Critical Ability Vs. Creative Power

Once upon a time, I was sitting at a philosophy colloquium in a room surrounded by some of the smartest people I have ever met…

There were scholars from almost 10 countries and 4 continents.

People who really knew their shit.

Top-notch philosophers.

And we were all tackling a very VERY specific problem.

A small passage in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason called the “Postulates of Empirical Thought”

It’s not among the most central passages, but it is supposed to somehow deal with an interesting payoff of Kant’s philosophical system.

And we were all just bumping our heads against the problem of how to interpret it in a way that made sense…

There were plenty of proposals that were put forth…

But they were all found to be problematic…

Because they did not fit with this other part of Kant’s texts…

Or because it has this or that implausible and problematic implication…

After more than two hours of this, we stepped back and decided that, essentially, none of us had any idea what was going on in this passage…

But that IF one wanted to know what was going on in this passage…

One would have to keep in mind these twelve VERY complicated philosophical and textual points.

I have to admit…

I was discouraged by this.

It started to feel like all our effort was for nothing.

Like we were just spinning our wheels.

Like this was all a waste of time.

And to be fair, this might seem to many like what philosophy is.

But in that moment, I decided that I couldn’t let my philosophy just be that (and this eventually led me to become a philosophical happiness coach)

I couldn’t let it be something that remained abstract…

Something purely theoretical…

Something that was only used to question.

Not used to build anything positive or real.

And, as I later reflected on how things played out in this room of very smart people, I realized that, in many ways, it was natural for things to pay out that way.

You see most of these philosophers are philosophers who come from a tradition that approaches philosophy with an analytical mindset, searching for rigorous arguments.

Training in this kind of philosophy leads to one being very good at coming up with objections.

At coming up with arguments against positions.

This kind of philosophical training highly sharpens your critical abilities.

Their ability to criticize and point out flaws.


Unfortunately, it all too often does not lead to people developing their creative powers.

The ability to come up with new creative proposals and solutions.

When you fill a room with a bunch of highly critically able but not so creatively powerful people, you get a recipe for getting a bunch of alternatives all of which seem to have tons of problems.

This imbalance between your creative powers and your critical abilities is something that I think many people, not just professional philosophers experience.

You see, at least some traditional education emphasizes the development of your critical abilities.

But unless you think of yourself as an artist or have been lucky enough to have someone encourage you to create something from your spirit, chances are, you haven’t worked out those creative muscles nearly as much.

Rest assured, however.

Cultivating your creative powers is something that you can start doing very easily.

You can start by simply trying to draw a shape you like every day for a week.

It can be anything.

And you can start simple.

Like a cup of coffee or an object in your home.

I often like to draw swords and other weapons.

But try drawing it every day. At least for three days.

And as you do each time, focus on the details of the object, focus on how all the parts come together in certain proportions to make up the whole image.

If you focus and draw deliberately, you will find that you get better and better (and faster) as you keep drawing it.

And as you do so, you will realize, you REALLY CAN DRAW SOMETHING NICE… even if you never thought that was possible (as I once did.)

And you will learn to find meaning in life by drawing.

This is just one example of how you can start to develop your creative powers even if you’ve never done so before…

But you can develop them EVEN MORE (and find EVEN MORE meaning in life) by taking up further creative endeavors. Like painting, dancing, sculpting… the sky’s the limit!

If you keep going along this path, your creative powers will catch up to your critical abilities in no time…

And help you find solutions and possibilities that can withstand your own critical scrutiny!

Hope you enjoy cultivating your creative powers! (And standing up to your own inner critic)

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