpredictable. Unpredictability is about skills and creativity. It’s about the sparkle in the eye and the fire in the belly. In philosophy, just like in poker, luck favors the prepared ones. Knowing the history of the game sets masters apart from players.    

How to win the game then? Although most games aim at winning, the ultimate goal is, of course, to succumb to what artists, philosophers, and mystics alike call ‘pure joy’. Playing a game is about people and their stories. As Plato once said, ‘You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.’ Playing is about playing with others. It’s about the roles one assumes and resumes all the time, as well as the delicate balance among them. Think about it: we are children, colleagues, friends, lovers, and partners all at once; we are both spectators and actors in our own life. Playing happens in a play community and, just like in any other community, mutual respect is its foundation. If you play with the best, even if you lose, you’ll gain a lot for the next round. 

In the words of Tupac Shakur: ‘It's the game of life. Do I win or do I lose? One day they're gonna shut the game down. I gotta have as much fun and go around the board as many times as I can before it's my turn to leave.’ 


Tupac Shakur