Saturday, November 6, 2010

Realism, Anti-Realism, and Baseball

There is an important debate in philosophy between those who say that what is true is made true by the world, and those who say that what is true is made true by us. A realist says that the WORLD makes true statements true; an anti-realist says that WE do. For example, a realist about morality may say that committing adultery is objectively wrong—-it’s wrong because doing so fails some objective moral standard, and it is wrong whether people think it is or not. An anti-realist, on the other hand, may say that adultery is made wrong by the fact that people disapprove of it and believe that it’s wrong. If they didn't, it wouldn't be.

Realism and anti-realism often collide in sports. In almost every sport, the results are determined in large part by what certain people—the referees or umpires—think. There are standards in baseball, for example, which specify exactly the conditions under which a runner is out; but when you get right down to it, a runner is out when and only when the umpire says so. You could see that this past June when Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga came one out from a perfect game:

How should we characterize the situation? Was the runner REALLY out, but the umpire mistakenly called him safe? Maybe, but of course the runner really WAS safe, because the umpire said so. He stayed on first base after the play. On his stats sheet for the season, he is credited with a hit. Galarraga is not on the short list of pitchers who have pitched a perfect game.

The funny thing is, of course, that if the runner had been “objectively” safe, but the umpire called him out, Galarraga would have had his perfect game. I’d bet that at least some of the perfect games in the record books are illegitimate in this fashion—-especially when we factor in the way that umpires’ strike zones tend to deviate from what the rules specify. But they really are perfect games, aren’t they?

It’s interesting to ponder the ways in which umpires and referees “make truth” in sports. And sometimes, for sports fans—and Armando Galarraga—-it can be pretty painful, too.

P.S. Oops. MLB has pulled the video from youtube. Click here to get to the video on Major League Baseball's website.

1 comment:

Cartesian said...

Adultery seems bad according to the progress of a common project which is the family. Otherwise about sport for Descartes we have to take for true something, when we do not find a better truth until it is not possible anymore to consider it true (see the second maxim of the third part of the “Discourse of the method…”); so there is this kind of truth and the absolute truth which is in the order of things and not from the human will-power.