The Creativity of Philosophy


“I think of philosophy as partly a creative process and discipline, and I think it would be a tremendous shame if we lost sight of that part of things.”

That’s Michaela McSweeney, assistant professor of philosophy at Boston University, in an interview at the Blog of the American Philosophical Association. Interviewer Skye Cleary asked Professor McSweeney, “What topic do you think is under explored in philosophy?” Here is the full answer, from which the earlier quote was excerpted:

Let me answer a different question, which is what I don’t want us to lose sight of while nobly pursuing underexplored areas of philosophy. I think that recent pushes towards public and social philosophy are so, so important: we really need to be engaging with the public, and we really need to be addressing the (incredibly depressing) social and political issues that we are faced with.

At the same time, though, I think of philosophy as partly a creative process and discipline, and I think it would be a tremendous shame if we lost sight of that part of things. I love metaphysics in part because it is one of the parts of philosophy that allows for some of the most creativity; there are fewer rules (or at least, there should be fewer rules—turns out that sadly there are lots of rules for what kinds of things will get published), for the very same reason that many people think metaphysics is worthless: it’s unclear what “the data” are, or whether there are any data, that we are theorizing about, and also unclear what the correct methodology is. I don’t think these kinds of worries are actually particular to metaphysics, because I think they carry over to basically all of human inquiry; and I don’t think they de-value human inquiry.

When I think about what I value about human inquiry, an awful lot of that is about what it tells us about our relationship to our world, and what it tells us about us, and also that it is often really beautiful and fascinating and incredibly complex. In the end, I think that super abstract, theoretical philosophy can and does help inform the more obviously applicable-to-real-life parts of philosophy, but I also think it is valuable for its own sake, in the same way that other arts are.

I thought this was worth drawing attention to. Creativity is very important to philosophy, and can be manifest in philosophy so many ways, but at the same time it seems less explicitly discussed, celebrated, or taught, in comparison to other important components of good philosophy, such as logical rigor or understanding what is at stake in a dispute.

Could we get a little celebration of creativity going here? Are there particular authors you value for, among other things, their philosophical creativity? Are there particular ideas or works of philosophy you think are good examples of philosophical creativity? And do you know of formal or informal attempts to teach philosophical creativity?

The whole interview is excellent—lots of good stuff. Check it out.

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