Friday, September 01, 2006

Is Pride in a Sports Team Foolish Pride? (By Guest Blogger Brad Cokelet)

I had a friend in high school, let’s call him Randy the Rebel, who was proud to have never read any of the assigned books for any of his English classes. I remember one break during college when he said he was no longer proud of that - he realized his pride had been foolish because not reading the books was nothing to be proud of.

This raises an interesting question: what should we, and what should we not, be proud of?

In thinking about this it is useful distinguish between two reasons we might have for saying that someone’s pride is foolish. The first is that the person is proud of something morally or ethically objectionable. The Nazi guard’s pride in having killed more prisoners than any other is foolish, and itself immoral, because nothing immoral is something to be proud of. But, as Justin D’Arms and Daniel Jacobson have argued, we may also criticize someone’s pride simply because it is inappropriate; some things are nothing to be proud of even though they are not immoral. Take, for example, my friend Randy’s “feat” of not reading the assigned books.

But what, then, makes something an appropriate object of pride? What does Randy’s “feat” lack?

One suggestion, built on Phillipa Foot's comments in her paper “Moral Beliefs” is as follows: in order to be an appropriate object of pride a thing must (1) belong to the person who is proud of it and (2) provide the person with some advantage or be an achievement. On this view, Randy’s pride was inappropriate because not having read the books was not really much of an achievement and provided him with no overall advantage. Personally, I like this but lean towards making the advantage bit a necessary condition; I think it is foolish to be proud of something that is not good for you.

D’Arms and Jacobson have recently objected to this account by appeal to the example of a sports fan. Consider a fan who is proud of the Buccaneers. On Foot’s view, this seems inappropriate because the team is not something that belongs to the fan. Or so D’Arms and Jacobson claim. On the contrary, I think that when we say that a fan is proud of his team, we really mean that she is proud to be a fan of a winning team, and that *is* something that belongs to her.

But even if that response works, I have to admit that on my view being a sports fan, even of a winning team, is not much to be proud of because it is not much of an achievement (it is mostly luck) and gives you only a minimal advantage (bragging rights, maybe the spoils from an office pool, etc.) I think it is foolish to be proud of your favorite team’s accomplishments.


Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I like the post, Brad! Here's an angle to consider: Is there something useful or aesthetically rewarding in identifying in some way with a sports team -- as one might identify with a fictional character? (I don't know how to develop the idea of "identifying" here -- in fact, I suspect it's problematic, but anyway....) Maybe you think not -- but if so, then perhaps feeling proud of the team's accomplishments is an important part of that identification.

(I, by the way, am a loyal 49ers fan, I blush to confess.)

Anonymous said...

Another way in which one might construe this idea that identification with the object matters concerns what external objects, people, stuff, we incorporate into our own sense of identity or self- our ego- one might be proud of their child because they consider the child an extension of themselves, or proud of their home team because the home team is an integral part of their own sense of identity. Is that different from identifying with a fictional character in the way eric is suggesting? It seems to be.

Richard Y Chappell said...

"I think it is foolish to be proud of something that is not good for you."

Couldn't one be proud of advancing other important values, despite a small or moderate loss to their own welfare? For example, couldn't one reasonably feel proud to refrain from benefiting oneself at others' expense? Or do you think such a case is strictly impossible, in that acting immorally necessarily makes one worse off?

Genius said...

Maybe this is all just part of a wider debate.
i.e. "it is appropriate to be proud of being part of group X or being associated with group X or believing in group X where that act reflects your values".

So a utilitarian is happy to be proud of a group where being proud is utilitarian (or possibly where the group itself is utilitarian)

And for a egotist he should be proud of those things that are a result of himself or further his own position.

etc etc...

So then we can ask did Randy's not reading achieve his aims?
maybe the aim was to prove that he didn’t need to read the assigned readings to learn (in which case his pride could more precisely be in his alternative learning behavior) or to fight the good fight against education tyranny or as an action of hedonism etc etc

one could also ask is it legitimate for him to after the fact revoke that pride if it was valid at the time?

Brad C said...

Wow! Thanks for all interesting the comments.


I had not thought about the connection to identifying much. I guess I would say that one makes an error if one identifies with a sports team, one's favorite character on a TV show, or a celebrity (I always think of people who got upset for days when Princess Di died). I bet it is natural and can be good for one to respond emotionally to things like this, but I think that if you start feeling pride or shame as a result of how people independent from you are doing, then you are making a mistake - it is not you; so identifying makes no sense. But I can agree if you mean identifying on the basis of the thought that fan support helps the team to win. I am a Bucs fan myself!


I think you are right that identifying and identity are distinct. I also agree about pride's appropriateness in the child case, but only because (and when) we can reasonably see our children’s' accomplishments as, in part, a reflection of our own efforts. I think of it more as an issue of influence than identity, in part because I am not sure what it means to think of my child as an extension of myself beyond that. I will have to think about this more, though. I am never clear what people have in mind when they talk about their identities - unless that talk is just short hand for the various things that provoke, e.g. specific emotional responses in us. It isn't as if people think a sports team is part of them.


Great question! I believe the concept of advantage or "good for" is ambiguous - it can pick out the things that contribute to our well-being or the things that make us better people. I was operating with the latter and your question helped me see the need to bring this distinction into the discussion of pride. This may mean rejecting Foot's view.

About your example, then, I would say that sacrificing some well-being can be to your advantage and pursuing ones well-being can be to one’s disadvantage.

Genius (now there is something to be proud of!),

My comments were driven by two things- an account of appropriate pride, and an implicit view of the good. You are right that if my view of the good is wrong, then the appropriateness claims will shift. But egoism is a false theory of the good. And I am skeptical of utilitarianism as a theory of the good.

So I think the appropriateness of Randy’s pride is a matter of the facts about what is good and bad for him, and that is not simply a matter of what he happens to think.

An example: the people at Jonestown ( may have thought it was good for them to drink the Kool-Aid, but that does not mean that drinking it was something to be proud of. In fact it was a shame they drank it and they should have regretted doing it.

I take it that Randy discovered something about the good, in part by reflecting on his pride & discovering it was false.

We might not hold him or the jonestown people responsible (e.g. expressively blame him) for having had false pride if his false view of the good was reasonably held, but it was still inappropriate.

But your comment brings out my objective (but perhaps pluralist) view on the Good -- Thanks!

kboughan said...

Isn't it true that there would be no team without the fans? And that a solid fan base helps a team achieve?

Wouldn't these things be a sufficient bases for some pride in a team?

I am not a sports fan in any real way. But I don't object to people associating themselves with a team, esp. when they themselves have played the game, or in some other form have maintained the game as part of the culture.

It's inordinate or excessive pride that is foolish or problematic.

Brad C said...

Hi kboughan,

Nice point. I agree that insofar as people are just proud of their role in helping the sport to continue, or, say, the support they give some team by paying to go see them (my wife was arguing that last night - she is a big Cubs fan), the pride is apt (if not inordinate). It seems that pride sometimes becomes inordinate because people "identify" with the players and then have the degree of pride that the players should. I still suspect that this is based on some sort of conceptual confusion about what it takes for an achievement to be attributable to someone.