I had an interesting misunderstanding with a friend, Jo, this week about the creativity involved in writing philosophy. I think it may have begun with some confusion on my part stemming from momentarily forgetting that ‘creative writing’ is a proper name for a genre as well as being an adjectival qualification of an activity. It might also have been influenced by Jo’s background in advertising, a business that seems to me to mythologise creativity in its absolute distinction between ‘creatives’ and everyone else.
We were discussing - at a funeral - the common intuition that a flourishing life requires, as one component, some exercises of creativity and I mentioned writing philosophy. Jo was surprised, suggesting that it surely wasn’t creative.
Of course, philosophy isn’t Creative Writing: the activity taught in masters courses at some UK universities. One might stipulate that forms of short story, novel and poetry writing just are what one means by that name and also any homophonic phrase. But there is surely no general intuition that flourishing requires Creative Writing in that sense.
Jo’s reasonable objection to my assumption that philosophy is, or at least can be, creative was that it is descriptive. It’s guided by the norm of truth in a way that fiction isn’t, whether or not there is a kind of truth in fiction. But even if descriptive accuracy is the goal, little philosophical writing looks like a description. To win through to a description involves the usual philosophical methods of argument, of deriving consequneces of views, of thinking up counter-examples, perhaps even occasional thought experiments. There seems something right in Wittgenstein’s poetic suggestion that ‘philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language’ [1953 §109] which points to the difficulty in achieving a clear description even if that is the aim. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to think such an activity anything other than creative.
Having said that, as an aide memoire for me rather than anything else, here’s a bit of housekeeping with respect to my own rather pedestrian efforts. The following are now forthcoming (I think).
Thornton, T. (forthcoming) ‘Bootstrapping conceptual normativity?’ for Foundations of Science
Thornton, T. (forthcoming) ‘John McDowell’ for Pritchard, D. (ed) Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy New York: Oxford University Press
‘Psychiatric classification, vagueness and tacit knowledge’ for Keil, G., Kutschenko, L., Hauswald, R. (eds) Gradualist Approaches to Mental Health and Disease Oxford: Oxford University Press
‘Naturalism and dysfunction’ for Forest, D. and Faucher, L. (eds) Defining Mental Disorders: Jerome Wakefield and his Critics Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
‘Nursing knowledge: its nature and generation’ for Chambers, M. (ed) Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing: the craft of caring Abingdon: CRC Press (I have some doubts about this one actually making it through. If anyone else wants a fine 6-10,000 word chapter on knowledge underpinning nursing practice, let me know.)
‘Transcultural psychiatry’ for White, R. (ed) The Palgrave Handbook of Global Mental Health: Sociocultural Perspectives London: Palgrave
‘Phenomenological implication as transcendental argument’ for van Staden, W. and Pickering, N. (eds) Wittgenstein and mental health, Oxford: Oxford University Press
‘The normativity of meaning and the constitutive ideal of rationality’ for Verheggen, C. (ed) Wittgenstein and Davidson on Thought, Language, and Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
‘Philosophical understandings of mental health’ for Wright, K. and McKeown, M. (eds) Essentials of Mental Health Nursing, London: Sage