Thoughts on Bernstein

Recently in a philosophy course I am taking we discussed the philosopher Richard J. Bernstein’s “Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis.” While reading through his arguments for Hermeneutics and the interaction between people and art, I thought that his arguments brought on an odd topic.

Bernstein was attempting to build an argument in which he built up Hermeneutics, which was originally used to explain the interpretations of the Bible, to be applicable to all art in general. In building this argument he states that “aesthetic judgments are grounded in human subjectivity and yet are not merely relative.” With this he begins trying to explain that just as taste is communal, so too is the aesthetic pleasure found in art. Although many would argue that aesthetic pleasure in art is relative, Bernstein explains that the “museum” conception of art, in which we separate a work of art from anything extraneous to it, helps create a feeling that art is only to be judged on personal taste.

From here Bernstein introduces the idea of play that Godamer used to explain hermeneutics. Bernstein explains that an important aspect of play outlined by Godamer was the primacy of games. He states that “play fulfills its purpose only if the player loses himself in his play.” He goes on to mention the to-and-fro movement that belongs to play and says that play is a “happening”. In saying this, Bernstein is making the argument that for a game to truly be “play”, the player must take part in the to-and-from movements of play. In a sense, players give up a semblance of their individuality to truly become a part of the game. From this, the game gains its own essence and existence through the players.It “reaches presentation through the players” to become more than an activity; the subject of play is not the players, but the play itself.

In a further explanation of Hermeneutics, Bernstein explains the effect that prejudices have on our interpretation of art and how every interpretation is influenced by the prejudices that the interpreter carries. This is not directly applied to the idea of the game, but I will discuss this later and how I believe it relates to my thoughts.

I found this way of thinking to be very extraordinary. If we accept that in giving ourselves entirely to play we give presentation to a consciousness that is beyond that of the individuals playing, then games can be thought of metaphorically as their own existent entities. This consciousness that is created is also to be thought of as independent of the players that have created it with their play. Bernstein then explains that although a clear of objection to this train of thought would be to argue that without players there is no play, “analyzing play in terms of attitudes of the subjects… distorts the very phenomenon that we are trying to describe.” In explaining Godamer, Bernstein has stated that players giving themselves entirely to the primacy of play creates a phenomenon of greater consciousness. An entity that has its own rhythm and movement is created that becomes that steals the focus from the players.

A professional athlete is a professional game player, but they are not perfectly comparable to children playing games. The difference between a professional athlete and a child playing a game: a professional athelete constantly works to be a greater player of the sport and in a sense a greater manifestation of the consciousness of the game that he plays. In attempting to become greater, with or without a team, he is striving to reach perfection and improve on the horizons of the sport.

The knowledge and horizons that he begins with are not entirely his own though. Here I want to talk about the idea of prejudices as they relate to sports. Every child who will one day grow to be a professional athlete receives training to grow to the point that he can improve on the current horizons of the game. The training he receives instills in him a set amount of prejudices for the game that can be thought of as a style of play. While in presenting the style that has been passed on to him he puts his own unique spin on it, it is not entirely his. His play style has been shaped by all the training he has received and all the prejudices on the sport that led to his training. Because of these prejudices, it can be thought that each generation of athletes carries with them the prejudices and knowledge of every generation that came before them. Our knowledge of the sport is communal and continually growing.

Here is where I think that the thoughts on Hermeneutics applied to sports becomes truly fascinating. If you accept both the ideas of primal play and prejudices, it can be accepted that sports, as more complex games, can have their own essence or consciousness in a sense that can work through human manifestations to reach its own perfection. Professional athletes working to expand the horizons of their respective sports can be thought of metaphorically as tools through which this consciousness works to push its own horizons. The growth and evolution of sports changes its focus from that of the individual players that helped shape that growth to the play that came of it.

While I think that this can be said to be just a fancy way to talk of the growth of a game that requires human players, I think that it paves the path for much more. Bernstein said himself that there is a phenomenon present that cannot be dismissed by simply saying that we are required as part of its existence. There is some essence of every sport that grows in a communal manner from all the progress that we make as a society. There is a back and forth growth between the players and the game, but it requires the players to look past themselves for the growth to be present. If an athlete is too focused on himself, the growth cannot take place. An athlete has to learn to channel the essence of the sport and enter a state where they can perform without thinking of being tired or hurt, but simply working towards expanding the horizons of the sport.