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Seriousness and play – ethics and/in Wittgenstein

Ondřej Beran

The concept of “play” in Wittgenstein’s philosophy refers to any rules-governed practice. A game is a space created by rules, within the boundaries of which the players have certain freedom to move. Before an agent can exhibit what counts as “playful action”, she/he must adhere to a network of foundational rules. Play requires seriousness, in this sense. Though Wittgenstein elaborates subtle analyses of rule-following, he never connects his scarce remarks on ethics to this foundation. Moral agency, according to Wittgenstein and his followers (Rhees, Winch, Gaita), is essentially action “in the first person”. The agent’s moral integrity involves seeing particular actions (actions of unconditional love towards the other, a “soul”) as good, but she/he issues or follows no “universal” rules. The seriousness of unconditional love is thus not normative; hence “play” and “seriousness” in their usual terms make little sense in Wittgensteinian ethics. The moral practice always involves the particular agent as its necessary constituent to make sense. Goodness is thus not rules-governed, because there is no prescription to be spread among doers. It is a matter of life-form conditioning the spirit in which one acts – one doesn’t adopt the spirit at will but grows and edifies oneself into it.

Play of Promethenism

Dustin Breitling

The object of my proposal seeks to firstly engage with Carl Sachs concept of 'negative virtue ethics' to investigate into the notion of how 'play' itself becomes contaminated and subjected to the regime of political economy. Secondly, I will argue the encroaching dominance of naturalism and mechanization of our species seriously generates new questions and spaces to navigate the relationship between 'play' and ethics. I want to invoke the necessity of undertaking the challenge to fundamentally engage with models proposed by Neuroscience and understand how the concept of 'play' itself could be rendered through naturalistic, material, and historical contingencies. Primarily, focusing on Neuroscience and understanding how it increasingly self-objectifies and deprives us of normative resources to delimit the possibilities and consequences of anchoring us in an ethical domicile. Therefore, the question becomes how do we formulate a question of play that does not become merely conflated with either a specious voluntarism or mere account of naturalism? Can we follow the trajectory of understanding ourselves as contingent phenomena as a resource and engage with what philosopher Ray Brassier espouses a new 'Promethenism'? Fundamentally, I would like to sketch out tentatively the necessity of seriously engaging with Promethenism and contextualize it within our contemporary political, economic, social, and material currents regarding 'play'. Therefore, I will contend that Promethenism becomes the new form of 'play' that invokes us to critically investigate, challenge and generate new possibilities regarding naturalism. Ultimately, how can we provide a playful and ethical account of a Promethenism and the tools to discriminate what becomes potentially emancipatory or coercive?

What really are the « games » of truth ? Michel Foucault and the philosophical problem of truth

Florence Caeymaex

In this paper, we’ll investigate the meaning of the notion of « games » that Foucault applied to the notion of truth. Oxymoric at first sight, the idea of « games of truth » is actually related to strategic performances that can be enligthened by a comparison, amongst others, with Bourdieu’s poststructuralist sociological theory. We’ll show, afterwards, that it acquires its full meaning neither in an sociological theory, nor in a mere power theory, but in the developements dedicated to the question of the subject, the claim for truth being then essential for Ethics, rather than being an epistemic problem for the humanities.

The Game of the World, or How to Play after Kostas Axelos' Proposals

Mariana Carrasco

The Game of the World is the question. It is for men to play the game of questions and answers", concludes Axelos by the end of his Planetary Interlude. Play, the deepest point of it all (beyond masks as god, nature, being and man) is the key notion of this author's work. The play of man –as the ideal of an unalienated work, following Marx- and time as play of Heraclitus' draughts playing child, are just two poles of this Game of the World. Intralude and interlude, toy and player, man (is) here only a fragment, defined by thought and action. The problem -and the flavour- of the situation, is that every movement has its countermovement: being simultaneously right and wrong at different levels, it is in contact only with a small part of the wandering truth. Ethics takes place precisely there, where the biggest powers of the world drive us, and it is problematic because of its unreleasable foundation and yet overcoming determination over us. Ethics is the answer we give to the call of impossible, the strategy to face the dimension preceding our categories, senses and values (« beyond good and evil », to start with). The only acceptable way to play this game seems to be re-inventing meanings and re-playing ourselves by an openness and a friendship to the new (mainly to the catastrophe), by a sure (re)action yet respectful of the reception and conscious of the totality involved in every fragment, every action, thought and time.

Badiou’s ethics of play or how to perform inexist[a]nce

Fred Dalmasso

In Rhapsody for the Theatre, Badiou propped the notion of the ethics of play against a theory of the subject that had yet to be fully deployed. His reflection remains tentative and he simply suggests “that the actor could very well show a subject without substance” or that “the ethics of play is that of an escape.” (2008: 216, 221) This resonates with his then definition of the subject as what is “locally born out […] woven out of a truth, what a truth transits or this finite point through which truth itself passes - this transit excluding every interior moment.” (1991: 25) While it is conceivable to understand how performing could exclude any interiority and abide, like the subject for Badiou, to a positioning vis-à-vis the interior and the exterior or to a “logistics of borders” (2009: 120), it is more difficult to envisage the full ethical dimension of play in relation to Badiou’s theory of the subject. By looking at Gob Squad’s Kitchen and Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Life and Times, this paper proposes to examine how a performer is, like the subject for Badiou, what is indeed locally born out, but also how theatre materially and not merely symbolically can deploy an ethics of collective play. Ultimately, what is at stake here is to try to put Badiou’s ethics of play into practice and suggest ways to perform inexist[a]nce.

The Ideal Game and the Hunger Artist

Zornitsa Dimitrova

This paper stages an encounter between Gilles Deleuze’s ‘ideal game’ as laid out in his Logic of Sense (1969) and Kafka’s short story Ein Hungerkünstler (1922). The notion of an ‘ideal game’ takes its cues from the work of Lewis Carroll. Not only does he modify the rules of existing games, but also calls to life a type of play whose purpose and function either remain undisclosed or recompose without plan. Such games, according to Deleuze, have ‘a great deal of movement, […] seem to have no precise rules, […] permit neither winner nor loser […] seem to contradict themselves’ (1990: 58). Unlike habitual notions of games as sets of pre-established norms organised around zero-sum scenarios, an ideal game can thus be read in line with Meillassoux’s notion of the necessity of contingency, the thought that everything that is must not necessarily be. It is here that we evoke the work of the Hunger Artist. A gambling man without a bet, Kafka’s Hungerkünstler has one offering to make: a spectacle of great endurance. This is a performance of an unusual stripe as it enacts the very gesture of being put to a test, yet remains oblivious to an outcome, invents the rules to abide to, and reaffirms chance. This is a game which reinstates its own redundancy at every step. Further still, it does so within an ontological model of non-purposive becoming, as if performing its own very personal take on Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal return. This perspective, finally, opens up to an ethical vision of a world that dispenses with entelechy as the generative principle of motion, and wherein individuals can become without a pre-established or a projected end.

Puppets’ uprising. Passive active ethics within the trap of play

Annabelle Dufourcq

Our starting point will be the ontology of play: given the all-pervading structure of play, activity is always secondary and intertwined with passivity. It is impossible to break away from play, and yet, correlatively, not less inevitable to desire to do so at least intermittently. This is actually a key of morals: trying to put a halt to play. This is also a major political issue at a time when play has become a patent and constraining social structure: adaptability, malleability, distance are encouraged in the covertly highly oppressive society of “coolness” (Baudrillard). How can we make room for ethics in the framework of an ontology of play? We will first follow Sartre’s evolution from a possible ethics of play in Being and Nothingness, to the criticism of Flaubert’s conception of existence as doomed to comedy and passive activity. Isn’t love for (or resignation to) play highly ideological as suggested by Renoir’s La règle du jeu? We will examine Sartre’s debate with Merleau-Ponty who, by contrast, presents the philosopher’s irony, distance and vulnerability as a virtue, but may give the impression that commitment into action is not any longer possible: “The philosopher of action is perhaps the farthest removed from action”. However Merleau-Ponty proposes an alternative ethical path in relation with the notion of “symbolical action”: this is precisely an ethics of play that permits us, so to say, to twist play and to take advantage of the multipolarity and the dephasing phenomenon that are entailed by an ontological structure of play: we all play but with different rhythms and along different rules: hence the possibility of violence but also of a process of a “deepening” of the playful behavior. Such a process makes possible the acquisition of new skills for an essentially relational, meaningful and concerned form of action.

Being touched: contact improvisation and its heritage as a source for ethical communication

Anna Furse

Professor Anna Furse (Goldsmiths, University of London, Department of Theatre and Performance) will present ideas around the ethics of touch as a pedagogic and creative tool for interactive collaboration. Rooted in her deep experience of the post-modern American movement form ( or 'artsport') Contact Improvisation, she will discuss the touch sense and its low status in the hierarchy of the senses, the inherent ethical principles of CI as a form (as evolved by its creator Steve Paxton), approaches to gender equality and the specifics of aesthetics as germane to classical and contemporary dance and how CI usefully disrupts these withireference to the Deleuze and Guattari proposition of the anti fabric, open and smooth space of the ‘felt‘ (sic). She will also refer to some recent adaptations/incorporations of CI in the practice of companies such as the controversial Japanese Contact Gonzo, who combine (self-trained) CI and other techniques such as Parcours and the Russian martial art Systema, that involves punching and slapping together with breath control to receive these.

As an educator who was a pioneer in introducing CI into Higher Education in the UK in the 1980s, and a theatre maker who has used the form in actor training and performance composition, Furse will discuss these ideas within the context of educating an increasingly mixed classroom in British Higher Education and refer to some of the challenges the form presents in a multi-faith classroom. Her talk will be illustrated.

The Seriousness of Play

Franck Chouraqui

In this paper, I address the metaethical importance of game-playing. I begin with Nietzsche’s characterization of the core metaethical question in On the Genealogy of Morality: how can the unreal be taken more seriously than the real? I argue that this leads Nietzsche to question the usual opposition between seriousness and play. Nietzsche recognizes that games illustrate the disconnection of truth and seriousness: the seriousness displayed by children or animals at play shows how we can take seriously things that we do not regard as real and vice versa.

In the second part, I argue for a minimal ethics of play based around the insight that seriousness is constitutive of (not grounded in) reality. I argue that this points towards an ethics that replaces good and evil with playing and cheating. It delineates spaces (games) within which values are absolute, whilst recognizing that ultimately these games are only supported by other, larger games. This has one ethical implication: no ethics must appeal to the absolute under penalty of violating the rule of ethics itself, and one metaethical one: traditional morals are caught in the contradiciton of trying to make game-playing absolute. Thus, the only possible ethics of play is the ethics that ensures that playing is neither destroyed through cheating nor through moralizing.

Play, meaning and morality

Ólafur Páll Jónsson

Following Dewey I argue that for children play is essential for building up a world of meaning by offering the rich circumstances necessary for meaning-making to take place. In this respect, play may have ethical importance that derives from its educational relevance. As a means for meaning-making, play has instrumental value.

Play has also non-instrumental value as a moral way of living. The attitude of play is central for the flourishing child. In this respect, play has not only instrumental value but is constitutive of the good life. The term 'flourishing child' neither denotes and end-stage nor a successful completion of a preparatory stage but should be considered a constitutive part of the life of the flourishing person.

Values in the lives of people are by and large thought of in instrumental ways. One consequence of this is a general lack of non-instrumental moral values in education. This gives rise to twofold importance of play. First, in a play values are not instrumental and derivative of things that lie outside of the play. Second, plays and games are modes of doing experiments in life with full seriousness.

The activity of playing may also create a world, as it were, where values are not dictated by the adults but are generated within the play and depend on the nature of the different activities and roles that constitute the play. This last point is particularly relevant, since the lives of children are not only dominated by instrumental values but also by values that are dictated by others and whose relevance may be utterly obscure to the young child.

Ludic ethics in Benjamin and Brecht

Alice Koubová

In my presentation I wish to use the word „ethics“ in the sense of „doctrine of happiness“ (eudaimonia) as it was formulated within the Greek philosophical schools. Eudaimonia, the state of having a good indwelling spirit, a good genius, can be explicated in numerous ways. My aim is to focus on interpretation of happiness as it is proposed by Walter Benjamin and to combine this with Benjamin’s interpretation of Brecht’s epic theater and Brecht’s own philosophical thoughts on ethics and play. For Benjamin to be happy means to be capable to handle and keep the linkage between ecstasy, voice of a stranger, birth of something new and repetition, habit, everydayness. Ethics, as well as philosophy in general always faces the issue how to understand the function of uncontrolled, daimoniac forces as a part of human condition, how to endure or even enjoy their (inter)play with credibility and predictability of repetition. The importance of Walter Benjamin’s answer consists in the fact he stresses that this situation may be understood through ludic, creative, transformative and experimental means rather than with the aid of tragic optic of conflict, destruction, hurting ambiguity. He shows this not only when speaking on happiness but through his philosophical interpretation of main characteristics of Brecht’s epic theater. Inspired by these authors, my aim is to show that ludic ethics is essentially based on the attitude of “non-tragic hero” who does not insist in himself. “Good dwelling in spirit” includes experimental and relaxed detachment from one’s own situation, self-transformation, change of homeland, capacity for astonishment and “play at acting”.

Gendered Play and Gendered Torture: The Paradoxes of Gender in U.S. Nationalism After 9/11/2001

Bonnie Mann

This talk is a development of themes from my January 2014 Oxford University Press book, Sovereign Masculinity: Gender Lessons from the War on Terror. In this talk, I will discuss the paradoxical gendered commitments at work in U.S. nationalism after 9/11/2001. I argue that when we pay attention to how gender is put to work in the "War on Terror," we learn something about what gender is and what gender does. Specifically, the U.S. imagines itself to be BOTH the paragon of liberation and freedom when it comes to gender and sexuality (tolerant of various forms of gender-play, of gender-variation, open to various modes of sexual expression and practice), and the paragon of a specific, rigid and traditional form of masculinity (which I call sovereign masculinity). How is it that the U.S. presents itself, over and against its fundamentalist Muslim "enemies" as the home of tolerance, playfulness and freedom for queer and transgendered lives, at the same time that it adheres to a rigid and severe mode of masculinity formation and expression, as a nation, that quashes sexual creativity and gendered play in brutal practices including practices of torture? If gender is imagined to be both something light, playful and creative and something rigid, heavy and scripted, at the same time and in the same nationalist moment, what does this say about what gender is and what gender does? How can gender be an object of play and a tool of torture, at the same time? What does this teach us about the way gender works, and its future possibilities?

Play, Education, and Artistic Experiment

Eric P. Morrill

Project Other Ways, an educational initiative in late 1960s Berkeley, was jointly conceived by performance artist Allan Kaprow and author Herbert Kohl with the aim of using play and performance art to help primary school students in difficulty. Kaprow, best know as an early practitioner of street-art “Happenings,” had himself studied philosophy at Columbia University, as had Kohl, prior to renouncing an academic career in order to pursue teaching poor and disabled children. My talk examines Kaprow’s and Kohl’s educational ideas and their relation to a historical intellectual constellation including Dewey’s concept of “experience” and Huizinga’s “play,” which the two put to use in an applied manner. I will connect epistemological aspects of Dewey’s “experience” and the ethical dimensions of “play,” which Huizinga characterized as a kind of freedom, suggesting that education is a primary site at the junction of ethics and play. In addition to exploring the philosophical basis of this 1960s project, I will conclude by considering the historical, material results that came from applying ideas in this manner.

Toward a Ludic Ubuntu: Taking Play Seriously in Reconciliation Practices

Mechthild Nagel

Ubuntu as an ethical precept was first popularized as a tool of transitional justice.

During the hearings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Archbishop Tutu invoked an African spiritual ethic to confront (or atone for) the violent specter of apartheid. Ubuntu represents a peaceful spirit of humanity and intersubjectivity and extols the virtue of being human through other humans. In the context of apartheid being on trial, Tutu encouraged participants to journey from vindictiveness to forgiveness.

Moving beyond Ubuntu as a tool for painstaking reconciliation, I want to gesture toward homo ludens and suggest a ludic Ubuntu. Human play represents a shift from the weightiness of overcoming tragic conflict through punishment and moves toward expressing humanity with comedy and compassion.

So here I take to task the Western philosophical tradition, which postulates that homo ludens’ horizon of play ought to be mostly agonistic and masculinist (see also Nagel, 2002). Similarly, the Western rule of law rides on agonism. I offer instead transformative justice models such as healing circles and the Circle of Courage; in other words, enjoying the game of the Web of Life.

Phenomenological Field as a Play-Ground

Martin Nitsche

Current approaches to the ethics of play are particularly concentrated on play as the key ontological concept of the new model of ethics. But every play needs a playground; in the context of the ethics of play, especially, a playground is more constitutive element of a play than rules. This assertion leads to the question, if a playground may be derived from a concept of play, or if it needs another specific grounding. In my presentation I would like to present a phenomenological-topological approach to the topic of play. This approach understands a playground as an ontological basis of play. Precisely, it explains a playground as a phenomenological field. In the presentation I would follow Heidegger’s conception of Zeit-Spiel-Raum from Contributions to Philosophy, and Merleau-Ponty’s notion of phenomenological field. My claim would be: when we act or play, we respect a topical structure of a relevant phenomenological field; this structure grounds (or co-grounds) the play (differently than rules, which have a logical nature).

Play as a symbol of life? Essence and limitation of Fink’s concept of play

Jan Puc

In Oase des Glücks and Spiel als Weltsymbol, Eugene Fink carries out his inquiry into the concept of play ontologically and cosmologically. He stresses the surpassing of the phenomenon of play over the purely anthropological plane; on the contrary, he does not ever consider it as something which might or should clarify the ethical dimension of life. My intention is to answer the question whether and how such a connection may be based on his texts.

According to Fink, the play is “constituted by separation” from the purposeful, in the future oriented living. Only so it can be “oasis of (present) happiness”. Fink highlights the lightness of play which “liberates us from freedom”, even though it does so only in an “unreal way”, i.e. in the realm of imagination. The liberation refers to the consequences of one’s own decisions; the play sets loose from one’s own history and allows to act irresponsibly.

It seems though that exactly this feature prevents Fink from ascribing any affinity to ethics to the play. As finite beings, we are able to get closer to the infinity of world supposedly only in the limited space of play. However, it is not possible to change our existence by the means of play; it is not possible for our life to become a play.

And yet, despite all proclamations, is not such a concept a variation on the old platonic theme of the likeness to God? Is it really necessary to understand the play as an irresponsible way of existence?

Pretend Play as Dialogue

Zuzanna Rucinska

This talk informs therapeutic practice that uses playing with a non-standard philosophical account of pretence: the Enactive Account of Pretend Play. It broadens the scope of what playing may be used for in therapy, suggesting a different function for engaging in play in therapy: one of creating a dialogue, instead of being a mirror of reality. The EAPP holds that pretend play activity need not invoke mental representational mechanisms, but focuses on interaction and the role of affordances in shaping pretend play activity. One advantage of this account is that it looks better placed to provide an understanding of the role shared meanings and interacting serve in systemic therapies. Systemic therapies, rather than to uncover hidden meanings behind play, use play to enhance dialogue in therapy in order to facilitate client’s development of novel perspectives. The EAPP already pays special attention to engagements in the form of active exploration of objects in relevant intersubjective contexts, finding mentality in the interactions and not in encapsulated mental representations. The ethical implication of the EAPP is that it further promotes playing with objects as a useful tool in therapy, focusing on joint play between the therapist and the client.

Play and Care

Petr Urban

The aim of the first part of the proposed talk is to argue that an ethical perspective of play (to be elaborated) resonates in many important aspects with an (yet elaborated) ethical perspective of care (ethics of care). Both start from the idea of non-self-sufficient, non-autonomous subjects who cannot exist except in relations to others and the world, and who are materialized through on-going actions and interactions. Both put emphasis on the fact that the emergence of moral meaning of a situation is a matter of openness to an often-incalculable givenness of sense rather than mastery. Both recommend attentive responsibility as a moral guide of our being in the world and our being with others, and both take seriously the experiences of the subject that are characterized by certain “saturation”.

In the second part of the talk, I will focus especially on the eminent place of play in caring practices: play as a culturally universal and essential medium of responsible parenting, artistic praxis, as an efficient tool in caring professions etc. I will hypothesize that the dimension of play with its specific ethical traits has been so far under-appreciated in the ethics of care, and that its profound reflection in dialogue with the philosophy of play may also promote important progress in the discourse of care ethics.

Beyond Dialogue: Gadamer, Play, and an Ethics of Life

Monica Vilhauer

In Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method, human understanding is described as a process of dialogic play, in which interlocutors present and recognize meaning with each other. Gadamer reveals the way in which such dialogue-play requires interlocutors to share an ethical comportment, or a willingness to “open” themselves to what each other is trying to say, test their own prejudices, learn from one another, and remain committed to the task of understanding. Interlocutors who enter the game of understanding must, according to Gadamer, give themselves over to the truth of the subject matter that presents itself in and through their conversation, and suspend the temptation to overpower the other, or control the outcome of the discussion. In this paper I investigate whether such an ethics of play, which is central to the game of understanding, might be expanded to include our engagements with non-human beings, or the rest of nature. After first developing the phenomenon of dialogue-play and the ethical comportment necessary for its movement, this paper turns to investigate Gadamer’s wider notion of play, which characterizes the fundamental movement at the heart of all that lives. The paper then considers how we might stretch Gadamer’s ethics of dialogue-play to our engagements with living beings in general, and investigates whether we might find resources within Gadamer’s ethics of play for a broader ethics of life.