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Monday, June 16, 2008

Kant on Golf

Today is my birthday, which means three things.  (1) My birthday often falls on, or abuts, Father's Day.  (2) Everybody in my family always lets me watch the last round of the U.S. Open on Father's Day.  (3) Because it's my birthday, and because there's an eighteen hole playoff today, I am being treated to a second day of getting to watch the golf.  But with only two players, there's a lot of time between shots, which means, as when I'm playing, there's too much time to think.

No sport has a thing about rules like golf.  One of the funniest books I've ever read, Missing Links, by Rick Reilly, turns on the rule about testing a hazard.  My son and I were discussing yesterday what would happen if you hit a golf ball into a old half grapefruit lying on the fairway.  This raises an interesting philosophical issue.  Let's take four things into which a ball might be hit:

- An old half grapefruit.
- A dead animal's mouth.
- A live animal's mouth.
- A live person's lap.

The default rule is 13-1, which says that unless otherwise provided in the Rules, the ball shall be played where it lies.  Let's work first through the easier cases, the grapefruit and the live human.   The grapefruit is probably a loose impediment under Rule 23, even though we need the rule of ejusdem generis to get us there.  "'Loose impediments' are natural objects such as stones, leaves, twigs, branches, and the like, dung, worms, insects and casts or heaps made by them. . . ."  We are assuming the ball is in the grapefruit.  You could move a loose impediment if it didn't move the ball, but on our facts, it would move and cause a penalty.  The other question is whether the grapefruit is an obstruction because it's "artificial," in which case you'd get relief.  I think a old tin can would be artificial, but I'm not sure about a grapefruit if it didn't happen to blow off a tree onto a fairway in Florida.

The human lap is also easy because the human is clearly an "outside agency."  An outside agency is "any agency" not part of the match, and the definition says it includes four kinds of people:  referee, marker, observer, or forecaddie.  This raises the Kantian issue, which we explore after the jump.

The last sentence of the "outside agency" definition is highly enigmatic.  "Neither wind nor water is an outside agency."  Golf began in Scotland, and this seems somewhat Druidic to me.  Or at least it makes the rule clear on Images7any course at which They Call the Wind Mariah.  In any event, agency suggests autonomy or will in the Kantian sense, so it seems to me it excludes the grapefruit.

If we are talking agency in the sense of will, the dead animal ought to be a loose impediment.  The really tough question is whether a live animal is an outside agency.  I'mRep1gross presuming it is, given that the golfing gurus have seen fit to tell us that wind and water are not agencies.

Well, that's it for today, except to make the observation that Rocco Mediate looks like Virgil Sollozzo, but happier.  And Fred Schauer, if you're out there, feel free to chime in.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on June 16, 2008 at 03:24 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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Happy birthday Jeff! You share this date with my mother-in-law, who is now 83, and can still run circles around us (perhaps because she worked as a pediatrics nurse on the night shift for well over 40 years).

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 16, 2008 8:22:59 PM

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