Sisyphus, Skateboarders, And The Value In Endless Failure

8 December, 2021

In this article for Psyche, Andrei A Buckareff, a professor of philosophy and co-director of the cognitive science program at Marist College in New York, observes the parallels between skateboarding and the story of Sisyphus from Greek mythology. While some may label skateboarding a Sisyphean activity due to the repeated failures required in the sport, Buckareff disagrees, writing that the skaters have reasons for skating, that contribute to the flourishing not only of themselves, but also their larger community.

Importantly, the nonskateboarder may notice that a particular skater they are watching never enjoys success on that occasion and appears to be quite frustrated (perhaps even to the point of throwing their skateboard and cursing loudly). If our hypothetical nonskateboarding observer were to return to the same location on another day, they may witness the same skater trying to do the same thing, enjoying limited or no success. It would be natural for our observer to ask why the skater keeps trying the same thing only to fail in their attempt. This may lead to questions about whether such attempts are reasonable, which inevitably leads to questions about whether the skater is engaged in an activity that is meaningless. Is the skater’s time better spent pursuing some other ends? Suppose our skater is quite a bit older than the other skateboarders around them. They may (like your author) be in their 50s. Why would they waste their time engaging in such an activity? Isn’t skateboarding for children? Why doesn’t the skater just grow up and engage in a more age-appropriate activity, such as golf or lawn bowling?

While our observer may feel confident that the skater is wasting their time on childish pursuits, is the spectator justified in feeling that way? Not obviously. In fact, there are good reasons that favour both the skater’s continuing to skateboard and their continued attempts at pulling off a manoeuvre. I maintain that what they are doing is, contrary to appearances, meaningful. Why this is so is perhaps best understood by exploring where philosophical work on the explanation and justification of action intersects with the theory of value.

Via Psyche, 1 December 2021. Read the full article here.

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