David Lee Miller, The Philosophy of Creativity
New York, New York:
Peter Lang Publishing Company, Inc., 1989
Keith R. David
[Editor’s Note:]Professor Keith R. David, like the revieweé, graduated with Ph.D. from SIUC in the late 60s. He is teaching in the Department of Philosophy, William Jewell College, Liberty, MI. He was formerly Chair for Central Division, Society for Philosophy of Creativity
Creativity—a term often used, ambiguous in meaning, alluring in pro-mise, powerful in its potential—takes on its widest possible meaning in Professor David Lee Miller’s book, Philosophy of Creativity. The reader will do well to take note at the outset that the work is called a "prolegomenon" to the subject, i.e., only a preliminary observation of philosophy of creativity, not a definitive statement. A full grasp of creativity as Miller conceives it requires a reading of the entire book, since the connotation of the term takes on an ever-expanding meaning. However, one can say at least that creativity embodies the qualities of evolving forms and values (novelty), freedom for that evolvement (openness), spontaneity, and cognitive processes which aid in generating creative impulses. In this work, philosophy of creativity is identified by a newly-coined term, "meta-paradigm" which refers specifically to those natural processes within Earth that work to produce and promote all life forms on an ever-ascending level.
The author’s assessment of the Earth’s welfare, its inhabitants and environment, yields the prognosis that the planet is on the verge of destruction by human mismanagement caused ultimately by a 2,000 year old dominance of an otherwise beneficent rationalistic perspective gone awry. A case is made for the rescue of the "whole Earth" by a universal re-emphasis of another perspective, combined Occidental and Oriental, which offers the best promise for healing and enhancement of the threatened planet—a process which has always been at work subtly in nature. The recognition of this meta-paradigm has been neglected by most of the world’s key thinkers because of its having been overshadowed by the allurement of the human mind for classical rationalistic philosophy. This rationalistic movement is assigned a description, rather than a specific name, viz., the dominant "Western paradigm of abstract reason, determinate form, and completed actuality," to which for purposes of brevity shall be referred to in this review as the "Western paradigm," whereas the former shall be called "meta-paradigm." "Meta-paradigm and Western paradigm—the tension between these two aspects of human experience comprises the central thrust of this small book.
The first chapter sets the problem for which the remainder of the work is a suggested solution, i.e., under Plato’s influence Western thought has been dominated by a model (paradigm) of thinking which, though good in itself, has projected abstract human reason as the sole arbiter for what passes as knowledge and of value in experience. Subsequently, there is the loss of "feeling"of pure experience vital to a realistic grasp of life-in-the-whole-Earth. That is to say, there is more to the deepest levels of life in the fullness of nature than the artificial elements which abstract reason devises. But this is not to denigrate the proper role of abstract reason which is to guide, even if fallible, human effort in the pursuit of oneness with nature. Miller states quite clearly the influence of Greek thought in its elevation of abstract reason at the expense of creativity processes.
His guiding assumption is that abstract reason in its pure forms of insight and expression will indisputably provide the basis for the human realization of "The Good," "The True," and "The Beautiful." In Plato, we have firmly established the first full Western disclaimer to creativity, for in the most influential of Plato’s writing, we have the dominant centrality of abstract reason, fundamentally believed to be capable of elucidating all facets of human life and the entire universe.
In a telling passage the author gives credit to Aristotle for a definitive articulation of the Western paradigm. In Aristotle, we have developed fully, in addition to abstract reason, the emphasis of determinate form and completed actuality. With the completion of the Aristotelian corpus, the main lines of intellectual, moral and religious development were remarkably presaged for more than two thousand years.
From the classical era through St.Thomas Aquinas, Medieval thinkers, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, and indeed, all Christendom, abstract reason is alleged to be the ideal method for acquisition of the ever distant carrot of true and complete knowledge of reality in its fullness, i.e., the whole Earth. The efforts of these futile rationalistic labors peaked with Descartes’ claim to achieve rational certainty and his disclaimer of creativity as a dubious enterprise.
Cracks began to appear in the philosophical structure of the dominant Western paradigm, claims Professor Miller, when David Hume applied his radical scepticism and empiricism to the static and untested assumptions of his day in favor of a dynamic process of awareness which undercut confidence in the efficacy of abstract reason to achieve its lofty goals. Not only was religious belief about knowledge of God called into question by serious thinkers, but also some scientific assertions about claims to knowledge were suspended—temporarily at least. An ever-increasing multitude of empirically oriented inquirers sought to experience, more so than the rationalists, the passing concreteness and flowing fullness of what nature had to offer. Philosophy of creativity as meta-paradigm, given its major impetus by Hume, began to ascend as a viable option to the dominant Western paradigm. Acceptance of openness in attitude, tentativeness of conclusions, ambiguity of evolving values, constant change, and feeling as legitimate an experience as reason and certainty, the seeds of creativity began to grow. Abstract reason was being harnessed to serve its valid role in nature—that of a flickering but necessary lamp to guide inquirers into the fullness of experience. The author’s list of Western philosophers elucidating the spirit of creativity is impressive, especially those movements involving Pragmatism, Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Process Philosophy.
However, these have something in common with Oriental viewpoints embodied by Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The main thread held in common may be revealed by the author’s own description.
From the perspective of philosophy of creativity, all abstract structures of knowing are rooted in the flowing fullness of experience, and they in connection with this experience prod us into the powerful recognition that novel emergence on behalf of protection, nurture and enhancement of all living forms, including the Earth as a living form, is the only viable option open to us.
Within this view of philosophy of creativity, there are no final claims to be made and defended. Creativity, once experienced in the depths is taken to be the concreteness of experience, the living void where works, arguments, and intellectual conclusions literally mean nothing, and where reality reveals its most vividly sustaining expressions.
Since the living Earth is a creative organism, constituted by a limitless myriad of individual forms, the process entailed by philosophy of creativity merges the parts into a pattern of wholeness whereby the activity of reason discharges its central function of providing meaningful enhancement of that process. Miller offers more than a mere description of the whole Earth process and its needs; he also offers a prescription for meeting its deficiencies.
Thus, man has an ethical obligation to provide circumstances which foster the aims of nature. The springboard energizing this feeling of moral obligation is holistic empathy for life at all levels.
Readers versed in the literature of Oriental thought, especially Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, will most certainly appreciate chapters two through four. Nevertheless, the author provides enough primary source material and commentary on these Eastern thinkers to give the initiate a knowing glimpse of the similarities of philosophy of creativity East and West. in the second chapter, "The Whole Earth as Starting Point," the claim is made that a largely silent message emanates from the whole Earth revealing the indissoluble nature and unity of all parts of itself. !’Space, time, matter, energy, and history have the combined meaning of a kind of tapestry, each requiring the others for their importance and intelligibility. The unity may come into our individual experiences as tragedy or as joy."
The insights gained by human thought taking sympathetic note of the whole Earth, both in its microcosmic and macrocosmic aspects, is the starting point for philosophy of creativity as meta-paradigm. Abstractions, thus redirected from their Western traditional static roles, function in a self-corrective manner as they blend in with the dynamics of nature. This perspective supersedes and reduces the effects of isolated abstractions, human rivalries, vested interests, ego-centrisms, destructive provincialisms, territorial defenses, and ecological mismanagement so evident in the Western experience.
Miller’s extensive knowledge of Oriental thought is put to use excellently by his clear presentation of subtle nuances in both the Bodhisattva Ideal and Henry Nelson Wieman’s ideas. Unveiled are some of the similarities of thought between these philosophical representatives from opposite sides of the earth. Wieman, holding that the creative process at work in the world is more than mere human creativity, went beyond the anthropocentrism of the dominant paradigm. The non-anthropocentric nature of those concepts parallels that found in Buddhist views. For both thinkers creativity is of the whole Earth rather than being limited to particular aspects.
An interesting parallel between perspectives West and East is drawn in the third chapter which makes A. N. Whitehead and Taoism bed-fellows with respect to "The Limits of Cognitive Accessibility." A basic presupposition in the Western tradition is that there is no limit to cognitive accessibility—a confidence that reason is capable in and of itself of comprehending the deepest aspects of nature, values, and meaning which will result in lasting contentment. However, that effect has not been achieved; in fact, the focus of the Western paradigm has had a chilling effect on living forms instead of revealing the dynamics of the Earth which inspire celebration and joy. Whitehead is cited as one of the keener minds who foresaw the failure of abstract reason to produce the desired effect. He recognized the limits of cognitive accessibility, and proceeded to make emendations to the over-simplified and excessive claims for linguistic and scientific efficacy. Even "feeling" has its place in the cosmic schema of Whitehead, and more so in Taoist thought.
The humanistic element of Professor Miller’s view of philosophy of creativity is starkly revealed in the fourth chapter, "The Possibilities for Human Experience," as he juxtaposes the roles which John Dewey and Confucianism play in the creativity process. While acknowledging the need which all life forms have for shepherding and nurturing in the aesthetic qualities of experience, the author holds that the Western world has sought this activity through moral and theological efforts based on the presupposition of a transcendent Being. To him this constitutes misplaced attribution of the true source of good, again placed at the feet of Plato’s powerful influence. This alleged charade, springing from the Western paradigm of abstract reason, determinate form, and completed actuality, did not live up to its promise as exposed during the Humean era. Two historical figures are shown to loom large in the furtherance of an empirically grounded, Earth-based interpretation of creativity, i.e., John Dewey and Confucius. Both demonstrate the non-anthropomorphic nature of creativity along with an unpretentious role of cognition. Also, both thinkers add their considerable contribution to the understanding of the social nature of persons as to their personal identity (as individuals), dependency on the social matrix for the development of humanness (society’s gift to them), and their influence on the social matrix itself (their gift to society). In the ensuing social intercourse reason becomes concrete, form transforms to indeterminacy, and actuality is rendered incomplete; all things then are open to creative novelty.
A sure sign of a break with the Western paradigm which idolizes abstract thought via cold, emotionless reason is the place within the meta-paradigm to which Miller gives feeling. In the fifth chapter, "The Firstness of Creativity," an excellent case is made for selecting the category of "firstness" developed by the American philosopher, Charles S. Peirce. Feeling is said to be one of the fundamental characteristics of firstness, but other descriptions are applied also, e.g., it is "wholeness, spontaneity, freedom, quality, freshness, life, immediate, vivid, and possibility; Peirce is credited with originating the term, giving it connotations entirely compatible with the pre-cognitive aspects of the creative process. Drawing heavily upon the idea of feeling and empathy inherent in firstness, a caution is issued against reification tendencies of logic and language which stifle the sensitive experiences of creativeness. A host of notables form the ranks of philosophy.
Professor Miller information to others, issues into holistic dwelling. Blending Peirce and Heidegger in a collage, Miller says that "Peircian firstness is the Heideggerian open/presencing that enables holistic dwelling for human beings with the Earth." Thus, logical and poetic language share compatible roles in the living articulation of philosophy of creativity.
Effective writers know that skillful use of metaphor helps language carry a heavier burden of meaning than does non-metaphorical language. The title of chapter six, "The Gathering Winds," and indeed all the chapter titles bear out this observation. Actually, this chapter could stand alone as either an introduction to the book or as an abridged version of it. As the metaphor suggests, the reader re-visits the thesis of the book in a powerful, clear presentation showing how the Western philosophical tradition had gradually given way to a plethora of seminal minds rushing forth in ever-increasing numbers (gathering winds) to enlighten the world about the bankruptcy of the dominant paradigm and the promise of meta-paradigm. The storm clouds, however, began their cumulus surge only of recent date, i.e., with David Hume in the 18th Century. Hume’s attack on rationalism and its negative side effects began with the advent of an empirically-oriented emphasis upon feeling and experience. The list of activists gathered as the "wind" of contributors to the breakup of the Western paradigm reads like a whole who of important personages of the last 200 years: philosophers from varied camps, poets from diverse corners, and musicians of classical ilk, to name a few categories. Yet, all share a common perception: there is a better way to understand existence, both human and natural, than the artificial option offered by abstractivists for the past two millenia.
With the final chapter another and most pregnant metaphor, "The Arrow of Disclosure," is encountered—a term employed to symbolize the basic activity of philosophy of creativity. However, as insightful as it is, this reviewer must admit to considerable weariness at this point from having been subjected throughout the work to a repetition of key phrases. One may desire that Occam’s razor had been wielded. Even so, a refreshing rapprochement takes place between the two apparent protagonists in this philosophical drama portraying the salvation of the Earth. Both paradigm and meta-paradigm are shown to be integral and compatible functions within the creative process, each playing a complementary role. The author’s well-chosen words are most descriptive:
Uninhibited by the abstracting and delimiting powers of the paradigms, the meta-paradigm of philosophy of creativity moves, penetrates, and opens throughout the range and depth of experience everywhere. The dominant Western paradigm of abstract reason, determinate form, and completed actuality, on the other hand, stays, organizes, and closes throughout the range and depth of experience everywhere. This is not at all to say that we must heap praise upon the meta-paradigm, and great blame upon the paradigm.... It is rather a matter of seeing the character and function of each, and of seeing how they complement each other. In fact, the paradigm feeds naturally into the meta-paradigm, providing an essential dimension for its providing and powerful guidance. The meta-paradigm, however, goes far beyond the paradigm in illuminating and shepherding the primordial creativity itself, calling attention to every attempt of any sort of paradigm to set itself up as Lord and Master in place of the faceless, speechless, non-differen-tiated stream of creativity.
Since paradigmatic perspectives seem tempted to look beyond Earth to vacuous dreams, Earth sports a tool to point (arrow) back to itself, revealing (disclosure) its true nature by subtle, empirical nuances. The image of "the arrow of disclosure," an analogy/metaphor based on an observed arrow in flight, provides the essential characteristic of creativity—moving, penetrating, and opening of the passing concreteness of experience. The notion of disclosure is epitomized by the concept of linearity which a paradigm seeks through abstract clarity.
However, in itself it is inadequate for grasping the fullest nature of things. The concept of the circle of disclosure is added by the author to account for the ebb and flow, generation and decay, in short, the cyclicality of all Earth processes. Both of these forms of disclosure embody the fixating powers of staying, organizing, and closing functions, whereas, the arrow of disclosure embodies the liberating powers of moving, penetrating, and opening processes— all yielding novelty and values. These elements come together as the central image of meta-paradigm in a fashion admittedly Whiteheadian.
Rather than to be taken as criticism as such, the following remarks are intended to be seen as points of departure for discussion inspired by Professor Miller’s seminal and inspiring work. He writes with logical consistency and an admirable grasp of major world perspectives. On the one hand, however, the use of recurring phrases might appear to the average reader to involve the fallacy of circularity. On the other hand, whether one agrees or disagrees with his thesis, the sensitive, rational person justifiably will be impressed by new insights which will influence serious thinking on the most crucial of Earth’s issues: living and living well—creatively.
There are many facets in Philosophy of Creativity which generate discussion, but my queries are limited to the following comments. First, it is not difficult to agree with the author regarding the cited problems facing humankind, and few would disagree with his claim that a new perspective might be helpful for their solution. But, I am troubled by the complaint of an excessive Western use of abstract reasoning, while the author himself displays a formidable array of abstract reasoning throughout the very work decrying it.
The high level of abstract language, used with the probable expectation that non-philosophical types (most people) would act on, much less understand it, nearly guarantees that the legitimate values therein will remain purely academic. An unintended incongruancy seems to appear between precept and practice, and a major bit of futility looms for attaining the goal. One senses that the script is actually a secular sermon delivered by a prophet forthtelling present malevolent conditions and their correction (a way of salvation), adding a foretelling of an unpleasant future for Earth unless the message ("call") is heeded. There are even priests serving at the altar, albeit only since the Patriarch, Hume. If it is a sermon, it is a good one; yet the execution of it appears to be beyond the practical limits of implementation, at least by the unwashed masses who would be expected to bring it to fruition, provided they can be educated quickly enough to avoid doom.
A further observation appears if the once-popular distinction made by psychologists in dichotomizing of left-brain/right-brain dominance is applied. Is there a parallel between the paradigm reflecting a left-brain function (abstraction, logic, language) and the meta-paradigm reflecting right-brain function (noting patterns, wholes, aesthetic activities)? Would, then, the meta-paradigm be inadequate of itself as the proper model? Does meta-paradigm subsume paradigm, the former being dominant, resulting in an imbalance? Or, should we look for yet another, more encompassing, meta-meta-paradigm?
Again, given the entire history of civilization and the myriads of perspectives which surely have arisen during those millenia, Professor Miller’s bifurcation of the entirety of intellectual history, encompassing East and West, seems a bit narrow (or too large) by positing that the Western paradigm and the East/West meta-paradigm says it all. Can it not be said of the meta-paradigm schema, "This, too, shall pass?" And, given the evolutionary nature within meta-paradigm, does the term "evolution" necessarily imply that future development of Earth will be beneficial to life forms and human values when we are currently observing the "fittest" to be doing the greatest harm ever perpetrated on the Earth? (They must be the fittest since they have survived so far). Given the scientifically established destiny of destruction of our solar system when the sun enlarges, as astrophysicists insist it will do, what then of the subtle call of Earth and its message to us to be physicians of the whole Earth?
An occasional reference is made in the text to "the" philosophy of creativity as if there was only one. Although the author, I am sure, would hasten to negate the implication, it must be admitted that "The blood is on the escutcheon"—there is more than a hint that it is tacitly assumed. There are other perspectives which embody philosophies of creativity, at least latently or implicitly, but few spelled out as well and as thoroughly as does Professor Miller’s work. In spite of the relegation of the Christian world perspective, to the Western paradigm, as an example, more than a small case could be made for its efficacy as a viable philosophy of creativity, especially in its non-institutionalized form coexisting over the past, and rising rapidly in the latter 20th Century. Of course, if one defines basic Christianity only by reference to the traditional mold, which would omit large numbers of the faithful, then the Western paradigm concept may fit.
As a final note I will add that Professor Miller’s book will be a required text for my courses in Philosophy of Creativity not only because it provides excellent textual material by a person well informed in the literature of the field, but also because of my reservations outlined above. The thesis alone will challenge uncritical beliefs, thereby engage the process of critical analysis. Further, the work offers an optional perspective on philosophy of creativity usually not available in so complete a form.
David Lee Miller, Philosophy of Creativity (New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 1990), p. 1.
Ibid., p. 2.
Ibid., p. 7.
Ibid., p. 15.
Ibid., p. 102.
Ibid., p. 119.
Ibid., p. 15.