Artistic Creativity and Suffering

In Berys Gaut & Matthew Kieran (eds.), Creativity and Philosophy. New York, NY, USA: (2018)
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What is the relationship between negative experience, artistic production, and prudential value? If it were true that (for some people) artistic creativity must be purchased at the price of negative experience (to be clear: currently no one knows whether this is true), what should we conclude about the value of such experiences? Are they worth it for the sake of art? The first part of this essay considers general questions about how to establish the positive extrinsic value of something intrinsically negative. The second part emphasizes the importance of various distinctions within the realm of the negative. We must distinguish between adversity (which is non-mental) and negative mental states, and between negative thoughts (or attitudes) and negative affect. Within the realm of negative affect, we must distinguish between negative emotions and moods, on the one hand, and negative affective perspectives on the other, and then between mildly negative affective perspectives and severely negative ones (for which I reserve the term ‘suffering’). These distinctions matter greatly, since different types of negative experience have very different degrees of prudential disvalue. Although many types of negative experience may be “worth it”—because their positive extrinsic value outweighs their negative value—this is rarely true of severe suffering.

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Jennifer Hawkins
Duke University


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