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November 07, 2007


Ophelia Benson

Funny - I've been meaning to seek this book out, because the aforementioned Simon Blackburn gives it a little rave in the upcoming (tenth anniversary) issue of The Philosophers' Magazine. In answer to a question about 'the most under-appreciated philosopher of the last ten years' he said 'Inevitably, it is probably someone of whom I have not heard. But a little known and now dead philosopher called Bernard Suits wrote an absolutely wonderful book on the notion of games and play, called The Grasshopper, published by Broadview Press. I do not think I have ever met more than one person who has heard of it.' That made me want to rush out and become another such person and also to urge the book on other people. You done beat me to it.

Nigel Warburton

Thanks for this Ophelia. I'm not sure if Bernard Suits is dead, though. He still has a webpage (see the link from my post above). I think the book is a minor classic. I really don't understand how it got overlooked for so long. I think it may take off now - especially if Butterflies and Wheels promotes it!

Dave Lull

"Bernard Suits (left), formerly of UW's department of philosophy, died on February 5. Suits joined UW's faculty in 1966, and retired in the fall of 1994. A specialist in moral philosophy, he was especially well known for his book The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, originally published in 1978, with a new edition as recently as 2005. He received one of UW's Distinguished Teacher Awards in 1982, and retired as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus."

Tom Hurka

Lovely that you're promoting the book. I first heard Bernie give a talk about it 1n 1979, a year after its first publication, and thought it was fantastic. It stays both deep and funny every time you read it.

Though not known in mainstream philosophy circles, it's recognized as a classic in the philosophy of sport. The Journal of the Philosophy of Sport is doing a special issue in 2008 to mark the 30th anniversary of its publication.

There's nothing like it for combining philosophical content and style. And it makes Wittgenstein look superficial.

virtual philosopher

Thank you very much for this comment. I think your introduction to the book is excellent. I think a lot of us would like to learn more about who Bernard Suits was and how this book came to be overlooked in mainstream discussion of the topic...


"I think a lot of us would like to learn more about who Bernard Suits was and how this book came to be overlooked in mainstream discussion of the topic..."

I am Bernard's widow. I'd be happy to answer any question you may have about 'who Bernard Suits was'. As to the question of 'how The Grasshopper came to be overlooked in mainstream discussion', well I fear the answer to that comes with much shrugging of shoulders.

Thank you for this review, Nigel. I am, and Bernard would be, delighted.


Ophelia Benson

Excellent - you're getting a groundswell going here, Nigel.

I've ordered the book from the library, will talk about it on Butterflies and Wheels as soon as I've read it. (So tempting to talk about it before I've read it, but no, no; that way madness lies.)

virtual philosopher

Dear Cheryl and Ophelia,

Thanks for this. I really appreciate it. Perhaps we can persuade Broadview to distribute The Grasshopper in the UK. I've never seen it in a bookshop here. Has anyone else? I had to order my copy from Amazon.

Very best wishes,

John W G Wilson

'The Grasshopper' has also been very influential in the field of (computer) games studies; Jesper Juul's recent book 'Half Real' is (among many many others) a more contemporary analysis of the themes Suits addresses. Nevertheless, I don't think Suits' tighter definition of 'game' overcomes the problems that Wittgenstein raises. For example, driving in traffic is 'an attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs' (you want to get somewhere)'using only means permitted by rules'(the Highway Code)'where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means' (you can't drive on the pavement) and 'where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity' (we only drive in traffic because we feel sure that everyone else will also be following the Highway Code). But driving in traffic isn't a 'game', but driving in Formula One is. I'm not sure that Suits (and later writers) have provided a list of necessary and sufficient conditions that can infallibly make this type of distinction.

virtual philosopher

Thanks for this. I see Juul has a paper on the definition of 'game' here:
Best wishes,

John Davies

I hadn't heard of "The Grasshopper" either until I happened to be copy-editing the academic journal Sport, Ethics and Philopsophy, where not one but two reviews of the re-issue of The Grasshopper appeared. It's now on my Christmas list ... But a reviewer did point out one drawback: the book doesn't have an index. Shame on Broadview Press (indeed, shame on all publishers of serious books without indices)

Tom Hurka

Broadview does distribute The Grasshopper in the UK, through a UK distributor (whose name I forget), but it hasn't been sufficiently well-known to make it into bookstores. Maybe now? My friend the founder of Broadview has asked the press to send more copies to the UK.

And I don't think the driving-in-traffic counterexample works. The lusory attitude is only about my accepting the rules because they make *my* activity in accordance with them possible; facts about other people are irrelevant. And the rules can't be accepted as moral rules. So the fact that we avoid driving on the sidewalk would make driving a game only if (1) we recognized no moral reason not to drive on the sidewalk, and (2) we would avoid driving there even if there were no one else around., just because we wanted to follow the rule against driving there. I don't think that's true of typical drivers.

As for the index, I think there was some discussion about whether the reprint should include one. But remember the book's literary quality. It's not presented as an academic work, it's presented as a jeu d'esprit (though in fact it's deeply philosophically serious). And jeux d'esprit don't have indexes, nor do they have delightful illustrations, as the original U of T Press edition did.

Terry Larm

Second Life is a game (it is a MMORPG) and I think it does not fit Suit's definition because there is no prelusory goal. There are games within Second Life, but the game of Second Life does not have a prelusory goal. What do you think?

Doug Murray

I just stumbled through Google across this site today after reflecting on the theories taught in Bernard's classes back in the mid-70s. I was one of his students in 1974/5 when he was teaching his theories and refining the manuscript. I recall wonderful discussions in class and the cafeterias with Bernard on topics of games and ethics. These teachings and others I received at U of W have stayed with me through 35 years and in no small way contributed a successful corporate career. Now that I have retired and have the time to reach back to these it is refreshing to see how timeless they have become. Thank you Bernie.

Len Almond one of three authors of TGFU.  Loughborough University

All the comments are most interesting and testimony to an unusual book that inspired a major innovation in the teaching of games. The innovation is called Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU) and originated in 1979 but it wasn't till the early 1980s that was released into the practical and academic world as a revolutionary way of teaching games. I had read The Grasshopper and it had a major influence on the problem I was facing at the time 'how do we present complex adult games to young people?' The definition started a chain of thinking (primary and secondary rules, challenge, solving the problems of a game etc) that informed our thinking in Loughborough and led to its development in over 45 countries. The thirtieth anniversary of the first publication of TGFU will be celebrated at an international conference in the UK this year. The Grasshopper was a major inspiration to our thinking.

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