KineSophy: The Back Story

It has been almost five years since I started blogging on KineSophy. With the unveiling of the new, expanded version of the site, I think it’s high time I said something about the back story of the KineSophy project. There are a lot of health and fitness blogs out there. And there are a smaller, but still substantial, amount of sites devoted to ethics and philosophy. But combining the two grew out of several years of my experiences as an athlete, student, coach and writer.

Finishing IRONMAN 70.3 Branson in 2012, part of the back story of KineSophy
Finishing IRONMAN 70.3 Branson in 2012

Like most people, I grew up with a basic understanding of what it meant to be a good person. Good people were kind, just, honest, etc., and one ought to strive to exhibit these virtues. I also grew up immersed in athletics. At one time or another, I had formal coaching in baseball, basketball, football, soccer, swimming, tennis, karate, fencing and sailing. Not to mention the fact that, until college, I attended public school in the state of Illinois, where daily physical education classes are a mandatory part of the curriculum.

I spent the first semester of my freshman year at Pomona College taking two philosophy courses and practicing with the baseball team for the upcoming season. My final paper for one of those courses (and in hindsight, the first article of the KineSophy project) was a summary of how writers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Albert Camus, Ayn Rand and Paulo Coelho had treated physical movement and achievement in their philosophies. Three years later, I had to miss a baseball practice to defend my philosophy thesis on moral realism.

After graduation, I spent a year playing and coaching for baseball teams in Sundsvall, Sweden and Cape Town, South Africa. When I returned to the States, I began working part-time as a personal trainer and enrolled in a graduate program. As a coach and trainer, I was paid to advocate for the benefits of physical fitness and performance as part of an overall lifestyle. I also had to manage players’ and clients’ emotional and psychological health. And I had the chance to observe how physical success or failure translated to non-physical states (and vice versa).

I had a lot of great, motivated clients as a personal trainer. But like any trainer, I also had to deal with my fair share of excuses and equivocations. I began to see how these rationalizations for a client’s lapses in the physical tasks necessary to reach his goals mirrored rationalizations for ethical missteps. “I’m too busy,” “It’s too hard,” or “It wasn’t my fault,” apply to excuses for skipping workouts, neglecting diet journals, littering or refusing to help someone in need.

Physical demands have a great way of exposing these excuses. You can either lift a weight or you can’t. You can either run a certain speed or you can’t. If a player asked about his omission from the lineup or a client complained about not reaching her weight goal, I could point to specific missteps that led to those outcomes. We’d like to be able to pinpoint similar failings in ethical matters, but it’s usually not that easy. But I have long believed that meeting physical challenges can help people meet challenges in other spheres of life.

About a year into my work as a trainer, I came upon physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach Dr. Kelly Starrett’s website MobilityWOD. Starrett claims “all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves.” Given that ethics is the study of what people should do, Starrett is making an ethical assertion! Though his website offers practical techniques for alleviating nagging pain, preventing injury and improving physical performance rather than explicitly ethical advice, I began to wonder more about this crossover between ethics and fitness.

Playing for the Sundsvall (Sweden) Mosquitoes, part of the KineSophy back story
Trying to stay warm and dry during a semifinal game for the Sundsvall (Sweden) Mosquitoes in 2008

It was clear to me from my own training experience and my experience coaching and training others that physical activity had non-physical benefits. That is not to say there is a strict causal relationship between physical fitness and overall virtue. It is possible to be physically fit and unintelligent or wicked. It’s also possible to be unfit and good or intelligent (or any combination thereof). But if humans are striving to be the best possible versions of themselves, physical wellness must fit into that equation (along with intelligence, honesty, justice, etc.)

Many philosophers have noted the existence of physical virtues without making much of an explicit argument in their favor. Ancient Greek philosophers described a wide range of virtues such as intelligence, strength, courage, honesty and generosity. But over time, philosophy has (not unjustly) focused more and more on other-directed virtues. In KineSophy, I wanted to examine physical virtues, justify their importance, and integrate them into a unified theory of ethics.

In short, my primary goal with KineSophy is to explain why physical virtues are important, not just for physical health, but as a comprehensive part of what it means to be a good human. It’s a project that has been in the making my entire life, yet one that continues to open up new paths for exploration.