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The Grasshopper in Suits (9)

Posted in Friendly Philosophy

Objection 2

Skepticus poses his second objection to the Grasshopper’s definition of game-playing in chapter 5. Imagine, he says, that someone has two ways to get home, and they deliberately take the longer path because they think doing so counts as a game (pp. 52-53). After all, doing so seems to be a “voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles” (which is the Grasshopper’s “portable” definition of game playing on p. 41).

The problem, Skepticus says, is that going home the long way (even though it’s a waste of time) clearly isn’t a game (p. 53). So, there must be something wrong with the Grasshopper’s definition.

Response to Objection 2

The Grasshopper isn’t buying it, of course. He says that taking the long way home is only inefficient if time is a limited resource for the walker (p. 54). But currently, the walker is under no time pressure. Nothing else at the moment is demanding their time, so they have much time to spend on taking long routes home as they wish (pp. 54-55).

We can turn the person’s taking-the-long-way-home into a game, the Grasshopper continues, by setting the time to late afternoon and giving the walker a desire not to be outside after sunset (p. 56). Maybe the walker is in Transylvania during Dracula Times (TM), or lives in Minecraft World’s survival mode.

It would then make sense to say the walker is being inefficient by taking the long (rather than the short) path. The walker’s activity would cease to be, “Taking the long road home just because,” and would become something like, “Seeing if they can get home before dark even if they take the long way.”

In other words, by limiting the amount of time the walker has available, and challenging them to nevertheless take the long path, we would be asking them to “voluntarily attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”

Objection 3

Skepticus accepts the Grasshopper’s response. But in chapter 6, he offers a third objectionint the form of a story. The story centers on two retired generals from once-opposed nations who are now at peace.

Having become fast friends, but never having lost their competitive spirit, the two generals enjoy playing competitive games against each other (p. 60). However, they become annoyed with all the “arbitrary rules” (pp. 60, 64) that govern such games, and so begin to cheat in more and more dramatic ways (p. 61).

Eventually, a game of chess devolves into a physical brawl (pp. 61-62). Afterwards, they find that both had very much enjoyed throwing off the rules of chess and finally getting down to what really matters to them: conquering, triumphing, winning (pp. 62, 65). So, they decide that the only sort of game which will ever bring them satisfaction is one where declaring a winner doesn’t require an appeal to arbitrary rules (p. 62-64). They agree to meet the next day at dawn and play the game “fight to the finish” (pp. 65-66) — a no-holds-barred game where you win by killing the other “player.”

And that’s the end of the story. How was it an objection to the Grasshopper’s definition of game playing? Well, the Grasshopper’s definition requires (1) that there be a goal and (2) that there be rules that deprive the players of the most efficient means to that goal. But this game has no rules. So, the Grasshopper’s definition can’t be right (p. 66).

Response to Objection 3

The Grasshopper, once again, isn’t fazed. The two generals may have tried to eliminate all rules from their game, but they didn’t succeed. Specifically, they have maintained one rule: even if it would be more efficient to assassinate your opponent ahead of time, you have to wait for dawn tomorrow before you start (pp. 66-68). Otherwise, killing your opponent won’t have proved anything; you won’t have defeated them in a game so much as you will have prevented the game from even starting (p. 68).

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