Desire and Creative Activity

The ‘Religious Experience and Desire’ series is a philosophical and theological project examining the connection between religious experience and desire. Seminars explore in various ways the idea that there is an essentially desiderative dimension to any human apprehension of the divine, and hence that religious experience is informed and infused by the desire for God.
The final seminar will be given by Prof Talbot Brewer, of the University of Virginia.

Title: ‘Desire and Creative Activity’

Time: Tuesday 9 May, 4.30–6.30pm; 4pm refreshments
Place: Heythrop College London, Bellarmine Room

One of the key ideas in my last book was that of dialectical activity – my name for a kind of activity whose unfolding is guided not by a prior fixed intention but by continuous attention and responsiveness to the good latent in, and gradually revealed by, the activity itself. A closely allied conception of practical thinking has been developed in the history of aesthetics, and in particular in the Hegelian strand of aesthetic theory. This allied position, however, has been put forward not as an account of the sort of activity that makes for a good human life, but rather as a compelling account of artistic creativity and of the kind of longing that inspires it. Perhaps this will suggest to some readers that I’ve taken a wrong turn, confusing a wide array of the best and most distinctively human activities with art. I think, on the contrary, that this overlap indicates something else – namely, that art is not restricted to museums and galleries, and that a kind of art is an everyday element of any fortunate and well-lived life. An adequate practical philosophy, then, will shrink the distance between aesthetics and ethics, interweaving ideals of thought that have traditionally been regarded as the purview of aesthetics into a general picture of a well-lived human life. The task of this presentation will be to outline the Hegelian conception of artistic creativity and bring out its appeal as a model for the most central activities of a fully human life. Given the themes of the seminar series and the interests of the audience at hand, I will close with some brief reflections on what it might mean, on this approach, for daily activities to be infused with religious significance.

Speaker details

Talbot Brewer is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Virginia. He specialises in ethics and political philosophy, with particular attention to moral psychology and Aristotelian ethics.  He is the author of numerous essays, including ‘Virtues We Can Share: A Reading of Aristotle’s Ethics’ (Ethics 115, 2005), ‘Savoring Time: Desire, Pleasure and Wholehearted Activity’ (Ethical Theory and Moral 6, 2003), ‘Two Kinds of Commitments (And Two Kinds of Social Groups)’ (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66, 2003), and ‘Maxims and Virtues’ (The Philosophical Review 3, 2002). He has been a visiting professor in the Harvard University Philosophy Department and has been invited to present his work to audiences at a number of universities and professional conferences in North America, South America, Europe, China and the Middle East. He has authored two books, the most recent of which is The Retrieval of Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Save the date

Religious Experience and Desire: A Symposium
Saturday 17 June, 10am–5pm, Loyola Hall, Heythrop College

The Religious Experience and Desire project is part of the Experience Project based at the University of Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It is run by Dr Fiona Ellis, Dr Clare Carlisle and Prof John Cottingham.