My good friend Mitchell has just put up a great new post over at A House With No Child called: Creativity: Discrimination and Definition. By the way, if you’re not already following his blog, you should be.
For the first paragraph, he’s got an interesting pseudo-dialogue structure set up. I figure he’s been reading some Socrates/Plato lately and it’s starting to bleed into his writing through osmosis. Not a bad thing. You’ll notice that the entire piece is very meta, something which I greatly appreciate. It doesn’t focus in on particular examples of creativity. Rather, it explores what it is to be creative in the first place. It explores the nature of the thing as such–Dinge an sich.
“I would call creativity a virtue. Others would not. When I ask what is creativity, few can answer. When I ask is creativity beneficial, everyone says yes. When I ask are beneficial things good things I always receive a yes, although it is conditional. When I ask are good things virtues, I always get a yes. Assuming all these answers are truthful in and of themselves, it follows that creativity is a virtue as it leads us to our final end.”
To make things clearer, I’ll syllogize it:
1. Whatever is beneficial is good.
2. Whatever is good is a virtue.
3. Therefore, whatever is beneficial is a virtue.
4. Creativity is beneficial.
5. Therefore, creativity is a virtue.
So the methodology is right away to look for counterexamples. For premise 1, can I come up with something that seems to be beneficial but clearly isn’t good? We need a definition of beneficial that’s a little bit more sophisticated. Beneficial for whom? For oneself? For oneself and others? For others but not oneself? This probably isn’t a very difficult objection to overcome. It’d probably just take a few minutes of musing. On the other hand, premise 2 is more problematic.
Premise 2: I think there’s a fundamental mistake here–failing to distinguish between a virtue and doing something that can be classified as virtuous. Let’s take the example of helping an old lady across the street (who needed help). That’s a good, all other things being equal. But is it a virtue? It’s a virtuous action, for sure, but that’s only because it makes reference to some virtue. It itself is not a virtue. There is no virtue called ‘helping an old lady x across street y at time t. Rather, it’s an instantiation of the virtue of charity (one of the three theological virtues listed by Aquinas), meaning that it’s virtuous. Whatever is good is virtuous seems like a better restating of premise 2, but if it’s restated like so, then the argument is dead in the water. All that would follow is that creativity is virtuous behavior–behavior that makes reference to some actual virtue, like charity, or one of the other classic virtues.
Premise 4: See premise 1.
There’s also a little bit of an extra premise tacked onto the end of his first paragraph. Additionally, creativity is a virtue, he argues, because it leads us to our final end. That appears to be a point actually distinct from the previous argument.
1. Whatever leads us to our final end is a virtue.
2. Creativity leads us to our final end.
3. Therefore, creativity is a virtue.
I trust this is an accurate summary. I’m sure Mitchell will let me know if anything’s mischaracterized.
Step 1: Clarify ‘final end’. I have an idea of what you mean, but it might differ from more traditional definitions, so that needs to be spelled out. The funny thing about meta is that once you start on one topic, you realize that it calls for meta on every other topic that’s touched in the conversation, in order to make things more coherent.
Step 2: This faces the same problem as the original argument, namely the distinction between being a virtue and simply just being virtuous action.
Step 3: If we assume that man’s chief end is to glorify God (present in some catechisms), then it may be the case that creativity is at least virtuous behavior, according to this argument. But since most things can be framed in that light (even mundane work), I don’t know how significant it would be. Could you think of it as a spectrum of the extent of God-Glorification, such that creativity glorifies God more than simple mechanical work? Maybe. It depends on that particular individual’s talents, abilities, proclivities, etc.
Also, nitpicking: “If we want to get at the heart of creativity, we need discriminate.”
*to discrimination. Or simply discrimination.
Moving on. Is applied problem solving creative?
“Applied problem solving is not typically innovative, though it may appear so. Yes, market here instead of there. Why? Because our statistics said so. It works, la di da, good for you. You made the company more money. Does that qualify as creativity? Well you created a superior revenue stream, so sure. Does it qualify as creativity as virtue? Of course not. You had a goal, you thought about it, you took a superior course of action..”
Innovative? What does that have to do with creativity? We’re trying to get at the definition of creativity, so it’s not helpful to sneakily presuppose that innovation is perhaps a necessary condition of creativity, or indicative of it, etc. Scrap it or justify it.
Would applied problem solving be more creative if it isn’t used for monetary gain? The thought experiment you offer seems to poison things a bit. Forget the company. Imagine Tesla in a dank, moldy basement doing applied problem solving. How now? What about the goal part? I took a superior action, but what if that superior action wasn’t immediately obvious? What if it wasn’t prescribed? What if it wasn’t by protocol? What if it wasn’t simply done by rote?
“Not necessarily virtuous, not necessarily leading to your final ends, and it certainly doesn’t require that spark that shines through real art.”
Why, for the reasons I gave above, does it not require that spark, at least sometimes? We don’t cross out an activity because it doesn’t always require creativity. Philosophy sometimes is just formal logic, and a lot of the time formal logic is just done by the formula. I don’t think from this it follows that philosophy isn’t creative, or that it can’t be creative.
I’m struggling to get your definition of True Creativity, because while I sympathize, aesthetics is not an area I’m ‘so hot’ in. I do see that there’s a slight clarification on ‘final ends’ though, in the sense that you hint at ‘seeking God’ as being the final end of man. Fair. Read my earlier comments in light of that, now.
But I think that there really is something, here. It just may take a while for it to come out. Try and coax it.