Rarely do you see a sports team so utterly demoralized and defeated as the Cleveland Cavaliers were last night. By the last minute, the Cavs didn’t even foul on defense (an admittedly low success strategy) or run the ball up court on offense. Reminded me of Roberto Duran against Sugar Ray Leonard when Duran just quit, saying “No mas.”
Which leads me to this question: is boxing immoral? Should it be banned (note: it is banned in several states)?
Ralf Bader, a young philospher, has a book chapter on the subject here. Bader’s bottom line is:
Boxing should not be banned, even thought it may well be a dangerous, imprudent and immoral thing to do. There is no justification for using the coercive power of the state to interfere in people’s lives and prevent them from voluntarily deciding to fight for money.
I have a hard time seeing any sound reason to disagree with Ralf on the legality issue. But is it immoral? Bader argues that we may have a Kantian duty of virtue (not a duty of right) to avoid it since the aim of boxing is to intentionally inflict harm on others (even though participants consent). However, I’m not so sure it is all that clear cut from other perspectives.
An act utilitiarian would certainly have to favor boxing since it is hard to imagine, especially given its consensual nature, that it doesn’t increase general utility (especially since the duration and intensity of the pleasure of those who watch and love the sport is likely to far outpace the pain of those who disagree with the activity. On the negative side, the duration of the pain of those who get injured fighting is likely to be long lasting [and participants may have an excessively high discount rate on the possibility of long-term harm] – but there are a lot of benefits accrued to participants as well).
If one uses a virtue ethics approach, one could argue that boxing is inconsistent with human flourishing since it can lead to damage to the human body, especially the keystone faculty of reason. However, the same could be said for a number of other sports as Bader discusses (which might lead us to the unfortunate conclusion that sports like rugby and football, as well as cheerleading, are immoral). But much of the training that goes into boxing is good for participants’ health and the training lifestyle contributes to temperance. And the “sweet science” can train us to have greater courage and discipline. Indeed, its education in the “manly virtues” is a net plus – not to mention leading to a certain joy of living (and the satisfaction of independence gained from going toe to toe with another man with no help but one’s own head, heart, and fists).
So, is boxing immoral? I’ve only hit on a couple of possible approaches, so there are likely a lot of other interesting takes out there worth thinking through.