The Empty board: Philosophical Reflections #6
Originally published May 14, 2018
As go players, we cannot say whether playing the game is itself good or bad. We can only say whether particular moves in particular games are good or bad. To make judgments of what’s “good” or “bad” you have to have a context which provides criteria for making such judgments. Sports in general are a good analogy for making this point clear. Not just any toss of the ball can be called good in baseball. So what about human actions in general? To make such judgments you must have a set of rules and in particular a clearly specified overall goal in which the rules are determined. Unfortunately, there is no general agreement about the ultimate goal of life. Insofar as that is the case some suggest we would be better off not judging good and bad. Of course, people often set certain goals and are then able to determine what’s good and bad in relation to those goals. But how can they be sure those goals are in fact “good”? In order to say a particular move in a go game is good you have to assume a view of the nature of the game. But to justify playing the game as a good thing you have to appeal to something outside the game. So a question is how to deal with people who show no interest in playing go. Just saying they should play because it’s fun or interesting doesn’t seem adequate somehow. We can try to find some value we do share with them and to convince them that playing go will promote that value. Japanese efforts to show that playing go can diminish the effects of dementia are an interesting example of this. The Japanese go community also believes that playing go can promote world peace; hard not to approve of that. Another interesting example is some of the claims that are made about the value of teaching groups of children to play. Go is certainly a very special game. We’d like to say it makes you a better person.
photo by Phil Straus; photo art by Chris Garlock