Broadview Press is publishing a new version of the strangely-little-known-yet-intensely-loved-minor-philosphical-classic The Grasshopper, by Bernard Suits. This edition, its third, retains the introduction from the second by Thomas Hurka and reunites the text with the original illustrations by Frank Newfeld. The book answers Wittgenstein’s view that there is no satisfactory analysis possible for games, by offering and defending a definition of them in a uniquely analytical yet charming way. Here is an interview with Hurka about the book. (via Gwen Bradford)
It’s both philosophically profound and a literary masterpiece.
Shall I elaborate a bit? The bulk of The Grasshopper defends an analysis of the concept of playing a game – the very concept that was Wittgenstein’s prime example of one that can’t be analyzed. Yet Suits’s definition is both persuasive and tremendously illuminating. It’s the best piece of conceptual analysis I know. The book then argues for the central place of game-playing in a good human life, arguing that in a utopia where all instrumental goods are supplied, people’s prime activity would be playing games. This is philosophically very deep. As I’ve argued in my ‘Games and the Good’ paper, it gives the clearest expression of what I call modern as against classical values. It’s when you have Suits’s definition of a game in hand that you understand most clearly what, say, Marx and Nietzsche had in mind when they proposed their visions of the good life, and how those differ from a classical view like Aristotle’s.
So that’s the book’s content. But its style is playful and even hilarious: on many pages you laugh out loud. It’s written as a dialogue between the Grasshopper of Aesop’s fable, who’s about to die because he spent the summer playing games rather than gathering food, and his disciples, who try to refute his views but are always persuaded they’re wrong. So it’s a multi-level loving parody of a Socratic dialogue. And it’s full of whimsy. To make his philosophical points the Grasshopper invents different fantasies – about two retired generals in a Black Sea port trying to play a game without rules, about a bowler-hatted Englishman atop Mt. Everest, about the greatest spy in history.
That’s the contrast: between the profundity of the content and the dancing lightness of the style.