Creativity as an Epistemic Virtue - White Rose Research Online

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This is a repository copy of Creativity as an Epistemic Virtue. White Rose Research Online URL for this paper: Version: Accepted Version Book Section: Kieran, ML (2018) Creativity as an Epistemic Virtue. In: Battaly, H, (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Virtue Epistemology. Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy . Routledge , abingdon . ISBN 978-1138890206 © 2019, Taylor and Francis. This is an author produced version of a book chapter published in The Routledge Handbook of Virtue Epistemology. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy. [email protected] Reuse Items deposited in White Rose Research Online are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved unless indicated otherwise. They may be downloaded and/or printed for private study, or other acts as permitted by national copyright laws. The publisher or other rights holders may allow further reproduction and re-use of the full text version. This is indicated by the licence information on the White Rose Research Online record for the item. Takedown If you consider content in White Rose Research Online to be in breach of UK law, please notify us by emailing [email protected] including the URL of the record and the reason for the withdrawal request. 1 Creativity as an Epistemic Virtue Matthew Kieran in H. Battaly (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Virtue Epistemology (forthcoming 2018) Final Author Accepted Manuscript (20/12/2017) 1. Creative Acts and Persons: A First Pass What is it for an action to be creative? The standard thought is that it must issue in something new and valuable (Gaut and Livingston 2003: 8; Gaut 2010: 1039-41; Kieran 2014a: 126; Paul and Kaufman 2014: 6). This is often motivated by Kant’s thought (2000; 5, 308, 186) that original nonsense is insufficient for creativity. I may produce an essay which is novel because it is so trivial and incoherent. To count as creative an essay must be novel in a way that realizes something valuable, such as insight or explanatory power. This is the dominant view, though there are dissenters (Hills and Bird 2018). It is also common to advert to Boden’s distinction between psychological and historical creativity (2004: 2, 40-53). According to Boden, an act is psychologically creative if and only if someone produces something valuable, surprising, and new to herself (note the added surprise condition). An act is historically creative if and only if it is psychologically creative and it is the first time this has been done in human history. However, not every act that generates a new and valuable output is creative. Creativity requires some degree of skill and understanding (Gaut 2003: 150–1; Gaut 2010: 1040; Kieran 2014a: 126–8). Imagine someone rigidly, mechanically follows IKEA instructions with no exercise of imagination, skill or judgment. Even if this was the first time the person constructed flat-pack furniture, it does not follow that she was psychologically creative. Notice too that historical originality need not arise from 2 psychological creativity. Charles Goodyear’s discovery of vulcanized rubber allegedly resulted from accidentally dropping rubber and sulphur onto a hot stove or via a mechanical trial and error procedure (Novitz 1999: 75). In principle originality – whether psychological or historical – can come apart from creativity. Nonetheless, if we want to do something original, then it is best to strive to be creative. Attributing creativity to a particular action presupposes something about how the action came about. What might this something be? Minimally a creative action must involve capacities, abilities and processes, such as imagination, skill, knowledge, and good judgment, being deployed in ways that non-accidentally realize something new and valuable (Gaut 2003: 149-151; Stokes 2008; Gaut 2009; Kieran 2014a). We should further qualify this in recognition of the fact that there can be output failures while nonetheless honoring the value condition. It is not just that the kind of thing produced can be valuable without being an unqualified success, but the process may tend toward producing something new and valuable even though this particular output is valueless. Hence, for example, Heston Blumenthal’s first cookery experiments may have failed to produce anything of value yet could still have been creative in virtue of the kind of process involved. What is it to be a creative person then? One thought might be that a creative person is someone capable of using her skills and judgment in processes that tend to produce new, valuable outputs. Yet it is one thing to have creative potential, and be capable of doing something that is creative, it is quite another to actually be creative. Furthermore, people might possess the relevant capabilities, have performed the odd creative action, and yet we would not think of them as creative people. Why not? Their creative actions may be entirely out of character. They don’t seek out opportunities to be creative, they pass on being creative when opportunity presents 3 itself, and take no interest in being creative even on the odd occasion when they are. Hence, we distinguish someone who has creative potential, someone who does something creative as a one-off, and someone who is a genuinely creative person. Genuinely creative people are disposed to deploy their abilities, expertise and judgment in seeking out and tending to produce new, valuable outputs across different times and situations. While some hold that this is the only sense in which creativity is a virtue (Gaut 2014), others have argued that there is a more full-blooded sense in which creativity can be a virtue (Kieran 2014a). The further thought is that certain motivations are constitutive of exemplary creative people, which, in turn, explains why they are more admirable and more creative than less exemplary creative folk. For example, we admire Cézanne’s artistic motivations in the face of indifference, criticism and outrage (Danchev 2012). His work was consistently rejected by the official Paris Salon jury and commonly ridiculed by critics, including Rochefort (1903) who described (approvingly) spectators’ laughing fits at Cézanne’s paintings. If Cézanne had been extrinsically motivated to pursue mainstream recognition or social status, he could have adapted his work to meet more conventional standards. But Cézanne refused to do so, which partly explains why he went on to produce some of the greatest painting in modern art. Cézanne’s motivations were not just admirable, but help to explain how he came to be so radically creative. By contrast, a purely extrinsically motivated artist chasing, say, commercial success or praise, would have tended to be far more conventional and far less creative (Kieran 2014a; 2018). The world is littered with the histories of people who lived up to their creative interests at the expense of more extrinsic goods, as well as those who ended up pursuing extrinsic goods at the expense of their creativity. 4 In summary, a creative action involves abilities, skill and judgment in a way that tends towards producing something new and valuable. A creative person is someone disposed to seek out and perform creative acts. An exemplary (or fully virtuous) creative person is someone who is disposed to do so for the right kinds of reasons. 2. Epistemic Creativity, Virtue and Key Questions Creativity may involve epistemic states and abilities but not all creativity is epistemic creativity. Creative artists might aim to produce something beautiful, coaches to make their sport more dynamic and entrepreneurs to make money or solve social problems. In realizing those ends creatively, people draw on their beliefs, imagination, expertise and abilities. Epistemic creativity, however, is not just a matter of drawing on epistemic states and know-how. It is a matter of aiming at and realizing epistemic goals. Traditionally, for an ability, process or trait to constitute an epistemic virtue, it must aim at knowledge or, more weakly, truth via justification. Below, I address whether epistemic creativity might aim at a broader, or different, range of epistemic goals. The key point for now is that we can distinguish epistemic creativity from the broader category of general creativity by focusing on epistemic goals. Is epistemic creativity an epistemic virtue? The literature in virtue epistemology has addressed two main kinds of epistemic virtue (Baehr 2004; Battaly 2008; Turri, Alfano and Greco 2017). According to virtue reliabilists what matters for epistemic virtue is just that a faculty, ability or disposition reliably gives rise to knowledge or justified belief. So, for example, normal perception or a disposition to reason inferentially – at or above some minimal baseline of competence - count as epistemic virtues. Although virtue reliabilists often conflate skills and dispositions, notice that there must be some level of skill or competence possessed by the agent 5 combined with a disposition to deploy them in appropriate circumstances. According to virtue responsibilists, by contrast, epistemic virtue requires an additional motivational requirement. The idea is not that any motivation will do but, rather, that virtue is partly individuated and constituted by specific motivations. To illustrate, open-mindedness is partly constituted by a motivation to consider seriously alternative views (Baehr 2011: 140–162; Chapter 12). But, fundamentally, responsibilism holds that all epistemic virtues have a common ulterior motivation. That motivation is typically taken to be something like valuing truth or knowledge for its own sake (Zagzebski 1996: 165–97). This motivation for truth is partly constitutive of the virtue and explains the disposition to seek out and reliably attain knowledge. Against this background we can ask under what conditions epistemic creativity is a virtue or, perhaps more accurately, when, where and why epistemic creativity constitutes an epistemic virtue. Key questions include: i) what goal(s) does epistemic creativity aim at?; ii) how so?; iii) under what conditions is epistemic creativity a reliabilist virtue?; iv) under what conditions if any does epistemic creativity constitute a responsibilist virtue?; and v) what objections are there to our answers? 3. Epistemic Aims and Reliability. What goals does epistemic creativity aim at and how so? A thought common to many reliabilists and responsibilists is that the goal is to acquire – reliably – truths or knowledge (Sosa 2008: 225; Zagzebski 1996: 176–181). Hence, epistemic creativity might be thought to involve a reliable ability to discover new (novelty condition) truths or knowledge (value condition). However, this thought is misguided for several reasons. 6 Epistemic creativity does sometimes involve aiming directly at new truths or knowledge. The detective strives to be creative because he wants to discover ‘whodunnit’ or a scientist’s research focuses on discovering a new drug. Still, as Zagzebski recognizes (1996: 182), if the aim is to acquire reliably ever more new truths or knowledge, the return from epistemic creativity looks pretty meager. One reason is that epistemic creativity often involves working at the edge of what we know or how things are presently conceptualized. The very point of being epistemically creative much of the time is that – in light of our present epistemic assumptions – we cannot make sense of phenomena, anomalies, explanatory gaps, or the object of our inquiries. Epistemic creativity is often required most where knowledge gives out. So it should be unsurprising that epistemic creativity is not reliably truth conducive. Because epistemic creativity operates at the boundaries of discovery, it may get things wrong far more often than it gets things right. One way of handling this is to hold that epistemic creativity may not reliably lead to a high percentage of true beliefs, but the kind of truths or knowledge yielded are of the most valuable kind (Zagzebski 1996: 182). Epistemic creativity may often fail to realize truth or knowledge, but when it does, the results are epistemically rich. Once the inquiries of Franklin, Wilkins, Crick and Watson gave rise to the discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure, something many other creative scientists missed, biology exponentially boomed in the discoveries of genetic science (the Human Genome project) and of biotechnology. More fundamentally, however, epistemic creativity often does not aim directly at truth or knowledge at all. Much of the time what is being aimed at is new, epistemically promising ways of inquiring into and conceiving of the world. The range of epistemic goods this incorporates is much broader than – though includes – 7 truth and knowledge. To take a case in point consider what goes on in much philosophy and what you are aiming at when writing a philosophy paper. Philosophy by its nature is an epistemic endeavor. People strive to work out possible ways of conceiving of a particular problem, potential positions in the conceptual space, different ways of framing conceptualizations, the commitments and implications of some theory, what might look like important challenges, what kind of method or approach looks promising, what kind of analysis might be called for and so on. Much of the time, it is a further question as to whether this yields truth or knowledge. This is often true in our epistemic inquiries more generally. We often seek out and pursue inquiries into what look like potentially interesting ways things might be conceived or investigated. Hence the relation between epistemic creativity and truths or knowledge about the world is often indirect. Thus much epistemic creativity can be valuable yet speculative or turn out to be profoundly mistaken. Two further points are worth emphasising. First, reliability does not entail completion of creative projects, since those projects may be highly ambitious. Rather, reliability requires performing creative acts along the way. Second, reliability admits of a distinction between quantity of output and depth. A person may reliably produce many creative works which are minor variations on what has gone before, and yet be less reliable in producing much deeper, more exploratory or transformational work. Yet reliability in the second sense can lead someone to be more ambitious in producing something transformational. Such a person may even come to be less reliable in terms of the quantity of creative work she produces, yet be producing more creative ideas, in the sense that what is produced is deeper and more worthwhile. 4. Epistemic Creativity as a Disposition 8 Epistemic creativity aims at generating new, worthwhile ways of inquiring about or conceiving of the object of inquiry. The question then arises, how so? Boden (2004: 3–6) distinguishes three types of creativity involving, respectively, recombining ideas, exploring conceptual space, and transforming conceptual space. James Dyson is a paragon of creatively recombining ideas. Dyson combined the mechanism of industrial cyclone separators with the vacuum to form the basis for his bagless vacuum cleaner. Note that his aim was epistemic and practical. In addition to wanting to make a better vacuum cleaner, he wanted to figure out how to do so. He conducted an inquiry. Exploratory creativity involves working through conceptual possibilities and commitments within some conceptual space. B. F. Skinner, for example, working from the idea that behavior is a function of causes and consequences developed key notions in psychology, such as operant conditioning, by showing how a few basic principles might explain many apparently complex behaviors. The most radical kind of creativity involves transforming the generative rules taken to govern conceptual spaces in ways they could not have been transformed before. Darwin’s theory of evolution or Jane Goodall’s work in primatology, for example, transformed their respective fields in this way. Epistemically creative people must be able to do these things non-accidentally. While there is much that is domain-specific, some faculties or capacities may be domain general. The imagination, for example, enables us to entertain apparent possibilities or impossibilities (Gendler 2016), and is often identified as crucial for our creative abilities (Beaney 2005; Stokes 2017; Audi 2018). However, the involvement of the imagination is insufficient for someone to count as creative, given people must also exercise their discrimination and judgment (Gaut 2003; Kieran 2014a; Baehr 2018) 9 Consider two cases (for variations see Gaut 2012: 267; Kieran 2014a: 126–8). First, suppose that certain people sometimes imagine things that are beamed directly into their heads by the world-renowned hypnotist Derren Brown. When their minds are under his control, Brown dictates and prescribes everything that they imagine, think and write down. Furthermore, suppose that these people are only ever ‘creative’ when Brown takes over their minds in this way. Left to their own devices, these people never imagine anything interesting or come up with any new, worthwhile ideas. We learn from Plato’s Ion that creativity should be attributed to the source of the ideas. Brown is the source of the ideas and imaginings. And, so, even if the people who have been hypnotized are imagining—and it seems that functionally they are— imagination isn’t enough for creativity. A person’s epistemic agency must be involved in generating and evaluating imaginings for that person to count as creative. Now consider a second case. Imagine people whose imaginations consistently go into overdrive. Their imagination becomes so powerful that they keep generating ever more novel associations and thoughts. Unfortunately these people lack any judgment or editing faculty. Hence they have no idea whether or not anything they are coming up with is interesting or worthwhile. While they may possess an element that is constitutive of epistemic creativity--namely the ability to generate novel thoughts and ideas about the world--without the exercise of discrimination and judgment, there is nothing to guide their processes towards what is or might be epistemically interesting. Hence, they do not count as genuinely creative. It follows from the above that epistemically creative people, then, must have the ability to generate for themselves new, worthwhile ways of inquiring about or conceiving of the object of inquiry. We might now ask: is it enough to possess this ability to count as a creative person? No. Why not? It is one thing to possess an 10 ability, it is quite another to be disposed to exercise it. You have to be disposed to be creative in order to qualify as a creative person. This is important since creativity is often mistakenly treated as if it is just is an ability or set of skills (Boden 2004: 1; Ward, Smith and Finke 1999). To bring this out consider the fact that capabilities, abilities and even expertise are not tendencies to do anything. A person might have the expertise to collect wine, the capability for athletic performance and the ability to play the piano. Yet she might have no interest in and disposition to do any of these things. Hence she is not a wine collector, an athlete or a piano-player. Similarly, the disposition cannot be so weak that it could never be realized in anything like normal circumstances. Imagine someone who has the talent yet possesses only an extremely weak disposition toward literary writing. This might be the kind of person who goes on and on about wanting to be a writer and yet never bothers to try. In fact, the disposition is so weak that he is always much more strongly disposed to do something else (even if that is just lazing around). He does have the disposition to be creative, it is just that the disposition is so utterly feeble that there are no circumstances where he will ever act on it. Hence the disposition lacks the strength required to be a virtue. The same, by analogy, is true in the epistemic case. If someone loves the idea of being a philosopher yet never acts on any disposition to think critically or work out arguments for themselves, then, no matter how talented, she is not (yet) a philosopher. We might ask how she came by these qualities? We normally gain expertise and skills by practicing them. But this is a distinct point. Imagine that some mysterious event suddenly brought it about that you now have new athletic abilities. It would be a further question whether you are now disposed to be an athlete. No matter how able, you may just be indifferent to sports. Hence you might 11 never bother. If this is the case then you could be, but are not, an athlete. The thought here is that the same is true with respect to the ability of epistemic creativity. A person who has the ability but not the disposition of epistemic creativity could be epistemically creative but is not yet so. In order to be epistemically creative someone must be disposed to seek out opportunities to do something epistemically new and worthwhile, to strive to do so when opportunities arise, and to do so via the exercise of her expertise, abilities and judgment. Now what is required for epistemic creativity to be a dispositional virtue? In my view, the disposition must be relatively general and reliable. Imagine someone who is disposed to be epistemically creative under an extremely narrow set of circumstances. She might have the disposition to be epistemically creative by thinking philosophically only when someone points a gun at her head and says ‘theorize or I shoot,’ or by writing short stories when it is 3 p.m. on a February leap day and the person to her left is wearing red. The dispositions here are insufficiently general for them to qualify as virtues, given that virtues are supposed to be strengths or good- making qualities exercised in appropriate situations across a range of circumstances. Furthermore, to be an epistemic virtue, epistemic creativity must be reliable, broadly construed. Exercising the disposition must have some kind of non-accidental, systematic relation toward doing something epistemically new and valuable. As we saw at the end of section 3, if epistemic reliability is narrowly construed, in terms of consistently yielding new true beliefs and knowledge, then epistemic creativity looks badly placed to be a virtue. But if we think in broader terms, encompassing goods such as epistemic promise, possibility, complexity, depth and understanding, then epistemic creativity looks well placed to meet the reliabilist’s criteria. If the disposition consistently fails to do this or tends to pull away from such goods, 12 yielding only uninteresting flights of fancy, then the disposition cannot be an epistemic virtue. If the disposition systematically tends toward realizing the broader range of epistemic goods, then the disposition meets one of the criteria for being a virtue. Where the disposition does this with some degree of reliability across relevant circumstances in the face of pressures to do otherwise, this seems enough to qualify as an excellence. This means that my analysis of the virtue of epistemic creativity has something in common with virtue-reliabilism. We both claim that reliability (in some sense) is required for epistemic virtue. 5. The Motivation of Curiosity and Epistemic Creativity It is one thing to think of the virtue of epistemic creativity as requiring reliability, broadly construed, but should we further think of it in responsibilist terms? Virtue responsibilists hold that: a) virtue requires a motivational component; and b) that motivation must be the love of knowledge for its own sake. While the two issues are commonly run together, they need not be. In this section, I will argue that epistemic creativity requires the particular motivational component of curiosity. Thus, the view has certain affinities with responsibilism over reliabilism (which typically disavows any particular motivational requirement). But, as will become clearer in the section that follows, I will argue that the motivation need not incorporate love of knowledge for its own sake as the fundamental motive. Hence, the view is distinct from epistemic responsibilism. Is the disposition of epistemic creativity partly constituted by a motivation of a particular sort? Answering this question may help us answer the question above: whether the virtuous disposition of epistemic creativity is partly constituted by a motivation of a particular sort. There is good reason to think that the motive of 13 curiosity must be partly constitutive of being epistemically creative. Arguably, to be creative, you must be motivated to learn something new, to find something out or to ask why things are as they appear to be. In order to be epistemically inventive, someone must be intrigued by something or ask and address questions in need of an answer. To think to yourself ‘now what would this be like’ or ‘why is that?’ just is to be curious about something. Consider what you have to do to write a philosophy essay. You have to ask yourself: just what is meant by certain claims, what the argument is or might be, why anyone should agree with the inferences made, how someone might object, and so on. You could write an essay by just repeating back exactly what the lecturer or the literature said. Yet this is not creative in the slightest. To be creative you have to ask yourself questions like how and why does someone conceive of things a certain way, how might they be alternatively conceived, and what relations are there to other structurally similar arguments. Then in addressing those questions, you must strive to bring your ideas together and explore the conceptual or explanatory commitments. Even if an agent works hard and possesses a range of other epistemic virtues, if she is totally incurious then she cannot be epistemically creative – and this is so even if she happens to reproduce a decent argument from elsewhere. Why not? She has not entertained any genuinely new, interesting or worthwhile thoughts. It is worth emphasising that curiosity can come in degrees. People can be mildly curious about something or extremely, obsessively curious. The thought here is that a wholly incurious agent constitutively cannot be epistemically creative. But an agent who is curious to some degree can be. Furthermore, how curious someone is will typically impact the extent to which she experiments with particular arguments, tries to think about what might be wrong with how the relevant phenomena are conceptualized, what constitutes a good or bad 14 epistemic analogy in the case at hand, and so on. Thus, how curious someone is will impact just how epistemically creative someone is in a position to be. To the degree that someone lacks curiosity she will not be motivated to question or challenge assumptions, explore uncharted territory, or try things out. People who are not very curious tend not to question, experiment, or explore the possibilities for very long. The incurious look for epistemic closure more quickly and tend to be more easily epistemically satisfied. By contrast, people who are extremely curious look for puzzles, problems and explanatory gaps, explore possibilities, experiment, try working things out, and are far less easily epistemically satisfied, hence the extremely curious tend to be more epistemically creative. It is worth noting that curiosity has a generative aspect (though see Watson 2016; Chapter 13). Curiosity is not just a matter of merely wondering about something or asking questions in the manner of a playful child who asks ‘why?’ to every response. In general, to be curious is to seek out experiences or answers and consider the extent to which they might or do satisfy what one is curious about (see, for example, Inan 2012; 2016). In epistemic inquiry, then, curiosity not only involves seeking out phenomena, questions or issues to be addressed, but trying to work out how they are or what might be solvable. Hence acting from curiosity involves taking the epistemic initiative. Again it is difficult to see how people could be curious if they do not show initiative in approaching or addressing issues. For these reasons, then, it looks like being motivated by curiosity is partly constitutive of what it is to be epistemically creative. In summary, an epistemically creative person is motivated by curiosity to seek out and take on inquiries which explore new, worthwhile ways of inquiring about or conceiving of the object of inquiry. In doing so, the person is disposed to deploy her