Suits not of cards, but of chess 
Here is more about Bernard Suits' Grasshopper. It picks up where the post on RPGs and the post on Suit's definition of 'game' left off.

Recall that Suits defines a game as "the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles." As such, playing a game involves (1) pursuing a goal (2) while accepting constraints on what means can be used to attain it (3) such that the constraints are partly constitutive of the activity.

The first part of the this formula is what he calls the prelusory goal. It is essential that the goal can be characterized independently of the game itself, since the game is constituted in part by constraints on how players may achieve the goal. If the goal itself depends on the game, then the definition ends up being circular.

Last time I discussed the example of poker. Although Greg points out (in the comments) that my attempt to specify the prelusory goal of poker leaves out a lot, I think the details could be filled in without reference to the constitutive rules of poker.

In this post, I want to consider the game of chess. The goal is to put your opponent's king in checkmate. The way that the pieces move, the fact that players alternate moves, and so on are the constraints on how that goal may be achieved.

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Duck and drake clusters 
The following post about homeostatic property clusters (HPCs) is pretty long, so I've split it into several sections. Here's the very short version: Ereshefsky and Matthen argue that the HPC approach to natural kinds fetishizes similarity and is undone by polymorphism. I argue that it's not, and that the HPC approach is really about looking for causal structure.
[crossposted at It's Only a Theory]

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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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