Dante Popple

Date of Award


First Advisor

Brian Conolly

Second Advisor

Asma Abbas


In this thesis I discuss the ethics of sport and whether or not competition can be considered ethical. I make the case that competition is fundamentally immoral on deontological grounds: it is wrong to compete because any victory, whether narrow or a blowout, generates and humiliates losers, and so entails failing to respect one’s opponents as rational, autonomous human beings. Moreover, competitive relationships are wrong because they create conflicting moral obligations. Beyond these moral and ethical objections, I address the utility and value of competition. I argue that any small utilitarian benefit from competition (compared with larger benefits from cooperation) is outweighed by psychological, physical, economic and moral harms including addiction to competition, disruption to flow, and bodily injury. Competition is neither playful nor enjoyable, nor offers any other substantial advantages. Yet the wide range of benefits to participants that follow from engaging in sports may be great enough to justify competition where the sport cannot be reconceptualized noncompetitively. When we play amongst friends, and when we treat our fellow sportsmen well in spite of the competitive nature of some sports, it becomes possible to be more flexible about the rules in order to play.