I discussed the importance of moral creativity in my book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle. So it's nice to have the opportunity to promote the concept.
In a general sense, moral creativity indicates both the preconditions for moral development, and the ongoing synthesis of moral maturity; it describes an aspect of the human condition in which our collective beliefs, aspirations, values and strength of character shape the trajectory of our society over time. In a meta-ethical sense, it is akin to saying "we create our own moral realities," but this does not mean those realities are purely subjective, arbitrary or relativistic. As an example, I write in Political Economy and the Unitive Principle:
"If we accept the belief that a cohesive and compassionate society, a just and moral society, is desirable and worthwhile, we tend to assign moral weight to this belief. So it follows that the degree to which we are willing to invest in society - from the perspective of embracing collective responsibilities - may depend on our relationship with that basic assumption, the quality of our imagination, our capacity for love, and whatever innate proclivities we possess to make such an investment. In essence, it will depend not only on the quality and quantity of affection for our fellow human beings, but also on our creative capacities for expression."
Expanding on this basic idea, I would assert that mature moral creativity represents an intersect between functional intelligence and advanced moral development; in other words, it indicates a high level of self-actualization and integrity in our ability to operationalize our values hierarchy, while at the same time being primarily motivated and guided by inclusive and "wise" moral sensibilities. But there's the rub: this can't happen in a vacuum. The conditions that support the development and expression of all moral imagination are social, cultural and systemic in nature - in order for mature moral creativity to thrive, it must be intersubjectively and interobjectively excited and reinforced. So there is a synthesis of factors that depends on both nature and nurture.
Now this might still be considered a fairly abstruse explanation, and it is dependent on a lot of other concepts that I've developed over time they may not be familiar. So I'll offer yet another way to approach the importance of moral creativity....
Let's say moral function runs along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is emotionally repressive, antisocial and destructive conditioning that is rooted mainly in fear, and is centered around amplifying and justifying individual egoic impulses (I/Me/Mine). At the other end of the spectrum is a emotionally expressive, prosocial and constructive mutually affirming interplay that is rooted mainly in love (agape), and is centered around amplifying and enhancing collective well-being. In this context, moral creativity describes both the consequence and supportive conditions of this mutually affirming interplay; it is a semantic container for the generative and expressive social dynamics of a compassion-centered moral function, patterns of thought and behavior that invite ever-enlarging and more inclusive arenas of action and intention. So, instead of limiting moral judgments to black-and-white dualism, a vast array of subtle variables and perspectives can be included - ambiguity and uncertainty among them. As such, mature moral creativity can become a self-reinforcing upwards spiral toward the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration...rather than a downward spiral into the freezing wasteland of an isolated, atomistic, self-serving ego that can't help but oversimplify and reduce moral judgments to vacuous polemic. At least...well...it is my contention that this is the fundamental belief that can (even if it is not self-evident to the skeptic) generate its own positive consequences. As is the case with most assertions regarding prosociality, the proof will be in the pudding.
Lastly, we might still ponder: why is moral creativity socially dependent - or in any way conditional? Shouldn't it flow naturally and effortlessly from an individual's state-of-being, regardless of conditions or precursors? In rare instances, and with sufficient strength of character, a person of high functional intelligence and advanced moral orientation could operate as a rebellious non-conformist in a less developed, unsupportive society - at least for a while. But the interpersonal tensions such a contrast will inevitably produce most often lead to mistrust, derision, ostracism and conflict - a consequence at the heart of the saying "a prophet is never welcome in their home town." In order for advanced moral function to bear fruit - that is, to instigate an advanced morally creative synthesis - there must at a minimum be sufficient social acceptance of a majority of goals and values represented by the proposed moral position, so that it can be collectively reified. This is, in fact, an extremely critical consideration, and it is why the fortified islands of I/Me/Mine that are supported by individualistic, economically materialistic cultures are so antagonistic to human development. It is also why - and this is a main thrust of my book - advanced political economies will ultimately fail without careful attention to the issue of moral creativity.
My 2 cents.
Comment from Jeff Wright: "This is a comprehensive and also very clearly stated answer / analysis. A lot of the explanatory effort hinges on deconstructing an individualist paradigm of intelligence and social action / agency (and consequently creativity and morality).
Regarding “a prophet is never welcome in their home town”, this brings to mind a Sufi story about another side of this phenomenon, a town where, it seems, everyone is a prophet. A town where, it seems, it’s more or less clear to all that morality is an emergent, collective property of the community....
From (Helminski, Living Presence, p.125)
A Sufi came to a remote village where he knew no one. After meeting some people he found that those of this village had an unusual hunger for spiritual knowledge. They invited him to share his knowledge at a gathering they would arrange. Although this Sufi was not yet fully confident that he could transmit spiritual knowledge, he accepted their invitation. Many people attended that gathering and the Sufi found his audience to be extremely receptive to what he had to say, and most significantly, he found that he was able to express the teachings he had received with an eloquence he had never before experienced. He went to sleep that night feeling very pleased.
The next day he met one of the elders of the village. They greeted each other as brothers, and the elder expressed his gratitude for the previous evening. The Sufi was beginning to feel very special. He even reasoned to himself that he had been guided to this village to impart the wisdom that he has accumulated through his long years of training and service. Perhaps, if these people were sincere, he could stay with them for a while and really offer them some extended instruction in the Way of Love and Remembrance. They were certainly a deserving and sincere community. Just then, the elder invited him to another gathering that evening.
The villagers assembled again that evening, but this time one of them was chosen at random to address the gathering. He, to, gave a most eloquent discourse, full of wisdom and love. After the meeting the Sufi again met with the elder. "As you can see," the elder began, "the Friend speaks to us in many forms. We are all special here and we are all receptive to the Truth and so the Truth can easily express Itself. Know that the "you" who felt special last night and the "you" who felt diminished tonight are neither real. Prostrate them before the inner Friend if you want to find wisdom and be free of judging yourself harshly."
I also think your line of analysis here is refreshingly beyond Wilber (known as an “integral” theorist and even biasing this field of concern) and his seeming fixation on individualism as the site of development of consciousness (moral intelligence, etc.).
A great story - thank you Jeff!
Yes, I think it is hard to break free of individualistic thinking when one’s surrounding relationships and culture are constantly reinforcing and elevating that perspective. In fact this phenomenon (with Wilber and other thinkers) would be an example of precisely what I’m alluding to in my answer. I think there is a tacit understanding of this when folks express sentiments about “operating within the Zeitgeist” or “navigating the contemporary noosphere,” but language itself can begin to exclude important possibilities due to such bias. And of course most of the time I think we are relatively unaware of this phenomenon and its impact on our own insights and development - fish in the sea and all that.
Comment from Jeff Wright: "All true. I think we have most to gain theoretically by regarding individualistic and collective thinking / intelligence as dual, complementary, and co-constituting. I’ve seen nothing in Wilber’s recent missives indicating an awareness of this issue. On the contrary, it has been centered around a kind of projection where individuals of a certain level of conscious development (according to his way of thinking) are (collectively) projecting an unhealthy influence on society as a whole. But in my view this gets pretty close to the sociological theory of “moral panic” and its “folk devils”, which mirrors the conservative right’s construct of immigrants as blameworthy problem-causers.
Meanwhile theories of collective moral intelligence seem undeveloped across the board .. moral panic theory is a gesture in that direction, but I’ve not found much in either sociology or social psychology that comes to grips with this. I believe it’s currently emergent knowledge, that’s still in the zone of not having a recognizable formulation. One of the difficult issues (and avenues of approach) to emergent knowledge is determining in what ways current conditions are unique and in what ways they recapitulate past historical situations (such as the “gilded age” and plutocracy of the industrial revolution of a century ago, followed by emergence of labor power and social welfare governance).
This potentially opens the way for an analysis of the current clash of value paradigms that can validate concerns while questioning specific interpretations, for groups and individuals in multiple political groupings. Meanwhile, the blind spots — the water surrounding the fish — need further articulation. You’re doing that with your analysis of the structural conditions surrounding consciousness, moral creativity, and other modes of understanding.
Do you know of any relevant work regarding this question of emergent social knowledge and its boundary phenomena?"
Jeff great observations and I think you might enjoy the European tradition of “social anthropology,” especially in its qualitative methods around precisely the area you seem to be narrowing in on here. Social anthropology operates entirely differently than the “cultural anthropology” studies we have in the States - or than the emphasis on quantitative analysis in sociology. Again, imagine intersubjective methods to evaluate anthropology of social knowledge (cultural constructions and narratives, etc). In any case I think this may be one place to look. If you find some interesting reading, please let me know - I think you’re onto something.
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