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McCabe“A game such as football imposes two different kinds of limitation on its players: they should play the game well and they should not cheat.  The first is concerned with dispositions (skills), the second with particular acts and rules.  Learning how to play well is analogous to acquiring a virtue; cheating is not playing the game badly: it is not playing it at all, it is attempting to be adjudged a winner by an action which is not part of the game at all but pretends to be, and is analogous to sin.

A certain kind of law which prohibits certain acts has the function of listing various common ways of cheating.  Such laws define the boundaries of the game…A table of prohibitions, such as the Decalogue, defines the boundaries of caritas [love among friends].  To break them is not a matter of playing the game poorly but of stepping outside the field of play.  To remedy this situation you do not need to learn to play better, to acquire further skill; you need to hope for forgiveness and a gratuitous invitation to return.  Of course, whether in the game of football or of life, being thoroughly familiar with such laws does not help you to play well—indeed, it is quite compatible with not playing the game at all.  It is an exercise not of practical but of theoretical intelligence.

To play the game well we need not rule books but training.  We may at first make use of training manuals or teachers, but we do not acquire the skill we need by reading the books or listening to the teachers.  We do so by practicing in accordance with their teaching.  Practicing has a twofold effect: you acquire an insight into the demands of the situation you are in and, simultaneously, become more attracted to dealing with it in the best way…Skill is concerned the good of what is produced

If I may go back for a moment to the distinction between playing football badly and committing a foul: just how well someone has played may be a matter for debate, but if the relevant facts are clear then it is equally clear whether a move was or was not within the boundaries of football.  One overriding extra factor in judging whether a course of action is suitable as a means to my end is whether it amounts to a foul, whether it would be incompatible with the caritas that defines the playing field.  In other words there is a place within an ethics of virtue for absolute prohibitions as there is a place in football for the referee’s whistle…

[Playing the game well is] a bodily affair. So the virtue that is developed in the practical reason demands more than abstract understanding; practical wisdom is developed not just by reading, talking or arguing but by imagination, imagery and stories, by experience; it demands bodily sensitivity to the world around us.” (Herbert McCabe, The Good Life: Ethics and the Pursuit of Happiness, p. 87-88, 93-94)

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