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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 12.4 (2005) 301-305

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The Beauty of Psychotherapy

awe, psychotherapy, representation, self-esteem

The Enlightenment was devoted to clear uncontaminated reason; its success has given us the terrific achievements of science and technology. However, it has bequeathed problems too. Untrammeled reason has led to the devaluing and exclusion of emotions. Emotions are irrational—self-deception, akrasia, and so on. They were a problem for the eighteenth-century philosopher Kant and right through to the modern therapist Aaron Beck. Callender rightly looks around the edges of rationalist thought to see what can be said about the emotional and subjective side of mankind. He argues that there is more to the human mind than cognition. Something has been left out. What can be found to fill the gap?

Callender has searched for the missing link that might complete our view of human nature. And he came back with aesthetics.


The Enlightenment failing is writ large for therapists who are confronted with people who feel things. So we need to ask what place the emotions have in understanding the nature of man? It is not a hypothetical question, but a very practical one for a therapist. Emotions, Callender says, and most people would agree with him, are what gives meaning to life, a sense of purpose in living, even an ill-defined or delusional purpose.

He presents Kant's description of aesthetics. Aesthetic judgements have a number of features, the most enigmatic and perhaps profound is a "purposiveness without purpose." A work of art, say a portrait, may have a purpose insofar as it represents a person for his aggrandizement or for his descendents through many generations, but the aesthetic quality does not come from that purpose. The aesthetic purpose involves a different set of judgements. They are about the painting as a piece of art in itself. If it is possible to compare this kind of aesthetic judgement with a judgement of a person's life, then I find myself reminded of Wollheim's definition of a person:

The simplest way of putting the matter, which is not to be taken as a metaphysical claim, is this: There are persons, they exist; persons lead lives; and as a result, in consequence—in consequence that is, of the way they do it—there are lives, of which those who lead them may, for instance, be proud, or feel ashamed. So there is a thing, and there is a process, and there is a product.
(Wollheim 1984, 2)

Although many things do not lead lives, we do. And our lives have a process and a product. Like an aesthetic product, our lives have a sense of emotional meaning, without it having a clear purpose.

Aesthetic judgements are therefore of a particular and somewhat peculiar kind. They judges talent for producing "that for which no determinate [End Page 301] rules can be given," as the paper quotes Kant. Other kinds of judgements do have determinate rules. First are empirical judgements for getting practical things done; and moral judgements for assessing ethical good from bad. Aesthetic beauty does not have clear rules, although many systems of rules have been proposed starting with the rules of perspective as they were laid out by renaissance painters, through to systems of color, such as that proposed by Paul Klee, once color was correlated with electromagnetic wavelengths. However, artists have always kept one jump ahead and evaded imprisonment in codified rules. So too it is with leading a life, perhaps. The really creative life is not lead according to rules. The art of life is to live meaningfully without simply running along tramlines. Although moral conduct and the practicalities of life remain significant, perhaps leading a life implies simply a "flare for living."


Of these three kinds of judgements that a mind makes, two do have sets of rules. Only one based on rationality, empirical evidence, and reason. Reason judges what can be done and achieved in the real physical world. It is about pragmatics and the usefulness of action. Moral judgements, about what...


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