Ascetic Practices, Hermeneutical Cycles and Ecosophical Endurance

  • Ron Welters
Part of the Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy book series (LOET, volume 37)


After discussing the environmental effects of sport practices and putting a metabletic view on sport to the test, I now will turn to philosophy of sport as an academic discipline. Like other branches of applied philosophy, such as animal ethics and environmental philosophy, it started off in the early seventies of the previous century. Currently, it seems locked in a binary view. On the one hand narrow internalists, or formalists, argue that sports are uniquely constituted by their rules. This point of view can be referred to as the autotelic stance. Herein sport is considered an end in itself, constitued by rules and (eventually) shared conventions on how to play or race well. Broad internalists, or interpretivists, on the other hand, contend that sport is more than just a gratuitous and playful end in itself. In this line of reasoning sport also can be a means toward other ends: national pride, prize money, a ruthless quest for records, challenging the existing order or advancing international peace. This is the heterotelic view.

In this chapter I will revitalise the reflection on sport as a dimension of the human condition by attempting to move beyond the binary opposition of internalism and externalism. I will do so by focussing on the potentially positive aspects of the concept of agon, a term which denotes struggle or contest. As an ‘agonal’ or competitive social practice, sport turns out to be a means to an end, in the sense that it surpasses the concept of sport as self-referential play: seeking knowledge, understanding the human condition, and cultivating virtue. I argue that this agonistic heterotelic view seems the better option.

In order to strengthen my claims I will uptake, broaden and deepen Peter Sloterdijk’s ascetology already introduced in previous chapters. The bottom line of his call for a change for the better is that we have to become aware of the fact that our ‘ascetic planet’ is inhabited by individuals who are constantly and relentlessly training themselves. This may be self-focused, but it may also have a broader scope: we train ourselves to become better humans, contributing to a just and sustainable society. Paradoxically, however, this will only work when we become aware of our exercises as forms of life that engage the whole practicing person.

A broad internal hermeneutic interpretation and furthering of endurance sport, especially cycling, can enrich our understanding of this sports activity as a form of asceticism. By following and furthering this ascetological imperative we can elaborate a view on cycling as an upwardly oriented ‘spiral’ that can contribute not only to self-knowledge and self-improvement on the individual level (metanoia), but also to an ‘ecosophical renaissance’ on the collective level.


Autotelic view Heterotelic view Ascetology Hermeneutic cycles 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ron Welters
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Science in Society, Faculty of ScienceRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands

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