Creativity, Spontaneity, and Merit
Place: Room 24, 5th floor, Metsätalo (Unioninkatu 40)
Some notable achievements are artistic: paintings, novels, movies, and so on. They are creditable to their creators, and producing them may make admiration fitting. It’s difficult to create a great work of art, after all. Yet they are puzzling from the perspective of effort-centric accounts of achievement, such as Bradford (2015) and von Kriegstein (2016). Effort seems to play little to no role in their magnitude, even from an agent-relative perspective. They’re also puzzling from the perspective of will- or value-based accounts of attributability to the agent (Watson 1996, Shoemaker 2015). They don’t seem to reflect the agent’s quality of will or values in any straightforward way. Creative processes aren’t under voluntary control in the same way as ordinary efforts, which serve what I call a guiding aim. But I argue that our aspirational aims (like the goal of painting an emotionally powerful depiction of the horrors of war) can influence our perception of valuable possibilities inherent in the raw material of our choice (words, paints, film, etc.). The products of such implicit processes are creditable to the artist, because they disclose an aspect of her self: the self as an active perceiver. The difficulty that makes them achievements isn’t a function of effort, but precisely the absence of deliberate control, and dependence on perception delivering the goods. This picture has the relatively radical consequence that our pro- and con-attitudes towards each other don’t just track effort or values, but also a kind of spontaneity that lies below and beyond voluntary or rational control.
Antti Kauppinen is Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki.