Following Suits 
I had meant to quickly write a follow up to my previous post on Bernard Suits' The Grasshopper, but my the ideas proved to be more tangled in the writing than they were in the thinking. Matt has pressed for the actual definition, so I should actually get to it even if I don't have anything definitive to say.

Suits defines a game in this way:*
To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude]. I also offer the following simpler and, so to speak, more portable version of the above: playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. [p. 41, brackets in the original]

It is easiest to see how this works with a sport like basketball. Read More...

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Trying on old Suits 
Late in the last century, on Ryan Hickerson's recommendation, I read Bernard Suit's The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. The core of the book is Suit's definition of 'game.' Although the definition was originally laid out in a 1967 article in the journal Philosophy of Science, the topic is not really philosophy of science. Moreover, the book itself is written as a hodge-podge of dialogue, self-aware narrative, and direct argument. In a late chapter, the characters muse that the author may have adopted the rhetorical structure simply so as to make the book amusing and earn it a wider audience.

So, although it is at once a good read and a nice piece of philosophy, I didn't think much about the matter after finishing the book. Recently, however, the book has enjoyed a resurgence. Thomas Hurka calls Suit's definition "a perfectly persuasive analysis." Mohan Matthen [here] calls it the "classic refutation" of Wittgenstein's claim that 'game' is undefinable. So I decided to reread Grasshopper.

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The brew at Tazza D'oro 
I am on sabbatical for the Fall and a visiting fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Science. This is my first full day in Pittsburgh, and I'm writing this from a coffeehouse in Highland Park. Whether sabbatical will mean more blogging or less will have to be seen.

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A specimen of 'performance' talk 
I have argued in print that both the dated event of employing musical instruments (which is unrepeatable) and the sound structure (which can be recorded and reproduced) can reasonably be thought of as the performance, depending on context and purpose. The former sense is obvious, and the latter comes out when considering improvisation. In discussions of jazz, it is common to refer to recordings of particular sessions as 'performances' rather than as 'recordings of performances.'

In the paper, I offered one specimen of such a usage. I was pleased to see another in today's New York Times, where the headline reads Museum Acquires Storied Trove of Performances by Jazz Greats. The story is also pretty interesting.

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Slice of life, slightly stale 
I only get so many opportunities for slice-of-life blogging, since I have neither cats nor kids. I wrote the following last month, but for some reason didn't post it.

As a graduate student, I developed the habit of doing my academic writing in coffee houses. I went to the office if I wanted to meet with people and talk about things, but I went to a coffee shop if I wanted to get work done. I even listed the coffee shops that I frequented in the acknowledgments of my dissertation.

I have been a professor for several years, but I still have this habit. There are several good coffee shops in Albany. Professor Java's is one of these. It has two separate rooms. It is sometimes closed for private events, but when it is open I prefer the quiet room in front. The room is also physically cooler, which is a bonus in summertime.

The odd thing is how other patrons make use of this somewhat secluded room. Lots of people, in various kinds of business, come here to meet with clients. Lots of people come here on first dates. Others come here on last dates, and stage dramatic break ups. All of them are pretty open about it, perhaps taken in by the private side room vibe. There's more of this ersatz privacy here than at any other coffee shop I've frequented, which means that I've had to pretend not to notice a lot of drama.

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