We have seen that the shared understanding of sport competitions varies in different historical, cultural and social contexts. We have also seen that intentional goals among competitors are greatly varied. The aim of this book is to develop a moral norm system of fair play to guide conduct in competitions in general. This is an ambitious aim. A degree of scepticism is in order. Why should we practise sport in one way instead of another? And, if we consider one mode of practice as morally superior to another, what are our arguments for doing so? How can we justify such a claim?
Scepticism often raises fundamental philosophical questions. And even the most concrete questions can lead to metaphysical puzzles if properly pursued. Here, moral norms seem to presuppose that individuals actually can freely choose between alternative courses of action and that they can be held responsible for their choices. But is this presupposition reasonable? If it is, what are the characteristics of a free or voluntary choice? Moreover, if we can be held responsible for our actions, it seems reasonable to assume that we can be challenged on our justifications. But is it possible to give a particular choice of action a 'true' moral justification? Are there moral facts and moral properties that exist 'out there', independent of our moral beliefs and attitudes, that can be known? If there is such a moral knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it and how can we obtain it?
I cannot, of course, deal satisfactorily with these questions here (could anyone?) Still, in a work on practical ethics a description and a brief justification of basic premises can serve to demonstrate both the possibilities and the limitations of the approach adopted here. Clarification of a normative framework can make the analysis more systematic and better focused, and so lead to insights than could otherwise easily be overlooked in everyday discussion of morality. Let us start, therefore, by clarifying some key concepts.
The word 'ethics' is derived from the Greek éthos (with a short e), which refers to 'habit' or 'custom', and êthos (with a long e), which refers among other things