Why Chess Still Isn't a Sport
One can of course deny that a sport must include an intrinsically physical component, but it seems to me that that's how the term has traditionally been understood, and unless widespread usage shifts, I'd prefer to say that chess is sport-like, but not a sport.
Howard Goldowsky thinks otherwise, and in an initial post on the Boylston Chess Club's blog, he suggested that chess or any other activity is a sport if it meets two conditions, roughly:
G1: It involves pattern recognition.
G2: It involves timing. (Defined in a very broad sense.)
I suggested that if G1 & G2 are jointly sufficient, then virtually any activity counts as a sport - walking to the mailbox, reading, eating, writing poetry, etc. Surely those don't count as sports, but then if that's the basis for including chess as a sport, it's insufficient to the task.
Next, I proposed an improvement on Goldowsky's scheme that rules out some but not all of my counterexamples:
G3: It takes place in a competitive context.
That rules out walking to the mailbox and reading, but it's still insufficiently restrictive, to my mind: applying for a job or playing in a piano competition now count as sports, which seems clearly wrong.
Goldowsky has since replied, and he's not impressed. Why aren't these activities sports? I haven't really defended that claim, and so, if his definitions suggest that they're really sports, then by gum, they're sports, even if no one recognizes it!
Now, I'm not completely unsympathetic to this line of reasoning. Suppose, for example, that everyone agrees that it's wrong to kill innocent human beings and that a human being is defined a living organism which has the genetic code of a human being and is either a mature member of the species or will, ceteris paribus, develop into a mature member of the species. If everyone accepts such a definition, then if some large segment of the population also accepted the permissiblity of abortion, then it would be fair to criticize their beliefs: if the definition they accept implies that abortion is wrong, then their views are inconsistetnt, even if they don't recognize it.
Unfortunately, this defense doesn't help Goldowsky, because it presupposes agreement about the definition. If G1-G3 represented the mainstream understanding of the nature of sport, then that would be one thing, but his definition is contentious at best. [An aside: Goldowsky has included a fourth condition, that "[l]uck is not inherent in the rules of the competition", but this condition isn't relevant to the ensuing discussion.]
Let's be (very) generous and suppose that, a priori, his definition and the more mainstream definition are each exactly 50% likely to be true. What do we do to figure out which of the two better captures the concept of sport shared by English speakers? I think the answer is to look at examples. A putative definition of "sports" should do three things:
(1) Include in its extension all clear cases of sports.
(2) Exclude from its extension all clear cases of non-sports.
(3) Be such as to account for the vagueness of vague cases.
Does Goldowsky's definition achieve this? (1) isn't any problem at all, but I think it fails on (2). No one not in the grips of a theory - at least no one I'm aware of - considers applying for a job or composing poetry for a contest as sports. These activities are not sports by any common understanding, and since the meaning of ordinary words comes from usage, not fiat, that gives us reason to think Goldowsky's definition is flawed.
Thus Goldowsky has still not provided us with sufficient reason to label chess a sport. He can call it a sport, or he can stipulate that whenever he utters the word "sport" he means an activity featuring G1-G3 (which is to say, G3, as G1 & G2, as he defines them, seem to apply to any action).
But I will not follow suit.