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Climbing - Philosophy for Everyone: Because It's There

Fritz Allhoff (Series Editor), Stephen E. Schmid (Editor), Hans Florine (Foreword by)
ISBN: 978-1-4443-3486-9
256 pages
August 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
Climbing - Philosophy for Everyone: Because It


Climbing - Philosophy for Everyone presents a collection of intellectually stimulating new essays that address the philosophical issues relating to risk, ethics, and other aspects of climbing that are of interest to everyone from novice climbers to seasoned mountaineers.
  • Represents the first collection of essays to exclusively address the many philosophical aspects of climbing
  • Includes essays that challenge commonly accepted views of climbing and climbing ethics
  • Written accessibly, this book will appeal to everyone from novice climbers to seasoned mountaineers
  • Includes a foreword written by Hans Florine
  • Shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, 2010
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Table of Contents

Foreword (Hans Florine).

Acknowledgments (Stephen E. Schmid).

Philosophizing Into the Void: An Introduction to Climbing – Philosophy for Everyone (Stephen E. Schmid).

PART I TYING IN: Why Risk Climbing.

1 Climbing and the Stoic Conception of Freedom (Kevin Krein).

2 Risk and Reward: Is Climbing Worth It? (Paul Charlton).

3 Why Climb? (Joe Fitschen).

4 Jokers on the Mountain: In Defense of Gratuitous Risk (Heidi Howkins Lockwood).

PART II QUEST FOR THE SUMMIT: Cultivating the Climber.

5 High Aspirations: Climbing and Self-Cultivation (Brian Treanor).

6 More than Meets the “I”: Values of Dangerous Sport (Pam R. Sailors).

7 Mountaineering and the Value of Self-Sufficiency (Philip A. Ebert and Simon Robertson).

8 It Ain't Fast Food: An Authentic Climbing Experience (Ben Levey).

9 Zen and the Art of Climbing (Eric Swan).


10 Freedom and Individualism on the Rocks (Dane Scott).

11 Hold Manufacturing: Why You May Be Wrong About What's Right (William Ramsey).

12 The Ethics of Free Soloing (Marcus Agnafors).

13 Making Mountains Out of Heaps: Environmental Protection One Stone at a Time (Dale Murray).

PART IV MIXED CLIMBING: Philosophy on Varied Terrain.

14 From Route Finding to Redpointing: Climbing Culture as a Gift Economy (Debora Halbert).

15 Are You Experienced? What You Don’t Know About Your Climbing Experience (Stephen M. Downes).

16 What Is a Climbing Grade Anyway? (Richard G. Graziano).

17 The Beauty of a Climb (Gunnar Karlsen).

Climbing Glossary.

Notes on Contributors.

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Author Information

Stephen E. Schmid is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County. His doctoral work was in philosophy of mind and his current research focuses on motivation in sport and education. Schmid has been playing in the mountains and on rock for more than 20 years.

Series Editor
Fritz Allhoff is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Western Michigan University, as well as a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian National University’s Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. In addition to editing the Philosophy for Everyone series, Allhoff is the volume editor or co-editor for several titles, including Wine & Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), Whiskey & Philosophy (with Marcus P. Adams, Wiley, 2009), and Food & Philosophy (with Dave Monroe, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007).

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“This book has enabled me to better understand the passion for exploring rocky heights.  …There is a common twine that goes the whole length in Climbing, namely the love each of these authors and the editor have for climbing.  If practices flourish primarily because of the dedication and commitment of the communities involved with them, one thing is clear, climbing is a very healthy practice in spite of and thanks to its beautifully inspiring risks, and Climbing is a great contribution to the climbing and philosophical communities.”  (Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 28 February 2012)

"This nonetheless should not serve as a negative commentary on what proves to be a most thoughtful and engaging collection of articles that serve to intellectualize what is thought by many to be a purely adrenaline-fueled endeavor . . If you think, however, that there is no reason for anyone else to climb or that climbing is silly or pointless or just plain crazy, this book just might make you think again." (Aethlon, 1 January 2011)

"The book is a pretty in-depth look at various issues, centring around risk, ethics and other issues. It also includes essays that challenge commonly accepted views of climbing and climbing ethics." (The Philosopher's Eye, 2010)

"Read carefully within the four themed sections; the essays provoke an intellectual frisson rarely elicited by modern climbing literature." (Climbing.com, 2010)

"[Climbing - Philosophy for Everyone: Because It's There] proves to be a most thoughtful and engaging collection of articles that serve to intellectualize what is thought by many to be a purely adrenaline-fueled endeavor." (aethlon, January 2011"If you're interested in why we climb and take risks for what many consider a frivolous activity, then add this book to your holiday gift list. It will provide lots of entertaining reading and spark interesting conversations around the nightly campfire." (About.com, 11 December 2010)

"The authors are both climbers and academics (almost all in philosophy), so the essays ring with rigor and authenticity..... the essays provoke an intellectual frisson rarely elicited by modern climbing literature." (Climbing Magazine, October 2010)

"This has to be the best book I have read on the subject of climbing. Most of the essays are written by seasoned climbers and ... are varied and interesting. Many of the questions put forth are of the moral and ethical reasons for climbing, and they also address many other aspects of the climbing game. The novice climber can definitely benefit from reading this book also as it explores several topics that are not easily found in a text about climbing. I believe that this book will enable all who read it to consider deeply what it is that they are doing while they are climbing and as a result be able to be better climbers not only to the climbing community but will understand their inner motivations about their own climbing." (OregonLive.com, August 2010) 

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Press Release

August 02, 2010
Climbing—Philosophy for Everyone: Because It’s There

 “Now I see the secret of making the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”—Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

Both climbing and philosophy are serious endeavors. However, if you make a mistake while engaging in philosophy, it may be ego-bruising, but it won’t kill you. Climbing is a challenging sport, requiring extreme skill and expertise, and a willingness to travel to the far corners of the earth and mind, facing fear with courageous determination. In mountain and rock climbing, even the simplest error in judgment can be life threatening. That said, it can also be a life-confirming activity, and the practice of philosophy draws out these parallels like no other discipline. Climbing: Because It's There (August 2010 North America; September 2010 UK/Rest of World) presents a thought-provoking collection of new essays that not only address the issue of why climbers engage in such an intrinsically risky pursuit, but also plunge into the philosophical void to consider such intellectually stimulating topics as the character traits needed to become a climbing expert, the ethics of climbing styles, the environmental impact of climbing, and climbing culture.

As Hans Florine (holder of the speed climb world record on El Cap’s The Nose) remarks in the foreword, “Climbers often claim, that it is about the journey, not the summit. I suggest that the joy in philosophy is about pursuing the answers, not necessarily finding them.” As urban climbing gains new popularity, and children and adults alike are seeking the activity as a fear-fighting and muscle building sport, new climbers are discovering its benefits for both body and mind.

Climbing: Because It's There reveals that climbing is more than just a challenging and risky activity, and the essays explore the payoffs involved in this life-threatening and liberating sport. As Florine states, climbing is a “great break from the ‘other world'," which explains why the sport is so appealing to lawyers, accountants, supermodels, and others in addition to the climbing "dirt bags" found at the local crags.

The essays presented in this volume are the first to explore philosophical topics to be of interest to both novice climbers and seasoned mountaineers, such as character building, risk, climbing ethics, the environment, and freedom. Building off of the philosophies of Aristotle, Zen Buddhism, Stoicism, Nietzsche and others, as well as referencing climbing’s heroes such as George Mallory, Hermann Buhl, Yvon Chouinard, and Tom Frost, the contributors open up a wide vista of philosophical thought on the joys and challenges of climbing. The essays explore the philosophical epiphanies that come when “tying in,” climbing solo, dangling off of a cliff, “chipping a hold,” or faced with a breathtaking view from above. The volume includes a glossary of climbing terms such as “bail,” (yes, to give up due to weather difficulties and such), “disco leg,” (tired or uncontrollable muscles), and “gumby” (a novice climber).

The four parts each focus on different aspects of climbing or a philosophical line of inquiry. Part one, “Tying In: Why Risk Climbing,” addresses what, for many, is the most obvious aspect of climbing—the risk. Given the inherent risks in most climbing games, why risk tying in?  What does the risk bring? Given the risks, are we ever justified in tying in?  And, why do so many non–climbers find the risks inherent in climbing so unacceptable?  The authors of this section’s essays address each of these questions in turn. Part Two, “Quest for the Summit: Cultivating the Climber,” discusses what it takes to be a successful climber, and the character traits that can help you or harm you in this quest, pulling from Aristotelian ,Hegelian, and Zen perspectives. Part Three, “Cutting the Rope: Climbing Ethics,” plunges into the moral realm with essays examining climbing ethics , including the manufacturing of climbing holds, free solo climbing, and climbing’s impact on the  environment.  Part Four, “Mixed Climbing: Philosophy on Varied Terrain” explores a variety of topics ranging from the gift culture of climbing, the subjectivity the climber’s personal experience, and climbing aesthetics.

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