CREATIVITY AND MORALITY
D. R. Khashaba
Creativity, it has been said, is unrelated to morality. Like every general statement, this is a mixture of truth and falsehood. What would be asserted to be true in it is obvious. Anyone can recount endless instances in illustration. It is the untruth in the statement that is harder to uncover.
To uncover the core of genuine truth hidden under the veneer of delusive truth, let us first try to be clear about what we mean by 'creativity' and what we mean by 'morality'.
To explain what I understand by 'creativity' I distinguish between two modes of what is commonly known as intelligence. There is intelligence as the power of thought involved in problem-solving and in inventiveness. This is of immeasurable practical importance and we all know that its exercise can issue in good or in evil; perhaps more often in evil than in good. Marginally, let me say that here, even when thought issues in evil, the evil is evil from the perspective of a world-view that aims at higher or more comprehensive good, but from the point of view of the doer, the deed must aim at some 'good' narrowly conceived. (This is the gist of Socrates' argument in the Protagoras against the notion of akrasia.) The other mode of intelligence (and this is what, in my opinion, is properly to be named intelligence) is not fundamentally related to thinking: it is a feeling for life and beauty and the experiences that enrich and beautify life.
What are we to understand by 'morality'? Again let us distinguish between two things. We all know that there are codes of morality which are forged in the course of time and which in greater or lesser measure differ from society to society and from generation to generation. We know that some precepts incorporated in these codes are simply bad. Whether there is or there is not a quintessence that can be extracted from these varied and varying codes is a question we need not delve into here. Then there is the morality we all know in ourselves when we lend a helping hand, when we risk our life to snatch a little child from the way of a speeding car, when we feel disgust at the meanness of one who takes advantage of the weakness of a contestant. Let us call this spontaneous morality.
In my view, genuine creativity issues from intelligence as feeling for life and beauty wedded to spontaneous morality. But our human life is never simple and the best of us humans are shrouded in confusions, filled with conflicting aims and purposes, burdened by divergent interests, driven by unreconciled ideals and values.
The phrase I began with at the top of this essay I had picked up from a note in aldaily.com - http://www.literaryreview.co.uk/perry_11_13.php - introducing a review article by Seamus Perry: http. Following an inveterate habit of mine, I jotted down the above reflections before looking at the article. I will now read Seamus Perry's article and see if I have anything to add.
The article reviews The Vampire Family: Passion, Envy and the Curse of Byron by Andrew McConnell. The reviewer and the book reviewed have much to say on the misery both Shelley and Byron caused the unfortunate women who came their way. This raises a problem. We might ask: Is an immoral artist's work necessarily immoral?
It is only very rarely that anyone of us human beings is a simple, well-integrated personality. If you ever meet with a simple, well-integrated personality, that will most probably not be a person of genius or renown or rank but a simple woman or man leading a simple life. Indeed, an integrated personality is just what a good human being strives all her or his life to achieve, and the best of us only falteringly and intermittently approach that goal. But the happy ones among us sinful human beings know that within us there is something good that we seek to be true to. And it is that inner good that is the fount of the creativity of the genuine poet or artist.
When Shelley makes Prometheus cry in agony, "It doth repent me … I wish no living thing to suffer pain", he must have been voicing a deeply-experienced personal agony.
Reverting to the statement with which we began, I affirm that creativity and morality are two sides of the same coin and that good art can only be in harmony with good morals. An "immoral" artist leads the life influenced and formed by her or his upbringing, circumstances, experiences, sufferings, pressures, and whatnot; but her or his art springs from a deeper fount.
Seamus Perry does well when, at the end of his review, he sums up the failings of Shelly and Byron as "a sequence of human ineptitudes, some well meant and more motivated by misplaced principle than by cruelty."
Cairo, 14 November 2013.