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Durham University

Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Stephen Mumford

Mumford, Stephen (2019). The aesthetics of sport and the arts: competing and complementary. Sport in Society 22(5): 723-733.

Author(s) from Durham


Sport has a distinctive aesthetic that derives from its ontological basis in competition, indeterminism and emergence. The aim in sport is to compete, rather than the production of aesthetic value. An effective way to secure the latter, however, is pursuit of the former: competition in sport is at least part of the explanation of its aesthetics. The dramatic spectacle of sport, on the other hand, can also be explained by the metaphysical indeterminism that it must assume. If sporting outcomes were either deterministic or entirely indeterministic, sport would have no interest for us. Instead, outcomes are produced by actions that dispose towards certain outcomes without necessitating them. Finally, emergence is productive of aesthetic values especially in team sports, where the whole can be substantially more than (or less than) the abilities of the individual players. These three features, taken together, account for the special nature of the sporting aesthetic.