Monday, July 11, 2016

The Philosophy of Golf, from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to the Stoics


This book applies the ideas of some of the key thinkers of western philosophy to the “game” of golf.

“Game” is in parenthesis because one of the main arguments of this book is that golf is more than just a game or sport. In fact, golf, far more than any other sport, can provide a reflection of life and a guide for the question: how should we live?

In what ways? Well, consider the following:

Golf’s core values of honesty, integrity, confidence, responsibility, respect, perseverance, courtesy, sportsmanship and judgment can lead us to behave well and achieve a good life — as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle might say.

Golf’s fundamentals requiring rhythm, tempo, timing, balance and power, as well as mental and physical toughness, agility and strength, can provide a philosophy of how we should live — as Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and many other philosophers, both modern and ancient, might say.

Golf’s Rules of Etiquette — including Respect for the Course, Respect for your Fellow Players, and Respect for the Game — can help you develop good character and live good life, as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and even Machiavelli might say.

And golf is played in nature — and sometimes in the most spectacular places on earth. St. Andrews. Augusta National. Cypress Point. Pebble Beach.

Words like “Majestic”, “Magical” and even “Sacred” are often used to describe these extraordinary places. But no words can fully or adequately capture the true nature of their beauty or the reality of the experience of playing — and being — there, as Nietzsche and Sartre might say!

Nature. Reality. Beauty. Being. For these reasons and many more that we’ll explore, golf, like life, and any other sport, can be better understood, and better played, through the ideas of some of the key thinkers of western philosophy — and if western philosophy has a patron saint, it’s Socrates.

Short, inquisitive, and annoying, Socrates would wander around the marketplace asking odd questions to anyone who would talk with him to prove that they didn't really know what they thought they knew.

This bothered and even worried many people who believed that his ideas were dangerous. Still, Socrates was known as the wisest man in Athens.

But here’s the thing: wisdom, for Socrates, wasn't about having a lot of knowledge or being an expert at something. Instead, he believed that wisdom was about understanding the true nature of our existence.

Like philosophers today, Socrates posed questions, pondered ideas and arguments, and struggled to come up with answers to the most important questions that we can ask ourselves about how we should live.

And this is where golf comes in because Socrates can help us come to a deeper understanding of the true nature of our relationship to the game and how and why we play. So, let’s begin with one of Socrates’ most famous ideas: the unexamined life is not worth living.

What does he mean by this?

Well, he believed that if you don’t think about how you live, you have wasted your life.

The same can be applied to golf because if you just hack the ball around the course and add up your score without truly abad deeply thinking about how and why you play, you would have, as Socrates would say, totally wasted your day.

But, if you truly think about how you play (are you frustrated? Serious? Ultra-competitive? Or fun-loving, laid back and relaxed?).

Why you play (for relaxation or just to get away?). And how it might deepen, strengthen, or even weaken your relationships with your fellow players, you will reach a deeper understanding of the true nature of your relationship with the game and how and why you play. Or, at least that’s what Socrates would say.

Socrates, as you might know, didn’t write anything down. It’s only through the writings of his rock-star student Plato (in what are called The Platonic Dialogues) that we know any of his ideas.

Why didn’t Socrates write down his ideas? Because he believed that the spoken word was more important than the written word. Written words can’t talk to you, they can’t answer your questions, or have conversations with you. Talking face to face also gives you a pretty good idea of what type of a person someone is.

So, Socrates talked. A lot. Which is all well and good, but it poses the problem of whether Plato accurately described his ideas or put his own ideas into the mouth of a character that he created and named Socrates.

Either way, one idea that most scholars believe is Plato’s is that the world really isn't what it seems to be. Plato believed that there is a big difference between reality and appearances.

Like, you might think the sun has set, but it hasn’t. Or that the 18th green at Pebble Beach slopes to the left, when, in fact, it undulates ever so slightly to the right. That’s a small but significant difference.

Plato also believed that only philosophers should be rulers (he calls them Philosopher-Kings) because they understand reality not with their senses, which are unreliable, but with their mind and by thinking. He clarified this point in what’s known as his Theory of Forms.

The basic idea is that if you want to truly understand what, say, a perfect circle is, you should think of the Form of a Circle and not try to draw a perfect circle.

Or if you want to understand the true nature of a Golf Swing, you should think about the Form of a Swing first before trying to make one.

This might seem so simple you might dismiss it. But Plato would tell you that it’s all about the reality behind appearances and the importance of consistent mental visualization.

So, what’s the takeaway?

For Plato, it’s this: before you head out to the first tee, think about how the Form of a Perfect Swing would look and try too actually visualize it in your mind. Then think about how it would feel.

Then, as you set up, don’t worry about fundamental or mechanics or the tips your instructor gave you last week. Focus only on the Form of the Perfect Swing, then become one with the club and let it rip!

And there’s more. Because we’re just getting started with Socrates and Plato, and, in the eighteen pages to follow, we’ll learn:

How Aristotle Can Help Lower Your Score and Transform Your Performance On the Course.

How Epicurus Can Help You Get Over Your Fears of Shanking, Slicing, Chunking, or Duffing It.

How the Stoics Can Help You Learn Not To Care About the End Result of Your Drive, Chip, Pitch or Putt

So kick back, relax, and let’s apply the ideas of some of the world’s greatest thinkers to the greatest game ever played — the game of golf.

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