What am I doing reviewing a book that was originally published in 1978? The Grasshopper was reissued with an introduction by Thomas Hurka in 2005. The mystery to me is that it is hardly known in the UK, despite a fulsome puff from SImon Blackburn. My excuse for writing this now is that this book was a pleasant discovery and I want other people to know about it. I was put on to it by Jerry Cohen who mentioned it when we were recording a forthcoming episode of Philosophy Bites.
Bernard Suits combines witty parody of Platonic dialogues with serious philosophy about the nature of games (and by implication Wittgenstein's pronouncements on family resemblance terms and the attempt to define concepts). To Wittgenstein's assertion that 'game' can't be defined by means of listing necessary and sufficient conditions for something's being a game, Suits responds:
'playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles' [p.55]
Or, in a tighter version:
To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude].' [p.54-5]
If you want to get a golf ball into a hole, then the easiest thing is to put it there yourself by hand. But that prelusory goal of getting the ball in the hole can only be achieved in golf within the rules by hitting it with a club (the lusory means). If you started rolling the golf ball with your hand you would undermine the lusory attitude that makes this activity golf.
Suits goes on to suggest that in Utopia, because we could easily achieve everything we would want, it is plausible that setting up unnecessary obstacles in this way would be the best way to spend our time...
Clever and deep. How refreshing that even within the rather arid university tradition of philosophy such a book could have been written; yet how depressing that it hasn't reached a wider audience.