Theses Doctoral

Free to Play: An Analysis in Aesthetic, Ethical, and Religious Movements

Ohaneson, Heather C.

In this dissertation, I investigate five forms of play with reference to freedom and constraint in order first to ascertain what relationship holds between play and liberty and then to see how the activity of play - and the attitude of playfulness - might contribute to a full and flourishing human life. To do so, I turn to an interdisciplinary set of figures, including Erik Erikson, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Blaise Pascal, Plato, and the contemporary scholars of improvisation Gary Peters and Danielle Goldman. It is my contention that the dialectical interrelation of liberty and limitation constitutes the essence of play and that the free engagement of constraints is a proper feature of eudaimonistic ethics. Instead of being regarded as a dispensable disposition, then, playfulness should be upheld alongside traditional virtues as a trait worthy of deliberate cultivation in adulthood. Seeking to enact the claim that boundaries give rise to expansive possibility, I provide a firm structure for this study and organize my analysis according to Søren Kierkegaard's conceptions of the aesthetic, ethical, and religious spheres of existence. Liberty and limitation appear differently under each of these categories. Further, their forms change depending on whether they are viewed in light of children's play, videogames, gambling, puppetry, or improvisation, the iterations of play and playful identity under consideration in this study. Learning about the apprehension, negotiation, and appreciation of boundaries that occurs in play grants us a more nuanced understanding of play as a fundamental component of a good life. At the same time, this project affords the chance to reconsider the nature of freedom and constraint, and to reimagine what it means to be at liberty.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Proudfoot, Wayne L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 23, 2013