Moral Philosophy and the World Cup

Query: If you are a utilitarian soccer player selected to the U.S. national team, do you have a duty to try to throw your World Cup match against England? Clearly, a U.S. victory would be a net psychic loss for the world. (Also, since English joy might be somewhat alloyed with pique should your actions become known, perhaps you also hide the fact that you are acting thus?)

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9 thoughts on “Moral Philosophy and the World Cup

  1. I love this headline in a big red banner on CNN’s website: “BREAKING NEWS: US, England tie in opening World Cup match.”

    I guess it beats there being actually important breaking news worthy of a red banner, like say, 9/11 or a huge bomb in Kabul, or anything ACTUALLY important.

  2. Fair point, Nuno. In 2002, the wife & I were in Scotland during the World Cup, and some of the locals actively opposed England’s bid. Others gave their grudging support but were clearly more interested in Ireland’s improbable run.

  3. England has a much larger population than Scotland.

    But the answer is no. Someone considering throwing a game for utilitarian reasons wouldn’t be a good (in the ethical sense) soccer player. It would be self-defeating if sports were played, won and lost with utilitarian outcomes in mind, as the joy of winning would be reduced.

    Having said that, I suppose it could work by throwing a match a couple of times and keeping quiet about it. A bit like Keynsian stimulus packages…

    1. I suppose it could work by throwing a match a couple of times and keeping quiet about it.

      Yes, that’s what I had in mind. Making a public system of it wouldn’t work, but stealth and unpredictability could. It’s basically a case in which act utilitarianism trumps rule utilitarianism – unless one thinks rules have moral force in & of themselves, which is absurd, there seems to be a clear utilitarian case for occasionally throwing games in a believable way – in favor of the side with the greater number of enthusiastic fans – and telling no one about it.

  4. Let’s not forget the intensity and duration of the pleasure/pain are key – not just the number of people affected.

    1. According to Bentham, both intensity and extent are relevant, as are duration, purity, fecundity, propinquity, and certainty in the felicific calculus.

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