My friend Nick Gall hates being called a fructivist, but not only is he one, he was the first one, because he invented it.

Here’s my own sloppy definition of fructivism:

Fructivism is an ethic that prioritizes fruitfulness — the proliferation of creative possibilities — over more traditional virtues.

I needed to define fructivism because I need to use it to restate an old thought that can be said way more elegantly in fructivist language.

The best, most mutually satisfying act of listening is not an altruistic “I’m listening to you because I want you to feel listened to,” or “I’m listening to you because I want to understand who you are,” but rather a fructivist “I’m listening to you because I think there is creative potential in us putting our heads together.” That creative potential might be a new idea, or a new plan — or it might be the creation of a new, better relationship: a shared We.

The shared We, in which each person plays a constrained part within a transcendent whole, created through participation, especially through dialogue, is the fructivist analogue to altruistic care for an Other. According to this view, care for Other outside of actual personal relationship is more an affair of an isolated self with its own imagination (including an abstract sense of justice) than it is concern for any real, existing person. There is nothing wrong with imagined Others and abstract principles of justice, but they should not be confused with caring for people or with love.

Any man (or woman) who tells a woman (or man) that if she will be happier without him than with him, that she should leave, because he only wants her to be happy demonstrates that 1) he hasn’t figured out what love is, 2) probably doesn’t understand what a relationship is enough to cultivate one, and 3) does not value her enough to try even harder to create a more compelling We with her, and consequently, that she should leave and stop wasting her time living an affectionate coexistence with him. He might “love” her the same way he politically cares about Others while enjoying her or even being addicted to her physicality.

This same opposition explains why charity is humiliating to recipients, and often inspires antipathy instead of gratitude. Giving should be an investment in We, not a mere transfer of resources from a wealthy powerful person to a person so needy and weak the charitable giver doesn’t even want reciprocity or relationship. From a fructivist perspective, charity contains an overtone of rejection and an undertone of contempt.

17 thoughts on “Fructivism

  1. The term is growing on me. :)

    You’ve beautifully captured key aspects of fructivisim.

    The definition is a great first draft. As we discussed, I think “the proliferation of creative possibilities” is a comprehensive description, but it doesn’t sufficiently highlight the most important type of creative possibility: a realm of new goals/desires/values that one has never before imagined. In other words, what most distinguishes fruitful from useful is that the latter is focused on generating new ways (creative possibilities) within an existing realm, while the former is focused on generating new realms with new goals/desires/values.

    As for charity, as discussed in your last paragraph, I agree that non-reciprocal charity is problematic (“is humiliating to recipients”). But mutual charity is at the heart of fructivism. From such mutual charity emerges “the shared we”, as you so wonderfully put it. The paradigm of mutual charity is not the rich giving alms to the the poor; it is “the principle of charity”, which is what enables the shared we to co-create all forms of collective behavior: language, culture, science, law, government, etc.

    I look forward to co-creating the philosophy of fructivism with you!

    1. My question is whether all fructivism is of the kind you are describing, or if that is the most radical form of it — a philosophical fructivism? Thomas Kuhn including fruitfulness in his list of criteria of theory choice as “disclosing new phenomena or new relationships among phenomena.” Couldn’t we call a scientist who favors fruitfulness over accuracy, consistency, scope or simplicity a fructivist?

      1. I’m not sure what you mean by “all fructivism”. What I love about your post is that it describes fruitfulness as a virtue. I hadn’t described it in those terms before.

        Viewing it as a virtue, manifestations of it will vary in the degree to which they exemplify the virtue in its most virtuous form. In its most virtuous form, fruitfulness “[generates] new realms with new goals/desires/values”. In its less virtuous forms it may merely generate new possibilities within an existing realm, etc.

        I don’t see such diverse manifestations of fructivism as different forms of fructivism, drawn from some supposed set of “all fructivism”. I see them instead as expressing different degrees of the virtue of “one fructivism” (pluralistic monism).

        This is how I see all virtues, including the virtue of charity. There are myriad manifestations of the virtue of charity, but there is only one virtue of charity, which unifies all the manifestations. And that virtue is characterized by a self-emptying that enables the emergence of a “shared we” (as you so wonderfully put it, again).

        1. I’m just saying that you can have a relatively shallow fructivism that keeps ends open or stimulates ideas. Your fructivism is a radical fructivism that reaches into what I consider religious conversion.

    2. I think my own fructivism is concentrated in my metaphilosophy, as an enabler of designing new philosophies, but I doubt many of the designed philosophies would be fructivist. In other words, I don’t think fruitfulness would be on my list of virtues that the majority of people ought to hold, as opposed to charity (in your sense), honesty, etc.

      1. Hmmm…Lots to discuss. In my conception of fructivism, I view charity as a means to an end, not as an end itself. It is an instrumental virtue. People should be charitable because it makes the world more fruitful. Fruitfulness is the only non-instrumental virtue. It is the only end in itself.

        That’s, again, what I love about what you encapsulated in such a short description of fructivism: Fructivism prioritizes fruitfulness over all other virtues. (“All other virtues” is a bit stronger claim than your “more traditional virtues”.)

        1. This is an interesting line of thought. You could also say that fructivism is raising the virtue of fruitfulness to an end in itself.

          Charity, for you, is a means, but for some Judeo-Christians, it is a high priority virtue that is an end itself. It might even be higher for me than fruitfulness.

          1. So now we have 1) priority, 2) telos (ends vs means), 3) depth (shallow open-endedness vs deeper paradigm shifts vs profound and shocking religious conversions).

          2. Upon further reflection, I strongly feel that charity should be part of the definition of fructivism. In fact, as we briefly discussed (and is now sinking in more deeply), fruitfulness entails self-emptying charity: the fruit produced by a tree comes at the expense of the tree itself–it is an act of self-emptying by the tree. The tree does this as an act of charity towards future trees (not the aspect of selfishness in this charitable act). There is even charity in the act of pollination.

            So perhaps the (revised yet again) definition might be:

            Fructivism: A philosophy that prioritizes fruitfulness—the perpetual self-emptying generation of new realms with new goals/desires/values—over all other virtues.

            You’ve opened my eyes to the fact that Nietzsche was the first Fructivist. He has helped me see that fructivism does not merely prioritize fruitfulness over other virtues; fructivism entails the perpetual destruction of traditional virtues!

            “Truly, I say to you: good and evil that would be everlasting – there is no such thing! They must overcome themselves out of themselves again and again.
            You do violence with your values and words of good and evil, you valuators; and this is your hidden love and the gleaming, trembling and ?owing-over of your souls.
            But a stronger force grows out of your values and a new overcoming; upon it egg and eggshell break.
            And whoever must be a creator in good and evil – truly, he must ?rst be an annihilator and break values.
            Thus the highest evil belongs to the highest goodness, but this is the creative one. –
            Let us speak of this, you wisest ones, even if it is bad to do so. Keeping silent is worse; all truths that are kept silent become poisonous.
            And may everything break that can possibly be broken by our truths! Many a house has yet to be built!”

            To create a new realm with new values, one must “first be an annihilator and break values”. The highest goodness is creativity (fruitfulness), but this entails the highest evil. Everything will be broken by the truth of fructivism, but such breaking of old houses (realms of truth/value) are necessary for perpetually new houses to be built.

            So here’s ANOTHER (more Nietzshean) definition:

            Fructivism: A philosophy that prioritizes fruitfulness—the perpetual self-emptying generation of new realms with new goals/desires/virtues, which overcome prior traditional goals/desires/virtues.

            1. Nietzsche called this breaking/creating philosophy Dionysian. He hints that Dionysus was the Greek Siva. But the process of breaking is accomplished through breaking taboos against investigating morality and allowing moral priorities to dissolve under scrutiny. Many of the virtues survive this process when the self reconstitutes under a new moral hierarchy, so it sounds a lot more nihilistic than it really is. It’s “immoralism” for the sake of a more credible, livable and life-affirming morality.

        2. Nick, I just volunteered you to speak at a non-quite-yet-existent “Spirituality of Design” conference at a west coast seminary, because fructivism as you define it is prioritizing the virtue of instaurating new forms of religious conversion. Just thought it would be more polite to notify you well ahead of time.

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