Creativity, Spontaneity, and Merit

In Alex King & Christy Mag Uidhir (eds.), Philosophy and Art: New Essays at the Intersection. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Common sense has it that some of the greatest achievements that are to our credit are creative, whether artistic or otherwise. But standard theories of achievement and merit struggle to explain them, since the praiseworthiness of creative achievements isn’t grounded in effort, quality of will, disclosing the agent’s values, or even reasons-responsiveness. I argue that it’s distinctive of artistic or quasi-artistic creative activity that it is guided by what I call aspirational aims, which are formulated in terms of evaluative predicates (like painting something “moving” or engineering something “nifty”) whose descriptive realizers are not known in advance. Aesthetic creativity itself fundamentally consists in perceiving or conceiving of some modification of raw material or a medium as promoting or constituting a novel way of realizing the aspirational aim. Creative achievements like poems and paintings are then to our credit in virtue of being exercises of spontaneity that disclose a deep layer of our selves that is manifest in active perception of affordances, showing that there is something beautiful about the way we experience the world, as a Sally Rooney character puts it. As with other creditworthy achievements, what makes them difficult is that simply trying won’t suffice to make success likely – but unlike in many other cases, neither will trying hard, since we have no direct volitional or rational control over perceptual spontaneity.

Author's Profile

Antti Kauppinen
University of Helsinki


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