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“Can a Tree be Creative?” by Phillip Barron (Lewis & Clark College)

Date: 3:30pm PDT April 3 Location: J.R. Howard Hall 202

J.R. Howard Hall 202

Art critic Rudolf Arnheim once claimed that to be creative is a fundamental need of all living organisms. He gave the example of a tree reaching for sunlight, spreading its branches in an optimal pattern. “The tree is acting creatively, not just metaphorically—it is the real thing,” he wrote in the British Journal of Aesthetics. Philosophers pounced. In The Philosophy of Creativity, Berys Gaut asserts that creativity requires agency, and a tree—lacking desires, beliefs, and other intentional states—does not qualify as an agent. Drawing on contemporary research into intelligence, tree biology, and personal identity, I sketch a defense of Arnheim’s claim and give an account of how trees can be creative.


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