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Early in modern thinking, Amabile emphasized that creativity does not occur in a vacuum but in a social context. It always involves subjective
judgments made by observers. These judgments may well involve formalist qualities (e.g., “unity,” “harmony,” or “complexity”) or technical properties (e.g., “high quality of construction,” “skillfulness,” or “professional finish”), as Slater pointed out, or practical considerations such as
usefulness, practicability, or marketability. However, the approval of external observers also results from a creative work being judged beautiful or
pleasing (i.e., aesthetic criteria) as well as admirable and worthy of emulation(moral criteria). Morality, in particular, involves judgments of good
and bad, virtuousness and wickedness. According to Sternberg (Chapter17 in this volume), the moral dimension is essential to any discussion of
However, even monsters of evil, such as Hitler and Stalin– cases where the moral verdict seems to be indisputable– are regarded by some people
as having been great leaders. Sternberg makes the point that both these men introduced high levels of effective novelty (including systems for
suppressing opinions differing from their own and previously unknown systems that worked well for murdering people) and had a very substantial
impact on their societies. However, those who praise them as great men focus only on the novelty and impact (effectiveness) of what they did.
Sternberg argues that people like Hitler and Stalin produce what he calls“originality,” to be sure, but that in the absence of moral goodness they
cannot be said to be creative. This accords with the intuitive feeling of many people that it is disgusting to refer to such monsters as “creative,”
despite the fact that they generated effective novelty and, in a strictly formalistic sense, were creative.
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