This essay shows how Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideas of mental and artistic creativity emerged from debates about the creation of living form. Emerson came to believe that “creating nature” and “creative intellect” manifested the same “creative force,” a belief instilled in him by German Romantic Naturphilosophie and its principal Anglophone explicators, the German American philosopher Johann Bernhard Stallo and the English anatomist Richard Owen. They taught Emerson that the intellect does not transcend or otherwise stand outside the natural world; it evolves immanently through reciprocal activity with the material environment. The impulse to create is thus as natural as evolution, but this means that creativity has to be traced beyond the brain and away from autonomous models of mind. In particular, Emerson’s idea of “creative impulse” relied on epigenetic conceptions of generation and birth. He defined life in terms of creative capacity and helped redefine creativity as an innate, impulsive, and ubiquitous quality, definitions that influenced such thinkers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, and the psychologist James Mark Baldwin and that have stakes for contemporary discussions of creativity, evolution, and mind.

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