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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 12.4 (2005) 297-299

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Aesthetic and Hermeneutic Judgements in Psychotherapy

aesthetics, hermeneutics, creativity, psychiatry, psychotherapy

John Callender, in "The Role of Aesthetic Judgements in Psychotherapy" (2005), draws on Kant's Critique of Judgement to underpinthe role of aesthetic experience for common human understanding in general and for psychotherapy in particular. To outline the nature of aesthetic judgement, he starts from the four salient characteristics of the judgement of taste: disinterestedness, universality, necessity and common sensibility, and purposiveness without purpose. Disinterestedness means contemplation of the object as an "end in itself." Universality signifies that aesthetic judgement, although based on subjective emotional reaction also lays claim to universal assent. Necessity and common sensibility imply that aesthetic judgement should elicit the agreement of others. Purposiveness without purpose indicates that aesthetic objects have a meaning in their own right and not only in terms of a practical concern for utility.

Callender briefly discusses the ethical dimension of aesthetic judgement and concludes that aesthetic judgement helps both art connoisseurs and patients to improve their sense of moral values. He then illustrates the role of aesthetic judgement with reference to three psychotherapeutic vignettes. Comparing experience in art and psychotherapy, he argues that aesthetic judgement leads to an "enabling knowledge" and to an enhanced sense of coherence. He stresses that mental disorders share a common theme: the loss of internal coherence. Like the art critic, the therapist should help the patient to acquire a sense of self that is more profound, more holistic, and better informed. In this way, patients are assisted in reframing their negative thoughts and emotions as mental events in a wider context of awareness. In the constant process of making sense of our emotions, art and psychotherapy are used as forms of affect regulation and for the achievement of meaningful insights.

In this respect, the difference between aesthetic judgement that can lead to an "enabling knowledge" and aesthetic experience that bestows a more profound sense of coherence seems to be insufficiently elaborated. From my point of view, the aesthetic experience of works of art or of patients' narratives, projected images, remembrances, fantasies, and dreams may have a curative impact that does not necessarily include interpretation and criticism. Following Gadamer's (1960/1989) hermeneutic approach, aesthetic [End Page 297] experience in itself can be regarded as an essential moment in communication that lays a special claim to truth. The basic aesthetic functions—poiesis, aesthesis, and catharsis (the productive, receptive, and communicative sides of aesthetic experience), which play a crucial role in psychotherapy—may transcend the realm of interpretation and aesthetic judgement in the Kantian sense (see Holm-Hadulla 2003, 2004). As an example, let us take a look at poiesis, the productive side of aesthetic experience: "And as the ordinary mortal falls silent in his torment, a God gave me the power to say what I suffer" (Goethe, 1823) means not merely discharge and relief and not merely a basis for interpretation by others. The poetic or therapeutic narrative is in itself a structuring process that enhances the coherence of experience. In his essay "The Universality of the Hermeneutic Problem," Gadamer summarizes the point at issue:

We are all acquainted with this, for instance, in the attempt to translate, in practical life or in literature or wherever; that is, we are familiar with the strange, uncomfortable, and tortuous feeling we have as long as we do not have the right word. When we have found the right expression (it need not always be one word), . . . , then it "stands", then something has come to a "stand". Once again we have a halt in the midst of the rush of the foreign language, whose endless variation makes us lose our orientation. What I am describing is the mode of the whole human experience of the world.
(Gadamer 1976, 15)

The huge significance of the aesthetic and linguistic shaping of events that only becomes structured psychic experiences through symbolization is one that artists have confronted us with again and again. Their narratives reveal a quasibiological need for the coherent...


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