One of the interesting features of this year’s Iron Bowl is the apparently radically different views of the game: for Auburn fans, a sublime comeback, or Bama fans, a dreadful collapse. But which was it—comeback or collapse?
Creatures like us, human beings, see themselves as agents, as the doers of deeds—at least, that way of seeing ourselves has (necessarily and typically) had priority over seeing ourselves as patients, the sufferers of deeds. Events in which I see myself as meaningfully involved are events in which I see myself as an agent. What happens I take to be the result of successes of mine or of failures of mine. If I cannot take what happens to be the result of successes or failures of mine, then I cannot take what happens as really involving me meaningfully.
So—consider the play in which A. C. Carter chased down Mark Ingram and punched the ball from Ingram’s grasp, resulting in a touchback. Notice that I described this event in the way that I think AU fans would, as Carter would. He was the agent in the event, he made things happen. But from Ingram’s point of view, or a Bama fan’s, Ingram is the agent and he failed to keep something from happening. For Carter, he succeeded in stripping the ball; for Ingram, he failed to tuck the ball away. This explains why I imagine that Carter must feel he did something crucial to help win the game and Ingram must feel he failed to do something crucial that helped to lose the game. Who is right? Both are, I think. From the point of view of agency, a point of view that both Carter and Ingram will take on the play, one succeeded and the other failed. That means that the answer to the question, who is responsible for the contribution of that play to AU winning and Bama losing must be: both. Carter did something great, Ingram failed to do something necessary—in that way each contributed to the result of the game.
My point in all this is simply to remind fans on both sides that there will never be agreement about whether the game was a comeback (AU as the agent who succeeded) or collapse (Bama as the agent who failed). Could Bama have won if they had succeeded on plays where they failed? Yes. Could Auburn have lost if they failed on plays where they succeeded? Yes. Can AU fans see the outcome of the game simply as the result of Bama failures? No—because to do so would be to rob AU of agency. Can Bama fans see the outcome of the game simply as the result of AU successes? No—for the same reason mutatis mutandis.
For AU fans to complain that Bama fans cannot admit that they got beat, well that may or may not be right. If the AU fan means that Bama fans won’t acknowledge that the score of the game was 28-27, then the AU fan is right to complain, the Bama fan would have to be crazy. That was the score. If he means that the Bama fan should recognize that the flip-side of many of their failures are AU successes, then is right to complain (but he must also return the favor, recognizing the flip-side Bama failures in AU successes. But if the AU fan means that the Bama fan refuses to see the games as nothing but a series of AU successes (at least after halftime), then the AU fan should recognize that he is requiring the Bama fan to stop being what he is, a Bama fan, someone who sees Bama as the agent, not as the patient, as the successful or unsuccessful doer of deeds, not as the sufferer of them.
Dr. Jolley is a philosophy professor at Auburn University. He works in the theory of judgment, the history of 20th-century philosophy, metaphilosophy and philosophical psychology. He was recently profiled by The New York Times. He also likes football. His book “The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations” was published in 2007. His column Leisure with Dignity runs bi-monthly to monthly to whenever. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.