The Grasshopper
Games, Life and Utopia
  • Publication Date: November 9, 2005
  • ISBN: 9781551117720 / 155111772X
  • 6" x 9"

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The Grasshopper

Games, Life and Utopia

  • Publication Date: November 9, 2005
  • ISBN: 9781551117720 / 155111772X
  • 6" x 9"

In the mid twentieth century the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously asserted that games are indefinable; there are no common threads that link them all. “Nonsense,” says the sensible Bernard Suits: “playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” The short book Suits wrote demonstrating precisely that is as playful as it is insightful, as stimulating as it is delightful. Suits not only argues that games can be meaningfully defined; he also suggests that playing games is a central part of the ideal of human existence, so games belong at the heart of any vision of Utopia.

Originally published in 1978, The Grasshopper is now re-issued with a new introduction by Thomas Hurka and with additional material (much of it previously unpublished) by the author, in which he expands on the ideas put forward in The Grasshopper and answers some questions that have been raised by critics.


"This unique book quite bowled me over, both intellectually and as a gorgeous literary feast. Bernard Suits not only makes philosophy enjoyable, as it should be, but does so without any compromise of real profundity. He engages not only Wittgenstein but human life itself at the highest level, in a book that challenges philosophical orthodoxies, while all the time flowing like honey."
Simon Blackburn
"Like Erasmus's Praise of Folly and Diderot's Rameau's Nephew, Suits's The Grasshopper sparkles with wit and fun; and outranks those wonderful works in clear, firm philosophical conclusions. Defying certain discouragements, Suits constructs an illuminating definition of games, which he defends in lively dialogues, amusing parables, and cascades of subtle analytical distinctions. That is achievement enough to make a new classic in the history of philosophy. Suits offers more: an application of his definition in a discussion of how much we may have to rely on games——deliberately using relatively inefficient means to reach freely stipulated goals——if life is to continue to have meaning. We may be able to regain thereby the meaning lost as advances in technology enable us to escape one by one the tasks that necessity used to impose on humankind."
David Braybrooke
"The Grasshopper is an amazing book. Philosophically profound, yet genuinely funny. While primarily an articulation and defense of a highly plausible definition of games, it also manages to raise some of the deepest and most challenging questions about the meaning of life. All in the form of dialogues between an insect and his disciples! There is simply nothing else like it."
Shelly Kagan

Thomas Hurka

The Players

One: Death of the Grasshopper

Two: Disciples

Three: Construction of a definition

Four: Triflers, cheats, and spoilsports

Five: Taking the long way home

Six: Ivan and Abdul

Seven: Games and paradox

Eight: Mountain climbing

Nine: Reverse English

Ten: The remarkable career of Porphyryo Sneak

Eleven: The case history of Bartholomew Drag

Twelve: Open games

Thirteen: Amateurs, professionals, and Games People Play

Fourteen: Resurrection

Fifteen: Resolution

Introduction to the Appendices

Appendix 1: The Fool on the Hill

Appendix 2: Wittgenstein in the Meadow

Bernard Suits is Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, the University of Waterloo. Thomas Hurka is Jackman Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, the University of Toronto; his works include Principles (a collection of his Globe and Mail columns), Perfectionism, and Virtue, Vice, and Value.