Why Break the Rules – in Life and in Sport?

Miroslav Imbrišević
Formerly of Heythrop College, University of London


In life there can be good reasons to break the rules. Some sports philosophers have suggested that this also holds for games. In this essay I will compare and contrast reasons for rule-breaking in life and in sports. Some of my focus will be on recent attempts to defend strategic fouling (by Eylon & Horowitz, Russell, and Flynn). Supporters of strategic fouling try to provide a philosophical underpinning for the practice, but they ignore the genealogy of such rule-violations. I will also discuss how some legal theorists view rule-breaking and contrast this with sport. Lastly, I will introduce the idea of ‘transcendental rules’ in games. They are the conditions for the possibility of playing a game. Following Aurel Kolnai, I will argue that strategic fouling violates a transcendental rule – it is not just a moral error, it is also a conceptual error.


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MIROSLAV IMBRIŠEVIĆ is a political and legal philosopher. Until recently he taught political theory at Heythrop College, University of London. In 2018 he began publishing in philosophy of sport, with a particular focus on strategic fouling. Miroslav’s present research area is the normativity of game rules. One useful method, applied here, is to use jurisprudential insights in analysing, clarifying and understanding the diverse nature of rules and rule-breaking.


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