Is creativity even desirable?

From the archives: The original post was posted on 27th April, 1996

“I’ve never paid a whole lot of attention to the argument that noncoercive parenting increases creativity. What difference would it make? You treat kids as if their opinions matter because their opinions do matter.”

Quite so. Ideas should be judged by their content, not by their source.

“I dropped a joking comment in front of Kathy, my SO, about the ‘fact that coercing kids results in reduced creativity’ and she ended up asking a lot of uncomfortable questions, the biggest of which was, is creativity something you want to encourage in your child?
       Creativity, she suggested, is the result of dissatisfaction with the way things are, which is another way of saying unhappiness. The oyster produces a pearl because a grain of sand is gritty and uncomfortable.”

Let’s consider this argument. You seem to be saying that because the rational problem-solving process has the following form:

(1) problem; (2) creatively conjectured solutions; (3) criticism… and so on, that creativity is caused by the problem (dissatisfaction with the way things are), and that diminishing creativity by means of coercion will diminish these problems (sources of dissatisfaction). When put in this form it becomes clear that this argument is mistaken.

(Unfortunately, perhaps) creativity is not caused by problems, otherwise anyone who had a problem would solve it straight away. But having a problem is one thing; having the creativity to solve it is quite another. Human life is problem-solving, and being in the state of solving problems is not unhappiness. On the contrary, unhappiness is (or is closely related to anyway) having problems that you can’t solve. Solving problems requires creativity. The idea that diminishing creativity by means of coercion will diminish these problems (sources of dissatisfaction) is a non sequitur and altogether mistaken. The only way to solve problems is through a creative rational process.

Let’s remind ourselves what we are talking about here:

Rationality is a precondition for creativity but it does not guarantee it. Rationality is a property of a problem-solving system, and it is subject-dependent. Creativity is also subject-dependent. There is no such thing as raw creativity. Creativity is a form of knowledge: it is the meta-knowledge required to solve a certain type of problem. Creativity means actually solving the problems.

(Note that the Popperian statement that reason is the only way to truth is asymmetrical: it is categorical in one direction – it is categorical that processes other than reason don’t reach the truth except by chance – but it is not categorical in the other direction – it does not guarantee that reason will reach the truth.)

If something (for instance, coercion) interferes with reason, we can be sure it will interfere with reaching the truth (or solving problems, for instance), therefore, it will interfere with creativity. In diminishing creativity, coercion thus interferes with this rational creative problem-solving process. That is hardly likely to lead to happiness.

Are you perhaps thinking of a rather more narrow idea of “creativity”? Creativity (in the relevant sense) is required for solving problems in all areas of life.

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 1996, ‘Is creativity even desirable?’,