Victor Turner’s Postmodern Theory of Social Drama

Victor Turner’s Postmodern Theory of Social Drama

Although it might be argued that the social drama is a story in [Hayden] White’s sense, in that it has discernible inaugural, transitional, and terminal motifs, that is, a beginning, a middle, and an end, my observations convince me that it is, indeed, a spontaneous unit of social process and a fact of everyone’s experience in every human society. My hypothesis, based on repeated observations of such processual units in a range of sociocultural systems and in my reading in ethnography and history, is that social dramas, “dramas of living,” as Kenneth Burke calls them, can be aptly studied as having four phases. These I label breach, crisis, redress, and either reintegration or recognition of schism. Social dramas occur within groups of persons who share values and interests and who have a real or alleged common history. The main actors are persons for whom the group has a high value priority. Most of us have what I call our “star” group or groups to which we owe our deepest loyalty and whose fate is for us of the greatest personal concern. It is the one with which a person identifies most deeply and in which he finds fulfillment of his major social and personal desires. We are all members of many groups, formal or informal, from the family to the nation or some international religion or political institution. Each person makes his/her own subjective evaluation of the group’s respective worth: some are “dear” to one, others it is one’s “duty to defend,” and so on. Some tragic situations arise from conflicts of loyalty to different star groups.

Victor Turner is professor of anthropology and a member of the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Virginia. His many publications include Schism and Continuity in an African Society, The Forest of Symbols, The Ritual Process, and, with Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture

Social Dramas and Stories about Them
Victor Turner
Critical Inquiry 7 (1):141-168 (1980)

Key terms

  • Social Drama
  • Frames
  • Victor W Turner
  • David M Boje
  • Liminality
  • Meta theater
  • Meta Commentary
  • Conflict
  • Fragmentation
  • Spectcle
  • Carnival
  • Communitas
  • Anti structure
  • Mela
  • Tamasha
  • Circus
  • Khel
  • Natak
  • Nautanki
  • Leela
  • Communication
  • Reflexivity
  • Social Reflexivity
  • Public Reflexivity
  • Cybernetics
  • Higher Order Cybernetics
  • Processual
  • Performance processes
  • Interpretative Anthropology
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Clifford Geertz

Below, I am reposting an article by David Boje on Victor Turner’s theory of social drama.

Victor Turner’s Postmodern Theory of Social Drama:

Implications for Organization Studies

David M. Boje, Ph.D., New Mexico State University

August 1, 2003


I review Victor Turner’s more postmodern moves, such as process, indeterminacy, liminality, fragmentation, and metatheatre. 

The contribution to organization theory of studying Turner’s social drama is in developing a postmodern theatrics that is more processual and dynamitic than dramaturgical theories advanced by Burke and Goffman. Turner acknowledges the influence of Burke and Goffman in his postmodern theatre concepts, but moves off to explore the indeterminacy, liminality, and fragmentation aspects (defined below).  This postmodern dramaturgy allows us to explore how patterns emerged in the seeming chaos of successive situations. 

Theatre Theory

Most reviews of theatre theory focus on contrasts of Burke and Goffman (Boje, Luhman, Cunliffe, 2003; Gusfield, 1989; K’rreman, 2001; Oswick, Keenoy & Grant, 2001), while hardly mentioning Victor Turner’s work (1969; 1974, 1982a, 1982b, 1985). Goffman (1959, 1974) is often criticized, in these reviews, for using theatre as metaphor and for being less sociological than Burke. Burke (1937, 1945, 1972), by contrast, is said to view theatre as part of everyday life and extend literary criticism to politics and sociology.  Goffman is also criticized for engaging in “sociological reductionism” and for not being “particularly dramaturgical at all” (K’rreman, 2001: 96, 107).  

 Turner acknowledges roots to Burke (Turner, 1982a) and to Goffman (Turner, 1985: 181). Burke and Goffman have been applied to organization and public administration studies. Within organization studies, there is a growing body of research taking Goffman seriously. His approach fits neatly with Mintzberg’s (1973) managerial roles and more recent studies of charismatic leadership behavior as dramaturgic (Gardner & Alvolio, 1998; Harvey, 2001), emotional improvisation (Morgan & Krone, 2001) where the leader is the spokesperson and dramatist of organizational life.  Work by Czarniawska-Joerges (1997), Mangham (1990),  Mangham  and Overington (1987), and Rosen (1985, 1987) also seeks to apply tools and devices from theatre to organizational realities and the dramaturgical perspective has become quite central to charismatic leadership studies (Conger, 1991; Gardner & Alvolio, 1998; Harvey, 2001; Howell & Frost, 1989; Jones & Pittman, 1982). 

Theatre for Burke is not a metaphor used in some areas of organizational or social life; human action is dramatic (Gusfield, 1989; p. 36; K’rreman, 2001, p. 106).  As Maital (1999) puts it, “organizing is not like theatre — it is theatre” (as cited in Oswick, Keenoy & Grant, 2001, p. 219). Burke’s dramatistic pentad has been used widely to analyze organizations as theatres of action (Czarniawska-Joerges & Wolff, 1991; Mangham & Overington, 1987; Pine & Gilmour, 1999). Pine and Gilmour (1999) use Burke’s dramatism to assert work is theatre and every business is a stage. Czarniawska (1997) explores how the identities of organizational actors are constituted theatrically through role-playing and image construction.  

We see this critical postmodern integration in the writings of Guy Debord (1967) on “spectacle,” Mikhail Bakhtin (1984) on “carnivalesque,” and Augusto Boal (1972, 1992, 1995) on Theatre of the Oppressed.  

Social drama, says Turner, is defined as aharmonic or disharmonic social process, arising in conflict situations (1974: 37; 1985: 180).   Social drama is defined by Turner (1985: 196), as an eruption from the level surface of ongoing social life, with its interactions, transactions, reciprocities, its customs making for regular, orderly sequences of behavior. Turner’s social drama theory has four phases of public action:

  1. Breach of norm-governed social relations that have liminal characteristics, a liminal between more or less stable social processes;
  2. Crisis, during which there is a tendency for the breach to widen and in public forums, representatives of order are dared to grapple with it;
  3. Redressive action, ranging from personal advice and informal mediation or arbitration to formal juridical and legal machinery, and to resolve certain kinds of crisis or legitimate other modes of resolution, to the performance of public ritual. 
  4. Reintegration of the disturbed social group, or of the social recognition and legitimation of irreparable schism between the contesting parties. 

There is a sequence of processual acts and scenes across the four phases of social drama, with dynamic shifts in scripts, characterizations, rhetoric, and symbolism. The processes were more dynamic, rapid, and forceful during the crisis, and now there is a lull in the action.  There are six key concepts which we can use to explore the dialectic of spectacle and carnival, as well as reactionary counter-carnival theatrics. 

Conflict  Conflict situations between patriotic nationalism and the peaceniks make us aware of the beaches in the societal fabric. Conflict seems to bring fundamental aspects of society, normally overlaid by the customs and habits of daily intercourse, into frightening prominence (Turner, 1974).  People are divided, taking sides, using theatre to dramatize their differences.  In the weeks leading up to the war, and during the war, a cleavage occurs between antagonistic groups. At the same time in crisis, there is the flash of imaginative fire, an inspirational force to be harnessed. The conflict escalates locally, as a reflections of the globally conflict in the Middle East. Some crises spread, and more and more people turn out for vigils, marches, parades, rallies, and teach-ins. For Turner, public crisis has a liminal quality, betwixt and between, more or less stable phases of the social process. Antagonists dare and taunt each other, to deal with liminal forces. For example, the majority accept U.S. occupation of Iraq, even though no weapons of mass destruction were found. On May 30th, members of the administration disclosed that there never had been proof of WMD, but saying they were there, served as a way to rally the nation to go to war.

Within the spectacles and carnivals there are factions.  There were a series of social dramas in the U.S. that weakened the solidarity of the peace movement. Acts of repression under the U.S.A. PATRIOT act and Homeland Security were used to make peace people fearful of being blacklisted.  They have a chilling effect on free speech. We resist being reintegrated back into that social fabric of the status quo; communitas is broken, and our freedoms are curtailed.

Performance Processes  A society is defined by Turner (1985: 44, Paraphrasing) as a set of interactive processes that are punctuated by situations of conflict, with intervals between them.  Turner’s theatrical approach, being processual and dynamic, is more appropriate than Burke or Goffman’s to explore the rise and fall of social movements. In his 1985 book, (On the Edge of the Bush: Anthropology as Experience), Turner develops a postmodern treatment of social drama. He explores the contingent, ad hoc, and emergent character of the phases of social drama (breach, crisis, redress, & reintegration), focusing on how conflicts run their course. The situations interact over time. One set of interactions influence the premises for the next (Turner, 1985: 48).  During periods of intense global conflict, such as the outbreak of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, we became a dense network of social organizing. During the week leading up to March 19th war in Iraq, we had events, such as rallies, teach-ins, retreats, marches, and vigils happening daily.  We joined the millions of people who tried to persuade the administration not to go to war. Once war happened we persisted with our vigils and marches, trying to bring a swift end to the conflict.  After the administration declared an end to the war (though the fighting continued), our numbers dropped off, and many people reintegrated into more normal patterns of social life. 

As the antagonist to disputation play out the conflict phases of social drama, there is resistance to acts of suppression and repression (Turner, 1985: 44).  Contentious issues are kept in abeyance in ritual situations, but can surface again in public situations; some political situations threaten to turn violent, both in their protest and in their repression.  Solidarity of a nation at war, for example, has a chilling effect on political rivalry, so as not to threaten the safety of troops deployed in battle theatres.  The unresolved conflicts and rivalries carry over into subsequent ritual situations in ways that affect behavioral patterns. In this way as Pondy observed, conflict events are interdependent over time. 

The performance events interact such that situations develop spontaneously out of quarrels with domestic and foreign policy which rapidly acquire formalized or structural character (Turner, 1985: 45). For example, contending factions draw apart, consolidate their ranks, and develop spokesmen who represent their cases in terms of a rhetoric that is culturally standardized (p. 45). 

Liminality  Key to Turner is the ‘betwixt and between’ features that have liminal qualities (Turner, 1985: 113). Liminality is defined by Turner (1974: 52), as being ‘between successive participations in social milieu.’ There is a grander ‘liminal transition’ in the peace movement, and seemingly no way to stop the growth of fascism that embeds American governance (Turner, 1974: 47).  There is liminality in the transition from the conceptual system of democracy to another one, we in the movement call, fascism (Turner, 1974: 51). There is also liminal decay, a reluctant reincorporation into the charade and facade of polite society, into more stable social processes.  The reentry is accompanied by rituals of humiliation for the peace movement heroes, such as Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Gore Vidal, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky. For example, status degradation and social leveling are indicated by the distribution of playing cards depicting peace heroes as traitors, and most wanted. The tricksters have won the symbolism wars, and liminality is existentially untenable to those of us hanging in with the peace movement. 

Each situation in the peace movement affects the premises of the next one.  There is am emergent pattern to the inter-situational events. The successive events have liminal spaces between them.  Liminal space is Turner’s concept of what is betwixt and between situated events.  In the liminality between situations, a leader is without a situation to rally around.  For example, as the Iraq invasion drew nearer, the number of local organizing events that I lead and facilitated was denser, and in the final weeks, there was an event every day.  Now that the invasion has morphed into an occupation, local events are few and far between.  This liminal space is a time for mourning our failure to get our President to stop the war; it is a time for rest and reflection, a time to plan for the next situation. For a few weeks in late April and early May, it looked like Syria would be the next campaign. But, that has subsided. The 2004 election is a bit far off to worry about. 

I am neither what I have been nor what I will become. Similarly, peace consciousness is a liminal space, not yet what it will be. The peace movement refuses reintegration until the social order transforms to something more non-violent than what it is.

Summer vacations, the exodus of students from a university town, also decreased our numbers. Our rebellion is low-key, smoldering factionalism divides us. Members of PeaceAware slip back into anonymity of daily routine. Only a few die-hards persist with vigils or demonstrations outside Congressman Peace’s events. 

Indeterminacy  Indeterminacy is always present in the background of any ritualized performance, ready to intrude. Spectacles, even with expert choreography, scripting, and stage handling, fail to contain the embedded chaos. For example, the search for weapons of mass destruction slips into a sea of indeterminacy along with the war on terror. Each emplotment unravels.  The exact meaning of a speaker’s utterance or performance is a contextualized exchange in which meaning is often indeterminate. Various stakeholders will apprehend different views of the performance. Aristotle’s poetic elements of theatre are in constant flux, with ever-shifting indeterminate plots, characters, themes, dialogs, rhythms, and spectacles. All the president’s men cannot bind chaos with the most advanced theatrics. The spectacle is always self-deconstructing.  Yet, chaos can be used to confuse. There is a sequence of rhetoric switching in the justification and legitimation for war. 

The rhetorical and speech styles have shifted since the war was a way to find weapons of mass destruction hidden from the UN inspectors, to war being way to protect the troops, to a way to support the president. On 30 May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair, they the administration did not believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; officials thought it was best way to get officials to go to war.[1] “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on,” says Wolfowitz. It was also a way to get the public on board. In this sense, the spectators cannot determine the cause for the war, and now that war is declared officially over, the original premises no loner matter. 

Spectacle cannot fix the fluidity of context, nor bind the shifting context from infecting performance processes.  The situational adjustments of President Bush’s handlers, betrays the flux and fluidity, and indeterminacy of everyday life. This indeterminacy, says Turner (1985: 185), ‘is towards postmodern ways of thinking’ about social life. 

Fragmentation – Fragmentation is definable as a persistent dialectical ‘opposition of processes’ with many ‘levels of processes’ (Turner, 1985: 185). Postmodern theory spotlights moments when fragmentation takes center stage, revealing how social reality invades spectacle during moments of conflict.  Spectacle role-playing is not able to cover the breakdowns between official perspectives and countless counter stories revealing fragmentation.  For Turner ‘the truly ‘spontaneous’ unit of human social performance is not role-playing sequence in an institutionalized or ‘corporate group’ context; it is the social drama which results precisely form the suspension of normative role-playing, and in its passionate activity abolishes the usual distinction between flow and reflection, since in the social drama it becomes a matter of urgency to become reflexive about the cause and motive of action damaging to the social fabric (Turner, 1985: 196). 

There are moments in institutionalized spectacle, where the social drama of conflict emerges, and Bush engages in reflection. In such moments the fragmentarity of the social fabric becomes temporarily visible, ‘as factors giving meaning to deeds that may seem at first sight meaningless’ (p. 196). These are moments of reflection when we can see an irreparable schism between war and peace factions.

The more the Bush handlers defragment, the more Bush’s performance processes reveal oppositions and layers. The thespian nature of his performance unmasks itself, resulting in a media that begins to reflect upon the fragmentation covered over by performance controls. The president is detected as a performing actor. 

Metatheatre – Turner (1985: 181) invents the term ‘meta-theater.’ Where for Burke and Goffman, all the world is a theatre stage, for Turner, ‘meta-theatre’ is the communication about the communication process, spectators and actors reflect upon how the actors do what they do on stage, ‘the ability to communicate about the communication process itself’ (p. 181). In contrasting his own dramaturgy work with Goffman’s, Turner (1985; 181) says that for him ‘dramaturgical analysis begins when crises arise in the daily flow of social interaction.’   Turner continues, ‘Thus, if daily living is a kind of theater, social drama is a kind of meta-theater, that is, a dramaturgical language about the language of ordinary role-playing and status-maintenance which constitutes communication in the quotidian social process’ (p. 181). Metatheatre then is for Turner, reflexivity by everyday actors about the communication system, where they consciously show spectators what they are doing. Turner studies reflexivity in crisis phase of social interaction, but also within the redressive phase.  Turner theorizes four phases, breech, crisis, redressive action, and reintegration in what he calls ‘social drama.’

Metacommentary, is a term Turner, 1982a: 104) borrows from Geertz, ‘a story a group tells itself about itself’ or ‘a play a society acts about itself.’  Metatheatre then builds upon the idea of metacommentary, ‘an interpretive reenactment of its experience’ (Turner, 1982a: 104). In the positive, metatheatre reenacts conflicts, giving them contextualization, so that with metacommentary, facets are illuminated and accessible for remedial action. Through multiple reflections, spectators are able to provoke transformations in everyday life.  On the negative side, the metatheatre distorts event and context in ways that provoke conformity. For example, our weekly street theatre is a metacommentary on global, national, and local conflicts, a time for reflection and reflexivity. Our signs are commentary, and we resist conformity. We are opposed by metacommentary of our critics, what see our acts as traitorous, seditious, and rebellious. Both sides use drama to provoke and persuade.

Metatheatre is about the dialectic process of framing through theatre, in ways that appeal to the frame of mind of the spectator; resistance is about bringing counter-frames to bear on dominant frames.

In the next section I apply Turner’s constructs of conflict, performance processes, liminality, indeterminacy, fragmentation, and metatheatre to that antagonism of the war and peace movements. 


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My Related Posts

Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Kenneth Burke and Dramatism

Dialogs and Dialectics

Narrative, Rhetoric and Possible Worlds

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics

Narrative Psychology: Language, Meaning, and Self

Psychology of Happiness: Value of Storytelling and Narrative Plays

Paradoxes, Contradictions, and Dialectics in Organizations

Key Sources of Research

Victor Turner’s Postmodern Theory of Social Drama:

Implications for Organization Studies

David M. Boje, Ph.D., New Mexico State University

August 1, 2003

‘Themes in the Symbolism of Ndemdu Hunting Ritual, 

Turner, Victor (1962)

Anthropological Quarterly 35, pp. 37-57 reprinted in Myth and Cosmos: Readings in Methodology and Symbolism, edited by John Middleton, 1967, New York: Natural History Press, pp. 249-69.

“Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage.” 

Turner, V.W. (1967)

The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual pp. 93-111. Ithaca: Cornell UP.

The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure 

Turner, V.W. (1969) 

London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

Dramas, Fields and Metaphors 

Turner, V.W. (1974) 

Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press

The Anthropology of Performance 

Turner, V.W. (1988) 

New York: PAJ Publications.

From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play

by Victor Turner

Social Dramas and Stories about Them

Victor Turner

Critical Inquiry 7 (1):141-168 (1980)

Frame, Flow and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality

Victor Turner

Japanese Journal of Religious Studies Vol. 6, No. 4 (Dec., 1979),

pp. 465-499 (35 pages) 

Published By: Nanzan University

“Symbols in African Ritual,” 

Victor Turner

Science March 16, 1972, vol. 179, 1100-05.

Performing Ethnography

Victor Turner; Edith Turner

The Drama Review: TDR, Vol. 26, No. 2, Intercultural Performance. (Summer, 1982), pp. 33-50. Stable URL:

Victor Turner

Victor Witter Turner

The Drama of Social Life 

A Dramaturgical Handbook

Edited By Charles Edgley

Edition 1st Edition

First Published 2013


Notes towards an Anthropology of Political Revolutions


Society and Globalization, Roskilde University

Comparative Studies in Society and History 2012;54(3):679–706.

# Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2012


Variations on a theme of Liminality

Victor Turner

chapter in a book Secular Ritual

The Ritual Process

Structure and Anti-Structure


Acting in Everyday life, Life in Everyday Acting

Click to access Turner.pdf

Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Source: An Interview With Erving Goffman, 1980

I don’t know what your feelings are an this, but mine have been, coming from Chicago, that there was the tradition. of George Herbert Mead to provide the social psychological underpinnings or background for any study. From there one could go in all kinds of directions, one of which is the one [Everett] Hughes developed: a sort of occupational Sociology and basically Urban Ethnography. And what I did up to a few years ago before I got somewhat more interested in Sociolinguistics was a version of Urban Ethnography with Meadian Social Psychology. But that Meadian Social Psychology was a social psychological underpinning for a large amount of work in American Sociology and could, sort of, be taken for granted as just part of basic Sociology.

So, I’ve never felt that a label was necessary. If I had to be labeled at all, it would have been as a Hughesian urban ethnographer. And what happened about, I suppose, six or seven years ago, was some movement in Sociology for persons to classify themselves. On the social psychologicaI side, it was probably stimulated as a response to ethnomethodologists, who labeled themselves. They were on the social psychological side, I suppose the first group that oriented to a label that excluded and included. I always felt that the introduction of the term, symbolic interactionism, as a label for some sort of group was a response of people to tendencies in sociology to fracture and fragment and, for some of the persons in the fragments, to make a “club” of their profession. So I’ve never treated the label very seriously. I don’t think it applies very much.

Source: An Interview With Erving Goffman, 1980

The dramaturgy was partly just a name people applied. Burke, Kenneth Burke, was an influence in somewhat the same way. Louis Wirth, at the time we were all students in Chicago, felt that Permanence and Change [Burke, 1935/1954] was the most important book in Social Psychology. So we all read that, and that was a real influence on all of us I think. Burke’s later work somewhat less so. But then there was interactive process-one looks around in writing one’s stuff for references for authentication, authority, and the like and so one dips into things that one might affiliate oneself with. My main influences were [Lloyd] Warner and [A. R.] Radcliffe-Brown, [Emile] Durkheim, and Hughes. Maybe [Max] Weber also.

Source: An Interview With Erving Goffman, 1980

JV: I have two other questions, to conclude. The first one-you mention at a certain moment [Alfred] Schutz. What is the meaning of Schutz for your work?

EG: again it was a late sort of thing, but the last book on Frame Analysis [I974} was influenced by him. [Gregory] Bateson quite a bit, but Schutz’s [1967] paper on multiple realities was an influence. Schutz is continuing to be something of an influence. His stuff on the corpus of experience and that sort of thing. There are some ways in which he impinges upon sociolinguistic concerns, but I can’t profess to be a close student.

Key Terms

  • Roles
  • Drama
  • Face to Face Interaction
  • Frames
  • Scenes
  • Scenarios
  • Social Simulation
  • Life as Drama
  • Social Psychology
  • Symbolic Interactionism
  • Erving Goffman
  • Kenneth Burke
  • Front Stage
  • Backstage
  • Entry and Exit
  • Performance
  • Interaction Order
  • Interaction Rituals
  • Impression Management
  • Faces and Masks
  • World as a Play
  • Universal Drama
  • Natyashastra of Bharata Muni
  • Poetics of Aristotle
  • Public and Private
  • Online and Offline
  • Faces of Men
  • Ritual Masks
  • Integral Theory
  • Integrated Self
  • Integral Psychology

Erving Goffman


Erving Goffman (1922–1982) developed a dramaturgical theory of the self and society inspired by Mead’s basic conception of social interaction. In the selection below, excerpted from the book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman presents a theory that likens social interaction to the theater. Individuals can be seen as performers, audience members, and outsiders that operate within particular “stages” or social spaces. Goffman suggests that how we present our selves to others is aimed toward “impression management,” which is a conscious decision on the part of the individual to reveal certain aspects of the self and to conceal others, as actors do when performing on stage.

List of Publications

  • 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  • 1961a. Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction. New York: The Bobbs- Merrill Co.
  • 1961b. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  • 1963a. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.
  • 1963b. Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Macmillan.
  • 1967. Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Harper and Row.
  • 1969. Strategic Interactions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • 1974. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. New York: Harper and Row.
  • 1976/1979. Gender Advertisements. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press


Erving Goffman


The son of Ukrainian immigrant parents, Erving Manual Goffman was born on 11 June 1922 in Mannville, Alberta, Canada. He attended high school in Winnipeg and entered the University of Manitoba in 1939, majoring in natural sciences. However, his interests shifted toward the social sciences before he left in 1942, still some credits short of his degree. He returned to study at Toronto in 1944, obtaining a BA degree in 1945. That fall he began studies toward the MA degree in sociology at the University of Chicago. Initially influenced by W. Lloyd Warner, his 1949 master’s thesis gave an ethnographic analysis of the responses of cosmopolitan middle-class women as they refused to take entirely seriously the demands of the Thematic Apperception Test that Goffman administered. His doctoral dissertation, “Communication Conduct in an Island Community” (1953), was based on fieldwork in the Shetland Islands sponsored by the University of Edinburgh’s Social Anthropology department. In it Goffman first introduced the term “interaction order” to describe the domain of social life established by co-present persons. This was the sociological terrain he made his own. The investigation of the properties of the interaction order provided the thread that ran through the disparate topic-matters of his eleven books and more than a dozen significant journal articles. Goffman stayed another year in Chicago following the successful defense of his dissertation, drafting an original monograph (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, first published in 1956 in Edinburgh) and papers on face-work, embarrassment, involvement, and deference and demeanor. Between the end of 1954 and 1957 he worked as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, conducting the fieldwork and writing that led to Asylums (1961). Appointed to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1958, he rose quickly to full professor in 1962. A sabbatical year at Harvard prefigured a move to the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, where he remained until his untimely death in 1982.

Major Works

It was the publication of the enlarged Anchor Books edition of Goffman 1959 at signaled Goffman’s arrival as a distinctive voice within English-speaking sociology. He quickly consolidated his reputation with another four books appearing before the end of 1963. Goffman 1961a analyzes the mental patient’s situation. Goffman 1961b is a technical analysis of the role of fun and the mobilization of identity in interaction. Aspects of co-present behavior in public are covered in Goffman 1963a and Goffman 1971Goffman 1963b is a classic contribution to deviance studies. Calculation and risk in face-to-face dealings are explored in Goffman 1967 and Goffman 1969Goffman 1974 regrounds his sociology around the “frame” notion. Goffman 1979 is a classic contribution to visual sociology. Goffman 1981a provides unique insights into conversational interaction.

Goffman, Erving. 1956. The presentation of self in everyday life. Edinburgh: Univ. of Edinburgh, Social Sciences Research Centre.The long-established life as drama metaphor was adapted and developed to shed specific light on the details of face-to-face conduct. Goffman introduced the notion of impression management and developed his dramaturgical perspective in ingenious ways. Outlines six dramaturgical “principles”: performances, teams, regions and region behavior, discrepant roles, communication out of character, and the arts of impression management. It offered not a static classification of forms of conduct but an analysis examining dynamic issues about projecting and sustaining definitions of the situation.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.A version of Goffman 1956 that retained the same chapter structure but expanded its content. New illustrations of dramaturgical concepts have been added to those already included in the earlier edition and illustrations previously mentioned in footnotes often relocated to the main text.

Goffman, Erving. 1961a. Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. New York: Anchor Books.Based on a year’s fieldwork at St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, DC, the book presents four essays. The first examines the mental hospital as a closed environment, a “total institution”; the second, the changes in the mental patient’s framework for judging themselves and others (their “moral career”); the third analyzes the rich “underlife” of the hospital through which the patient can express distance from the model of social being held out by the hospital; the fourth is a critique of institutional psychiatry.

Goffman, Erving. 1961b. Encounters: Two studies in the sociology of interaction. Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill.Encounters are those interactions where the participants sustain a single focus of cognitive and visual attention. Examination of the “fun in games” shows the importance of involvement and the “membrane” that selects the wider social attributes allowed to figure within the enclosed interaction. An alternative to functionalist role theory, “role distance” captures the actualities of interactional conduct expressed in the various forms of joking, irony, and self-deprecation that imply the self is other than the implied by current role demands.

Goffman, Erving. 1963a. Behavior in public places: Notes on the social organization of gatherings. New York: The Free Press.A study not of public places as such but of the kinds of interaction typically found therein. Introduces the key notions of unfocused interaction, where persons pursue their own concerns in the presence of others, and focused interaction where persons cooperate in sustaining a single focus of attention. Includes important discussions of situational proprieties, civil inattention, body idiom, involvement, and participation.

Goffman, Erving. 1963b. Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.An examination of the situation and relationships of persons disqualified from full acceptance within a situation. Drawing on studies of disability, ethnicity, crime, deviance and social problems it shows how the “discredited” and the “discreditable” manage their dealings with “normals.” Presents useful distinctions between social, personal, and ego or felt identity and introduces the now popular notion of the “politics of identity.”

Goffman, Erving. 1967. Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Draws together journal articles mainly from the 1950s on face-work, deference and demeanor, embarrassment, alienation from interaction, and mental symptoms, each demonstrating how a sociology of interaction focuses on “not men and their moments” but “moments and their men” (p. 3). Included also is a new study based on his observations of gambling in Nevada casinos, “Where the Action Is.” Goffman’s focus on “fateful” activities and situations (i.e., those both problematic and consequential) has catalyzed further studies of gambling and other risky activities.

Goffman, Erving. 1969. Strategic interaction. Philadelphia: Univ. of Philadelphia Press.The book’s two chapters examine the role of deception and calculation in “mutual dealings.” “Expression games” explore “one general human capacity . . . to acquire, reveal and conceal information” (p. 4) concentrating on the inferences that can be made about the intentions of others. “Strategic interaction” considers the bases of decision-making in circumstances that are mutually fateful. Both chapters complicate Mead’s notion of taking the attitude of the otherand the simple notions of intersubjectivity it sometimes implied.

Goffman, Erving. 1971. Relations in public: Microstudies of the public order. New York: Basic Books.Continues the interests in unfocused and focused interaction announced in Behavior in Public Places. Its six free-standing chapters explore “singles” and “withs,” types of personal territories that help preserve the self, “supportive interchanges,” and “remedial interchanges” that keep everyday dealings in good order “tie-signs” and “normal appearances” that enable relationships, places, and situations to make sense. The 1969 article “The Insanity of Place” is appended. Deeply biographical, it outlines the havoc wrought by a mentally ill person in the home.

Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame analysis: An essay in the organization of experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.Ten years in the making, and apparently intended as his magnum opus, Goffman explores experiential dimensions of social life. Offers a conceptual terminology addressing the fundamental practical problem, What is going on here? While experience is made sense via primary frameworks, these can be transformed into keyings and fabrications. How frames are grounded and their vulnerabilities is a major analytic concern. The conceptual framework is put to work in studies of the theatrical frame (chap. 5) and talk (chap. 13).

Goffman, Erving. 1979. Gender advertisements. London and Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.Analyzes how gender is displayed in advertising imagery using over five hundred advertisements and other public pictures. The leading themes of Goffman’s “pictorial pattern analysis” of the pictures—relative size, the feminine touch, function ranking, the family, the ritualization of subordination, and licensed withdrawal—manifest stark gender differences. Goffman’s book anticipates Judith Butler’s famed performativity thesis by over a decade.

Goffman, Erving. 1981a. Forms of talk. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Three of the book’s five chapters were previously published. “Replies and Responses” provides a critique of conversation analysis, presenting an ostensibly more open model of reference-response. “Response Cries” makes a case for a sociology of non-lexical utterances. “Footing” is a general statement about alignment: how co-conversationalists’ identities are evident in how we produce or receive talk. “The Lecture” applies much of the preceding approaches to the ceremonial lecture. “Radio Talk” concentrates on DJs’ speech errors in order to understand the features of imperfections in ordinary talk.

Emotionally Naked

  • No Defenses
  • No Guards
  • No Masks
  • No Boundaries
  • No Frontstage
  • No Backstage
  • Completely Exposed
  • Emotionally Naked.

My Related Posts

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Phenomenological Sociology

Phenomenology and Symbolic Interactionism

A Unifying Model of Arts

Boundaries and Distinctions

Boundaries and Networks

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Networks and Hierarchies

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Recursive Vision of Gregory Bateson

Key Sources of Research

An Interview With Erving Goffman, 1980

Verhoeven, Jef C.(1993)

Research on Language & Social Interaction,26:3,317 — 348

DOI: 10.1207/s15327973rlsi2603_5

The Presentation of Self (Goffman’s Dramaturgical model)

Erving Goffman, Dramaturgy, and On-Line Relationships

Nikki Sannicolas

The Dramaturgical Model

Wood, J. T. (2004). Communication theories in action: An introduction (3rd ed., pp. 118– 122). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Goffman and Dramaturgical Sociology

  • January 2017

Philip Manning

Presentation of Self in everyday life

Erving Goffman

Click to access Goffman_PresentationOfSelf.pdf

Erving Goffman

By Dr Phil Henry, University of Derby

in Sener, O., Sleap, F., & Weller, P. Dialogue Theories II. London: Dialogue Society, pp. 157-172

The private and the public in online presentations of the self

A critical development of Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective

Fredrik Aspling

Department of Sociology 2011

Master’s Thesis, 30 ECTS Sociology
Spring 2011
Supervisor: Árni Sverrisson

Click to access FULLTEXT01.pdf

Frant and Back Regions of Everyday Life

Erving Goffman

Click to access Goffman.Front.pdf


Erving Goffman

Metaphorical analogies in approaches of Victor Turner and Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy in social interaction and dramas of social life

Ester Võsu

Department of Ethnology, University of Tartu Ülikooli 18, 50410 Tartu, Estonia e-mail:

SME contractors on the stage for energy renovations?

A dramaturgical perspective on SME contractors’ roles and interactions with house owners

Meaningful Performances: Considering the Contributions of the Dramaturgical Approach to Studying Family

Jessica L. Collett* and Ellen Childs

University of Notre Dame

Sociology Compass 3/4 (2009): 689–706,


Click to access 2009-3.pdf

Goffman’s Dramaturgy: A case study analysis for potential inclusion in communication theory studies

Jennifer Dell August 2014

The con man as model organism: the methodological roots of Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical self

Michael Pettit

York University, Canada

History of the Human Sciences 000(00) 1–17

Lecture 27: The Dramaturgical Approach

Sociology 3308: Sociology of Emotions

Prof. J.S. Kenney

Click to access EmClss27.pdf

All The Web’s a Stage: The Dramaturgy of Young Adult Social Media Use

Jaime R. Riccio 2013

Theses – ALL. 16.

Chapter 4: Social Structure and Social Interaction

Click to access chapter%204%20outline.pdf

Public and private faces in web spaces – How Goffman’s work can be used to think about purchasing medicine online. 

Lisa Sugiura

Working Papers in Health Sciences 1: 4 Summer ISSN 2051-6266 / 20130019

When Erving Goffman was a Boy

Sherri Cavan July, 2011




Click to access index.pdf

12 – Erving Goffman and Dramaturgical Sociology

The Cambridge Handbook of Social Theory

Print publication year: 2020 Online publication date: December 2020

Framing Social Interaction

Continuities and Cracks in Goffman’s Frame Analysis

Persson, Anders

Published: 2018-01-01

(1 ed.) London & New York: Routledge.

Click to access 9781317133544_preview.pdf

Self-Presentation on Social Networking Sites

Houda Sassi and Jamel-Eddine Gharbi

7 October 2015

Journal of Internet Social Networking and Virtual Communities Vol. 2015 (2015), Article ID 406328, 9 pages
DOI: 10.5171/2015.406328


Leslie A. Houts 2004

PhD Thesis

Click to access houts_l.pdf

Say, display, replay: Erving Goffman meets Oscar Wilde

Jean-Rémi Lapaire

Miranda: Revue pluridisciplinaire sur le monde anglophone. Multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal on the English- speaking world , Laboratoire CAS (Cultures anglo-saxonnes), 2016. halshs-01628909

Dramaturgy and Social Movements: The Social Construction and Communication of Power *

Robert D. Benford, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Scott A. Hunt, University of Kentucky

Sociological Inqiry Vol. 62, No. 1, February 1992

Social Dramaturgy: How We Develop Masks to Interact

We Are All Considered Actors


Extending Goffman’s Dramaturgy to Critical Discourse Analysis: Ed Burkhardt’s Performance after the Lac-Mégantic Disaster

Jennifer Dell

Mount Saint Vincent University


Sociology 319 – Contemporary Social Theories

February 15, 2006

Symbolic Interactionism

Readings:  CST, chapter 8 and two readings from Goffman in class handout.

Organizational Analysis: Goffman and Dramaturgy  

Peter K. Manning

The Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organization Studies: Contemporary Currents

Edited by Paul Adler, Paul du Gay, Glenn Morgan, and Mike Reed

Print Publication Date: Oct 2014 Publication Date: Jan 2015

DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199671083.013.0012

Frame Analysis: An essay on organization of experience

Erving Goffman

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Bruner (1973: xi) described this duality as follows:“our knowledge of the world is not merely a mirroring or reflection of order and structure ‘out there,’ but consists rather of a construct or model that can, so to speak, be spun a bit ahead of things to predict how the world will be or might be”

Key Terms

  • Narratives
  • Culture
  • Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Meaning
  • Meaning making
  • Networks
  • Boundaries
  • Folk Culture
  • Communication
  • Sensemaking
  • Active Learning
  • Karl Weick
  • Dirk Baecker
  • Jerome Bruner
  • Erving Goffman
  • George Spencer Brown
  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • Social Interactions
  • Strategic Interactions
  • Cultural Psychology
  • Systems
  • Social Systems
  • Individual and Collective
  • Symbolic Interactions
  • Face Work
  • Face to Face
  • Micro Sociology
  • Drama
  • Kenneth Burke
  • Chain of Events
  • Sequence of Events
  • Time Space
  • Choices, Conflicts, Dilemmas
  • Constraints, Limits, Boundaries
  • Networks, Connections, Interaction
  • Social Simulation
  • Discrete Events
  • Scenes, Scenarios
  • Games and Dramas
  • Harmony
  • Colors, Tones
  • Interaction Rituals
  • Interaction Order
  • Ethnomethodology
  • LL and LR Quadrants in AQAL Model of Ken Wilber
  • Many Faces of Man
  • Backstage and Frontstage
  • Russell Ackoff’s Interaction Planning
  • Faces, Masks, and Rituals
  • Frame Analysis
  • Self and Others
  • Social Constructivism
  • Agent Based Modeling
  • Cellular Automata
  • Computational Sociology
  • Micro Motives and Macro Behavior
  • Conversations
  • Strategic Conversations
  • Boundaries and Distinctions
  • Networks and Boundaries

Jerome Bruner ON Narratives

Source: Chapter 1 Narrative Inquiry: From Story to Method

… Narrative as a mode of knowing 

In 1984 at an address to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Jerome Bruner challenged the psychological community to consider the possibilities of narrative as one of two distinct and distinctive modes of thinking, namely the “paradigmatic” or logico-scientific mode and the narrative mode. For Bruner, each mode constituted a unique way of construing and constructing reality and of ordering experience. Importantly, neither of these modes was reducible to the other, as each was necessary in the development of human thought and action. Taking up these ideas in later writings, Bruner (1986) presents the narrative mode of meaning-making as one that “looks for particular conditions and is centred around the broader and more inclusive question of the meaning of experience” (p. 11), whilst the paradigmatic mode is characterised as one that is more concerned with establishing universal truth conditions.

Bruner has pursued the notion of “narrative” modes of thinking and explored the ways in which we draw on “narrative” modes of knowing as a learning process (1996a). For Bruner, we construct our understandings of the world “mainly in the form of narrative – stories, excuses, myths, reasons for doing and not doing, and so on” (2003, p. 44). In earlier writings, he points to the power and import of narrative as a meaning-making process, commenting that “our capacity to render experience in terms of narrative is not just child’s play, but an instrument for making meaning that dominates much of life in culture – from soliloquies at bedtime to the weighing of testimony in our legal system” (1990, p. 97). Importantly, Bruner suggests that our “sensitivity” to narrative constitutes a major link between our “sense of self and our sense of others in the social world around us” (1986, p. 69) and is the mode through which we “create a version of the world” with which we can live (1996a, p. 39).

Bruner’s work in the field of cognitive psychology constitutes one way in which narrative has been conceptualised within scholarship and has led to the establishment of the field of narrative psychology. It is perhaps serendipitous that Bruner’s account of the narrative mode of thinking occurred at a time of growing interest in the ways in which narrative might be drawn upon for research and inquiry purposes. As educators and scholars took up the “call of stories” (Coles, 1989) to provide alternative means to explore, interrogate, interpret, and record experience, “it helped that the messenger was Bruner, an enormously powerful scholar with unusual cross-disciplinary knowledge, stature, and impact, who ventured to articulate what narrative could mean to the social sciences at large” (Bresler, 2006, p. 23). Crucially, Bruner’s work leads us to consider narrative as more than a means of presenting meaning and to consider the role of narrative and narrative forms in “re-presenting,” in the sense of constructing meaning, both individually and collectively. For Bruner, narrative operates simultaneously in both thought and action, shaping the ways in which we conceive and respond to our worlds. In short, all cognition, whatever its nature, relies upon representation, how we lay down our knowledge in a way to represent our experience of the world . . . representation is a process of construction, as it were, rather than of mere reflection of the world (Bruner, 1996b, p. 95).

Here, a narrative might become a “template for experience” (Bruner, 2002, p. 34) that works on the mind, modelling “not only its world but the minds seeking to give it its meanings” (p. 27). This move from narrative as “story presented” to narrative as a “form of meaning-making,” indeed, a form of “mind-making,” has played an important role in the development of narrative as a method of inquiry in the social sciences.

Source: INTRODUCTION: BRUNER’S WAY/ David Bakhurst and Stuart G. Shanker

Another reason why Bruner is an ideal focus is his role in two crucial paradigm shifts in twentieth-century psychology. In the 1950s, he was an instrumental figure in the cognitive revolution, which restored to psychology the inner life of the mind after decades of arid behaviourist objectivism. Cognitive psychology prospered and, in league with other fields, evolved into ‘cognitive science’, conceived as a systematic inter- disciplinary approach to the study of mind (see Gardner, 1985). Bruner, however, gradually grew more and more dissatisfied with what cognitivism had become. In 1990, he published Acts of Meaning, in which he argued that the cognitive revolution had betrayed the impulse that had brought it into being. The revolution’s principal concern, Bruner argued, had been to return the concept of meaning to the forefront of psychological theorizing. But cognitivism had become so enamoured of computational models of the mind that it had replaced behaviourism’s impoverished view of the person with one no better: human beings as information processors. In response, Bruner argued forcefully that meaning is not a given, but something made by human beings as they negotiate the world. Meaning is a cultural, not computational, phenomenon. And since meaning is the medium of the mental, culture is constitutive of mind.

In many ways, Bruner’s objection was familiar. It had often been lamented that mainstream psychology was individualistic and scientistic, representing minds as self-contained mental atoms and ignoring the social and cultural influences upon them. In the last decade, however, this well-known critique has really been gaining momentum. Besides Bruner, both Richard Shweder (1990) and Michael Cole (1996) have sounded the call for a new ‘cultural psychology’. Assorted versions of ‘constructionist’ and ‘discursive’ psychology have appeared on the scene, joining a veritable chorus of diverse voices urging that psychology treat the mind as a sociocultural phenomenon (e.g., Edwards and Potter, 1992; Harré and Gillett, 1994; Gergen, 1999). It is particularly striking that these voices no longer come exclusively from the margins. Just as the left/right divide is collapsing in political theory, so the dichotomy between mainstream ‘individualistic/scientistic/Cartesian’ psychology and radical ‘communitarian/interpretative/post-Cartesian’ psychology has become outmoded. Cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind now commonly acknowledge that no plausible account of the mind can be indifferent to the context in which we think and act, and some significant works have appeared devoted to the cultural origins, and social realization, of human mentality (e.g., Donald, 1991). A psychologist interested in culture is no longer a counter-cultural figure.

Source: The narrative constitution of identity: A relational and network approach

From diverse sources it is possible to identify four features of a reframed narrativity particularly relevant for the social sciences:1) relationality of parts, 2) causal emplotment, 3) selective appropriation, and 4) temporality, sequence and place.43 Together, these dimensions suggest narratives are constellations of relationships (connected parts) embedded in time and space, constituted by causal emplotment. Unlike the attempt to produce meaning by placing an event in a specified category, narrativity precludes sense making of a singular isolated phenomenon. Narrativity demands that we discern the meaning of any single event only in temporal and spatial relationship to other events. Indeed, the chief characteristic of narrative is that it renders understanding only by connecting (however unstably) parts to a constructed configuration or a social network of relationships (however incoherent or unrealizable) composed of symbolic, institutional, and material practices 4.4


Narrative accounts must have at least two characteristics. They should center upon people and their intentional states: their desires, beliefs, and so on; and they should focus on how these intentional states led to certain kinds of activities. Such an account should also be or appear to be order preserving, in the sense of preserving or appearing to preserve sequence — the sequential properties of which life itself consists or is supposed to consist. Now, in the nature of things, if these points are correct, autobiographies should be about the past, should be par excellence the genre (or set of genres) composed in the past tense. So just for fun, we decided to find out whether in fact autobiographies were all in the past tense — both the spontaneous ones we had collected and a sample of literary autobiographies.

We have never found a single one where past-tense verbs constituted more than 70 percent of the verbs used. Autobiographies are, to be sure, about the past; but what of the 30 percent or more of their sentences that are not in the past tense? I’m sure it will be apparent without all these statistics that autobiography is not only about the past, but is busily about the present as well. If it is to bring the protagonist up to the present, it must deal with the present as well as the past — and not just at the end of the account, as it were. That is one part of it. But there is another part that is more interesting. Most of the “present-tense” aspect of autobiography has to do with what students of narrative structure call “evaluation” — the task of placing those sequential events in terms of a meaningful context. Narrative, whether looked at from the more formalistic perspective of William Labov (1982) or the more literary, historical one of Barbara Herrnstein-Smith (1986), necessarily comprises two features: one of them is telling what happened to a cast of human beings with a view to the order in which things happened. That part is greatly aided by the devices of flashback, flashforward, and the rest. But a narrative must also answer the question “Why”, “Why is this worth telling, what is interesting about it?” Not everything that happened is worth telling about, and it is not always clear why what one tells merits telling. We are bored and offended by such accounts as“I got up in the morning, got out of bed, dressed and tied my shoes, shaved, had breakfast, went off to the office and saw a graduate student who had an idea for a thesis…”

The “why tell” function imposes something of great (and hidden) significance on narrative. Not only must a narrative be about a sequence of events over time, structured comprehensibly in terms of cultural canonicality, it must also contain something that endows it with exceptionality. We had better pause for a moment and explore what this criterion of exceptionality means for autobiography and, incidentally, why it creates such a spate of present-tense clauses in the writing of autobiography.


The object of narrative, then, is to demystify deviations. Narrative solves no problems. It simply locates them in such a way as to make them comprehensible. It does so by invoking the play of psychological states and of actions that transpire when human beings interact with each other and relates these to what can usually be expected to happen. I think that Kenneth Burke has a good deal to say about this “play of psychological states” in narrative, and I think it would help to examine his ideas. In his The Grammar of Motives, he introduces the idea of “dramatism” (Burke 1945). Burke noted that dramatism was created by the interplay of five elements (he refers to them as the Pentad). These comprise an Actor who commits an Action toward a Goal with the use of some Instrument in a particular Scene. Dramatism is created, he argues, when elements of the Pentad are out of balance, lose their appropriate “ratio”. This creates Trouble, an emergent sixth element. He has much to say about what leads to the breakdown in the ratios between the elements of the dramatistic pentad. For example, the Actor and the Scene don’t fit. Nora, for example: what in the world is the rebellious Nora in A Doll’s House doing in this banal doctor’s household? Or Oedipus taking his mother Jocasta unknowingly to wife. The “appropriate ratios”, of course, are given by the canonical stances of folk psychology toward the human condition. Dramatism constitutes their patterned violation. In a classically oral culture, the great myths that circulate are the archetypal forms of violation, and these become increasingly “smoothed” and formalized — even frozen — over time, as we know from the classic studies of Russian folktales published by Vladimir Propp (1986). In more mobile literary cultures, of course, the range and variation in such tales and stories greatly increases, matching the greater complexity and widened opportunities that accompany literacy. Genres develop, new forms emerge, variety increase — at least at first. It may well be that with the emergence of mass cultures and the new massifying media, new constraints on this variation occur, but that is a topic that would take us beyond the scope of this essay (see Feldman, in this volume).

Erving Goffman On Interactionism

Source: Wikipedia

Goffman was influenced by Herbert BlumerÉmile DurkheimSigmund FreudEverett HughesAlfred Radcliffe-BrownTalcott ParsonsAlfred SchützGeorg Simmel and W. Lloyd Warner. Hughes was the “most influential of his teachers”, according to Tom Burns.[1][3][22] Gary Alan Fine and Philip Manning have said that Goffman never engaged in serious dialogue with other theorists,[1] but his work has influenced and been discussed by numerous contemporary sociologists, including Anthony GiddensJürgen Habermas and Pierre Bourdieu.[23]

Though Goffman is often associated with the symbolic interaction school of sociological thought, he did not see himself as a representative of it, and so Fine and Manning conclude that he “does not easily fit within a specific school of sociological thought”.[1] His ideas are also “difficult to reduce to a number of key themes”; his work can be broadly described as developing “a comparative, qualitative sociology that aimed to produce generalizations about human behavior”.[23][24]

Goffman made substantial advances in the study of face-to-face interaction, elaborated the “dramaturgical approach” to human interaction, and developed numerous concepts that have had a massive influence, particularly in the field of the micro-sociology of everyday life.[23][25] Much of his work was about the organization of everyday behavior, a concept he termed “interaction order”.[23][26][27] He contributed to the sociological concept of framing (frame analysis),[28] to game theory (the concept of strategic interaction), and to the study of interactions and linguistics.[23] With regard to the latter, he argued that the activity of speaking must be seen as a social rather than a linguistic construct.[29] From a methodological perspective, Goffman often employed qualitative approaches, specifically ethnography, most famously in his study of social aspects of mental illness, in particular the functioning of total institutions.[23] Overall, his contributions are valued as an attempt to create a theory that bridges the agency-and-structuredivide—for popularizing social constructionismsymbolic interactionconversation analysis, ethnographic studies, and the study and importance of individual interactions.[30][31] His influence extended far beyond sociology: for example, his work provided the assumptions of much current research in language and social interaction within the discipline of communication.[32]

Goffman defined “impression management” as a person’s attempts to present an acceptable image to those around them, verbally or nonverbally.[33] This definition is based on Goffman’s idea that people see themselves as others view them, so they attempt to see themselves as if they are outside looking in.[33] Goffman was also dedicated to discovering the subtle ways humans present acceptable images by concealing information that may conflict with the images for a particular situation, such as concealing tattoos when applying for a job in which tattoos would be inappropriate, or hiding a bizarre obsession such as collecting/interacting with dolls, which society may see as abnormal.

Goffman broke from George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer in that while he did not reject the way people perceive themselves, he was more interested in the actual physical proximity or the “interaction order” that molds the self.[33] In other words, Goffman believed that impression management can be achieved only if the audience is in sync with a person’s self-perception. If the audience disagrees with the image someone is presenting then their self-presentation is interrupted. People present images of themselves based on how society thinks they should act in a particular situation. This decision how to act is based on the concept of definition of the situation. Definitions are all predetermined and people choose how they will act by choosing the proper behavior for the situation they are in. Goffman also draws from William Thomas for this concept. Thomas believed that people are born into a particular social class and that the definitions of the situations they will encounter have already been defined for them.[33] For instance. when an individual from an upper-class background goes to a black-tie affair, the definition of the situation is that they must mind their manners and act according to their class.

In 2007 by The Times Higher Education Guide listed Goffman as the sixth most-cited author in the humanities and social sciences, behind Anthony Giddens and ahead of Habermas.[2] His popularity with the general public has been attributed to his writing style, described as “sardonic, satiric, jokey”,[31] and as “ironic and self-consciously literary”,[34] and to its being more accessible than that of most academics.[35] His style has also been influential in academia, and is credited with popularizing a less formal style in academic publications.[31] Interestingly, if he is rightly so credited, he may by this means have contributed to a remodelling of the norms of academic behaviour, particularly of communicative action, arguably liberating intellectuals from social restraints unnatural to some of them.

His students included Carol Brooks Gardner, Charles Goodwin, Marjorie Goodwin, John Lofland, Gary Marx, Harvey SacksEmanuel Schegloff, David Sudnow and Eviatar Zerubavel.[1]

Despite his influence, according to Fine and Manning there are “remarkably few scholars who are continuing his work”, nor has there been a “Goffman school”; thus his impact on social theory has been simultaneously “great and modest”.[30] Fine and Manning attribute the lack of subsequent Goffman-style research and writing to the nature of his style, which they consider very difficult to duplicate (even “mimic-proof”), and also to his subjects’ not being widely valued in the social sciences.[3][30] Of his style, Fine and Manning remark that he tends to be seen either as a scholar whose style is difficult to reproduce, and therefore daunting to those who might wish to emulate it, or as a scholar whose work was transitional, bridging the work of the Chicago school and that of contemporary sociologists, and thus of less interest to sociologists than the classics of either of those groups.[24][30] Of his subjects, Fine and Manning observe that the topic of behavior in public places is often stigmatized as trivial and unworthy of serious scholarly attention.[30]

Nonetheless, Fine and Manning note that Goffman is “the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century”.[36] Elliott and Turner see him as “a revered figure—an outlaw theorist who came to exemplify the best of the sociological imagination”, and “perhaps the first postmodern sociological theorist”.[14]

Source: Looking back on Goffman: The excavation continues

The “descent of the ego,” then, was witnessed by both Durkheim and Goffman in terms of the mechanisms at work in modem Western society whereby the tendencies toward an unbridled egoistic individualism are continually rebuffed (Chriss, 1993). MacCannell successfully makes the case for such a Durkheim-Goffman link through a semiotic sociology which resists the temptation of explaining in solely positivistic terms why it is that in modem Western society, imbued as it is with a strong ethic of individualism, we nevertheless see persons orienting their actions toward a perceived moral universe and the accommodation of the other. Like Durkheim and many of the great students of society from Plato to Hobbes, from Kant to Parsons, Goffman was ultimately concerned with the question, how is social order possible (Berger, 1973: 356; Collins, 1980: 173)?

Burns recognizes the Durkheim-Goffman link as well, but carries the analysis even further by comparing and contrasting Durkheim’s notion of social order with Goffman’s interaction order. Durkheim’s sui generis reality was society; Goffman’s is the encounters between individuals, or the social act itself. The moral order which pervades society and sustains individual conduct constitutes a “social fact” in both Durkheim’s and Goffman’s eyes. But Burns (1992) notes also that for Durkheim this order was·seen as durable and all-sustaining, whereas for Goffman “it was fragile, impermanent, full of unexpected holes, and in constant need of repair” (p.26).

my Related Posts

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Boundaries and Distinctions

Boundaries and Networks

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Relational Turn in Economic Geography

Cybernetics, Autopoiesis, and Social Systems Theory

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

A Unifying Model of Arts

Ratio Club: A Brief History of British Cyberneticians

Micro Motives, Macro Behavior: Agent Based Modeling in Economics

On Holons and Holarchy

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Narrative Psychology: Language, Meaning, and Self

Psychology of Happiness: Value of Storytelling and Narrative Plays

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Key Sources of Research

The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

edited by Jaan Valsiner

Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning

By Bradd Shore

Erving Goffman on Wikipedia

On Face-Work
An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction

Erving Goffman
Pages 213-231 | Published online: 08 Nov 2016

Chapter in Book Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face to Face Behavior

Click to access Goffman,%20Erving%20%27On%20Face-work%27.pdf

Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-To-Face Behavior

E. Goffman

Published 1967


Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction.

Goffman, Erving. 1961

Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. 

Goffman, Erving. 1959. 

New York: Doubleday Anchor.

Strategic interaction.

Goffman, Erving (1969), 

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience.

Goffman, E. (1974). 

New York: Harper & Row.

Sociology. Narrative psychology: Internet and resource guide. 

Hevern, V. W. (2004, Apr). 

Retrieved [3/15/2021] from the Le Moyne College Web site:

Narrative scenarios: Toward a culturally thick notion of narrative. 

Brockmeier, J. (2012). 

In J. Valsiner (Ed.), Oxford library of psychology. The Oxford handbook of culture and psychology (p. 439–467). Oxford University Press.

Erving Goffman

Looking back on Goffman: The excavation continues

James J. Chriss 

Cleveland State University


Sociology & Criminology Faculty Publications. 98.

Beyond Goffman: Studies on Communication, Institution, and Social Interaction


Erving Goffman: Exploring,the interaction order 


Tom Burns’s Erving Goffman


Chapter 1
Narrative Inquiry: From Story to Method

Troubling Certainty

Margaret S. Barrett and Sandra L. Stauffer

In Narrative Inquiry in Music Education

DOI 10.1007/978-1-4020-9862-8  

Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009


David Bakhurst and Stuart G. Shanker

In Jerome Bruner: Language, Culture, Self

Edited by
David Bakhurst and Stuart G. Shanker

Sage Publications, 2001

Analyzing Narratives and Story-Telling

Matti Hyvärinen


The narrative constitution of identity: A relational and network approach


Universityof Michigan

TheoryandSociety23: 605-649, 1994

Cognitive–Linguistic and Constructivist Mnemonic Triggers in Teaching Based on Jerome Bruner’s Thinking

Jari Metsämuuronen1* and Pekka Räsänen2

  • 1Department of Pedagogy, NLA University College, Bergen, Norway
  • 2Niilo Mäki Institute, Jyväskylä, Finland

Front. Psychol., 12 December 2018 |

Storytelling and the Construction of Realities

Paul Stoller

Etnofoor Vol. 30, No. 2, Race-ism (2018), pp. 107-112 

The Construction of Identity in the Narratives of Romance and Comedy

Kevin Murray 

Texts of Identity In J.Shotter & K.Gergen (eds.)  London: Sage (1988)

The Construction of Identity in the Narratives of Romance and Comedy

Actual Minds, Possible Worlds

By Jerome S. BRUNER

The Narrative Construction of Reality

Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner Life as a Narrative

Polarising narrative and paradigmatic ways of knowing: exploring the spaces through narrative, stories and reflections of personal transition


David Cleaver University of Southern Queensland

Possibilities for Action: Narrative Understanding

Donald Polkinghorne

Fielding Graduate University

Two Modes of Thought

Jerome Bruner

Narrating the Self


Barbara Czarniawska

Acts of meaning. 

Bruner, J. (1990). 

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Language learner stories and imagined identities

Margaret Early and Bonny Norton
Department of Language and Literacy Education, University of British Columbia

Narrative Rhetorics in Scenario Work: Sensemaking and Translation

Zhan Li
University of Southern California USA

Chapter 2
Self-making and world-making

Jerome Bruner

In Narrative and Identity

Studies in Autobiography, Self and Culture

Jens Brockmeier
University of Toronto & Freie Universität Berlin

Donal Carbaugh
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

John Benjamins Publishing Company

A Grammar of Motives

By Kenneth Burke

Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950–1955

By Kenneth Burke


Kenneth Burke

Click to access CaricatureofCourtshipKafkaCastleKennethBurke.pdf

A Calculus of Negation in Communication

Cybernetics & Human Knowing 24, 3–4 (2017), 17–27

Posted: 23 Jan 2018

Dirk Baecker

Witten/Herdecke University

Date Written: September 1, 2017

Working the Form: George Spencer-Brown and the Mark of Distinction*

Dirk Baecker

Universität Witten/Herdecke

Shape of things to come: From the ‘laws of form’ to management in the post-growth economy

André Reichel volume 17(1): 89-118

Click to access 17-1reichel.pdf

Systems, Network, and Culture

Dirk Baecker Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen, Germany

Presented at the International Symposium “Relational Sociology: Transatlantic Impulses for the Social Sciences”, Berlin, September 25-26, 2008

Click to access baecker2.pdf

Organisations as distinction generating and processing systems: Niklas Luhmann’s contribution to organisation studies

David Seidl and Kai Helge Becker


Niklas Luhmann
TRANSLATED BY John Bednarz, Jr., with Dirk Baecker FOREWORD BY Eva M. Knodt

Introduction to Systems Theory

Niklas Luhmann

Click to access Niklas_Luhmann_Introduction_to_System_Theory.pdf

Mysteries of cognition. Review of neocybernetics and narrative by bruce clarke.

Baecker D. (2015)

Constructivist Foundations 10(2): 261–263.

The Communication of Meaning in Anticipatory Systems: A Simulation Study of the Dynamics of Intentionality in Social Interactions

Loet Leydesdorff

In: Daniel M. Dubois (Ed.) Proceedings of the 8th Intern. Conf. on Computing Anticipatory Systems CASYS’07, Liège, Belgium, 6-11 August 2007. Melville, NY: American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings, Vol. 1051 (2008) pp. 33-49.

Why Systems?

Dirk Baecker

Universität Witten/Herdecke

Theory Culture & Society 18 (2001), pp. 59-74


In collaboration with the Liverpool University
and the Laws of Form 50th Anniversary Conference.
Alphabetum III
September 28 — December 31, 2019 West Den Haag, The Netherlands

Click to access Alphabetum_III_V8_ONLINE.pdf

Systems in Context
On the outcome of the Habermas/Luhmann

Poul Kjaer

Niklas Luhmann and Organization Studies

Edited by
David Seidl and Kai Helge Becker

Click to access 9788763003049.pdf

A Note on Max Weber’s Unfinished Theory of Economy and Society

Dirk Baecker
Witten/Herdecke University, Germany

The fractal geometry of Luhmann’s sociological theory or debugging systems theory

José Javier Blanco Rivero

CONICET/Centro de Historia Intelectual, National University of Quilmes, Roque Sáenz Peña 352, Bernal, Argentina

Technological Forecasting & Social Change 146 (2019) 31–40

Diamond Calculus of Formation of Forms

A calculus of dynamic complexions of distinctions as an interplay of worlds and distinctions

Archive-Number / Categories 3_01 / K06, K03
Publication Date 2011

Rudolf Kaehr (1942-2016)

Click to access rk_Diamond-Calculus-of-Formation-of-Forms_2011.pdf


Niklas Luhmann


Snakes all the Way Down: Varela’s Calculus for Self-Reference and the Praxis of Paradise

André Reichel*

European Center for Sustainability Research, Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen, Germany

Systems Research and Behavioral Science Syst. Res. (2011)
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( DOI: 10.1002/sres.1105

Who Conceives of Society?

Ernst von Glasersfeld

University of Massachusetts

Constructivist Foundations 2008, vol. 3, no. 2

Click to access glasersfeld.pdf

Dramaturgy (sociology)


Beyond Bourdieu:
The Interactionist Foundations of Media Practice Theory

PETER LUNT University of Leicester, UK

International Journal of Communication 14(2020), 2946–2963

Drama as Life: The Significance of Goffman’s Changing Use of the Theatrical Metaphor

Phil Manning

Sociological Theory Vol. 9, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 70-86 (17 pages) 

Published By: American Sociological Association


Simon Susen

In: H. F. Dahms & E. R. Lybeck (Eds.), Reconstructing Social Theory, History and Practice. Current Perspectives in Social Theory. (pp. 111-143). Bingley, UK: Emerald. ISBN 9781786354709

Mainstreaming Relational Sociology – Relational Analysis of Culture in Digithum

P. Baert. Published 2016

The Foundations of the Social: Between Critical Theory and Reflexive Sociology

S. Susen. Published 2007

Language, self, and social order: A reformulation of Goffman and Sacks

A. RawlsPublished 1989SociologyHuman Studies

The Interaction Order: American Sociological Association, 1982 Presidential Address

Author(s): Erving Goffman

Reviewed work(s):
Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb., 1983), pp. 1-17 Published by: American Sociological Association
Stable URL: .

Face and interaction

Michael Haugh

(2009): In Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini and Michael Haugh (eds.), Face, Communication and Social Interaction, Equinox, London, pp.1-30.

Public and private faces in web spaces – How Goffman’s work can be used to think about purchasing medicine online. 

Lisa Sugiura

Organizational Analysis: Goffman and Dramaturgy  

Peter K. Manning

The Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organization Studies: Contemporary Currents

Edited by Paul Adler, Paul du Gay, Glenn Morgan, and Mike Reed

Print Publication Date: Oct 2014

Complete bibliography: Erving Goffman ́s writings

Persson, Anders


Click to access s7769.pdf

A review of Jerome Bruner’s educational theory:

Its implications for studies in teaching and learning and active learning (secondary publication)


Faculty of Economics Nagoya Gakuin University

Click to access syakai_vol5401_11.pdf

The Use of Stories in Moral Development: New Psychological Reasons for an Old Education Method

DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.45.6.709

Narrative Understanding and Understanding Narrative

Sarah E. Worth

Contemporary Aesthetics (Journal Archive): Vol. 2 , Article 9.
Available at:

Luminosity and Chromaticity: On Light and Color

Luminosity and Chromaticity: On Light and Color

Key Terms and Ideas

  • Luminosity and Chromaticity
  • Light and Color
  • Diwali (Festival of Light) and Holi (Festival of Colors)
  • Rama and Krishna
  • Non Dual Vedanta and Trika Philosophy
  • 1 and 3
  • Verticalism and Horizontalism
  • Vedic and Tantric
  • Flute of Krishna and Shiva Jyotir Linga
  • Bow and Arrow of Ram
  • Ram Parivar and Shiv Parivar
  • Shiv Ratri
  • Plato and Aristotle
  • Sun, Moon, Earth and Mars
  • Rods and Cones in Retina
  • Color Temperature
  • Lok and Kosh
  • Seven Chakra
  • Trishool
  • Ram, Lakshman, Sita, Hanuman
  • Achromatic and Chromatic
  • Grey scale and Color Primaries
  • Mind and Moon
  • Moon and Emotions
  • Tone Circle
  • Color Circle
  • Pythagoras
  • 3 and 7
  • 137
  • 007
  • Prism
  • Seven Colors
  • 4 + 3 = 7
  • 4 x 3 = 12
  • Pentatonic
  • Heptatonic
  • Diatonic Scale
  • Chromatic Scale

Newton’s Color Circle


Color Circle in Opticks of I.Newton

Source: Reprint of Opticks by Project Gutenberg

Color Sensation

Source: Understanding color & the in-camera image processing pipeline for computer vision

Electromagnetic Spectrum

Source: Notes for the course of Color Digital Image Processing

Color Temperature

Source: Understanding color & the in-camera image processing pipeline for computer vision

Color Temperatures of the Stars

Luminosity Function

Source: Understanding color & the in-camera image processing pipeline for computer vision

CIE 1931 XYZ

Source: Understanding color & the in-camera image processing pipeline for computer vision


Source: Human Vision and Color

Brightness, Lightness,Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity

Source: The Brightness of Colour

Brightness has been defined as the perceived intensity of a visual stimulus, irrespective of its source. Lightness, on the other hand, is defined as the apparent brightness of an object relative to the object’s reflectance. Thus increasing the intensity of light falling on an object will increase its apparent brightness but not necessarily its apparent lightness, other things being equal [1]. Saturation is a measure of the spectral ‘‘purity’’ of a colour, and thus how different it is from a neutral, achromatic stimulus. Hue is the perception of how similar a stimulus is to red, green, blue etc. Luminous efficiency, or luminosity, measures the effect that light of different wavelengths has on the human visual system. It is a function of wavelength, usually written as V(l) [2], and is typically measured by rapidly alternating a pair of stimuli falling on the same area of the retina; the subject alters the physical radiance of one stimulus until the apparent flickering is minimised. Thus luminance is a measure of the intensity of a stimulus given the sensitivity of the human visual system, and so is integrated over wavelength [3]. Luminance is thought to be used by the brain to process motion, form and texture [4].

Clearly, brightness is monotonically related to luminance in the simplest case: the more luminant the stimulus is, the brighter it appears to be. However, the Helmholtz-Kohlrausch (HK) effect shows that the brightness of a stimulus is not a simple representation of luminance, since the brightness of equally luminant stimuli changes with their relative saturation (i.e. strongly coloured stimuli appear brighter than grey stimuli), and with shifts in the spectral distribution of the stimulus (e.g. ‘blues’ and ‘reds’ appear brighter than ‘greens’ and ‘yellows’ at equiluminance) [1; 5–6].

The HK effect has been measured in a variety of psychophysical studies [7–8] and is often expressed in terms of the (variable) ratio between brightness and luminance. 


Source: Human Vision and Color

Human Eye

Source: Human Vision and Color

Human Retina

Source: Human Vision and Color

Rods and Cones Photoreceptors

Source: Human Vision and Color

Color Receptors

Source: Human Vision and Color

Tristimulus Color

Source: Color/CMU

Visual Sensitivity

Source: Human Vision

Light and Color (Photometry and Colorimetry) I

Source: Interactive Computer Graphics/UOMichigan

Light and Color (Photometry and Colorimetry) II

Source: Interactive Computer Graphics/UOMichigan

Two Types of Light Sensitive Cells

Source: Interactive Computer Graphics/UOMichigan

Cones and Rod Sensitivity

Source: Interactive Computer Graphics/UOMichigan

Distribution of Cones in Retina


Types of Color Stimuli

Source: Perceiving Color.

Color Perception

Source: Perceiving Color.


Source: Human Vision and Color

Luminance and Chromaticity Space

Source: Understanding color & the in-camera image processing pipeline for computer vision

1931 CIE Chromaticity Chart

CIE 1931 Chromaticity Diagram

Source: Human Vision and Color

Source: Notes for the course of Color Digital Image Processing

Additive Colors

Source: Human Vision and Color

Subtractive Colors

Source: Human Vision and Color

Color Mixing

Source: Human Vision and Color

Color Appearance Models
  • RGB
  • CMY
  • CIE xyY
  • Hunter LAB
  • HSB
  • HSV
  • HSL
  • HSI
  • YIQ for NTSC TVs in USA
  • YUV for PAL TVs in EU
  • YCbCr for digital TVs
  • Munsell Color System

Color Models are device independent. For discussion of device dependent color spaces, please see my post Digital Color and Imaging.

LMS, RGB, and CIE XYZ Color Spaces

Source: Color/CMU

HSV Color Space

My Related Posts

Reflective Display Technology: Using Pigments and Structural Colors

Color Science and Technology in LCD and LED Displays

Color Science of Gem Stones

Nature’s Fantastical Palette: Color From Structure

Optics of Metallic and Pearlescent Colors

Color Change: In Biology and Smart Pigments Technology

Color and Imaging in Digital Video and Cinema

Digital Color and Imaging

On Luminescence: Fluorescence, Phosphorescence, and Bioluminescence

On Light, Vision, Appearance, Color and Imaging

Understanding Rasa: Yoga of Nine Emotions

Shapes and Patterns in Nature

Key Sources of Research

What Are The Characteristics Of Color?

Birren Color Theory

by ADMIN on MARCH 11, 2012

Light, Color, Perception, and Color Space Theory

Professor Brian A. Barsky

Computer Science Division
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences University of California, Berkeley

Understanding Color Spaces and Color Space Conversion

The Human Visual System and Color Models

Click to access Carmody_Visual&ColorModels.pdf

Defining and Communicating Color: The CIELAB System

Color Vision and Arts



A short history of color theory

Let’s Colormath

Understanding the formulas of color conversion

A History of Human Color Vision—from Newton to Maxwell

Barry R. Masters

Optics and Photonics January 2011—from_newton_to_max/

The Difference Between Chroma and Saturation

Munsell Color

Charles S. Peirce’s Phenomenology: Analysis and Consciousness

By Richard Kenneth Atkins

The Evolution of Human Color Vision/ Jeremy Nathans

Jeremy Nathans Lecture on Color Vision




The Genes for Color Vision

Jeremy Nathans


A Short History of Color Photography

Photography  |  Angie Kordic

Blue: The History of a Color (2001)

followed by Black: The History of a Color (2009) and then Green: The History of a Color (2014), all produced by the same publisher. A fifth, devoted to yellow, should come next. 

Historic Look on Color Theory 

Steele R. Stokley

The evolution of colour in design from the 1950s to today

Francesca Valan

Journal of the International Colour Association (2012): 8, 55-60

Greek Color Theory and the Four Elements

J.L. Benson

University of Massachusetts Amherst


History of Color System

The Origins of Modern Color Science

J D Mollon

Click to access MollonColorScience.pdf

The History of Colors

Tobias Kiefer

Click to access Assignment_History_of_Colors.PDF

Notes for the course of Color Digital Image Processing

Edoardo Provenzi

Understanding color & the in-camera image processing pipeline for computer vision

Dr. Michael S. Brown

Canada Research Chair Professor York University – Toronto

ICCV 2019 Tutorial – Seoul, Korea

Chapter 2
Basic Color Theory

Click to access t3.pdf

Color Science

CS 4620 Lecture 26

Click to access 26color.pdf

Color Image Perception, Representation and Contrast Enhancement

Yao Wang
Tandon School of Engineering, New York University


Arne Valberg, Bjørg Helene Andorsen, Kine Angelo, Barbara Szybinska Matusiak and Claudia Moscoso

Norwegian University of Science and Technology Trondheim, Norway

A Primer to Colors in Digital Design

Archit Jha

Jul 16, 2017


Click to access 07_additive-color.pdf


Matthias Zwicker Universität Bern Herbst 2016


Click to access ColorPerception.pdf

Introduction to Computer Vision

The Perception of Color

In: Webvision: The Organization of the Retina and Visual System [Internet]. Salt Lake City (UT): University of Utah Health Sciences Center; 1995–.2005 May 1 [updated 2007 Jul 9]

Visual Pigment Gene Structure and Expression in Human Retinae 

Tomohiko Yamaguchi,  Arno G. Motulsky,  Samir S. Deeb

Human Molecular Genetics, Volume 6, Issue 7, July 1997, Pages 981–990,

The Difference Between Chroma and Saturation


Number by Colors

A Guide to Using Color to Understand Technical Data
  • Brand Fortner
  • Theodore E. Meyer

Chapter 5 Perceiving Color

The Practical Guide To Color Theory For Photographers

History of the Bauhaus

The Digital Artist’s Complete Guide To Mastering Color Theory

byLeigh G


Anthony Holdsworth

Molecular Genetics of Color Vision and Color Vision Defects

Maureen Neitz, PhDJay Neitz, PhD

Arch Ophthalmol. 2000;118(5):691-700. doi:10.1001/archopht.118.5.691

Color Theory: Introduction to Color Theory and the Color Wheel

Color Spaces and Color Temperature

The Brightness of Colour

David Corney1, John-Dylan Haynes2, Geraint Rees3,4, R. Beau Lotto1*

EECS 487: Interactive Computer Graphics



Basics of Color Theory



Color Matching and Color Discrimination

The Science of Color


1.3 Color Temperature

Color Spaces and Color Temperature

Digital Camera Sensor Colorimetry

Douglas A. Kerr

Click to access Sensor_Colorimetry.pdf

Chromatic luminance, colorimetric purity, and optimal aperture‐color stimuli

DOI: 10.1002/col.20356

Title: A Review of RGB Color Spaces …from xyY to R’G’B’

The CIE XYZ and xyY Color Spaces

Douglas A. Kerr

Click to access CIE_XYZ.pdf


Wallace B. Thoreson and Dennis M. Dacey

Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Truhlsen Eye Institute, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska; and Department of Biological Structure, Washington National Primate Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Physiol Rev 99: 1527–1573, 2019 Published May 29, 2019; doi:10.1152/physrev.00027.2018

Human Vision

Introduction to color theory


Human Vision and Color


Click to access 121.pdf


Andrew Stockman

Department of Visual Neuroscience UCL Institute of Opthalmology London, United KIngdom

David H. Brainard

Department of Psychology University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



Click to access lecture15.pdf

What Are The Characteristics Of Color?


A Guide to Color

Guide C-316
Revised by Jennah McKinley

A History of Color

The Evolution of Theories of Lights and Color
  • Robert A. Crone

The Brilliant History of Color in Art

Victoria Finlay

A History of Light and Colour Measurement
Science in the Shadows

Sean F Johnston

University of Glasgow, Crichton Campus, UK

Color codes: modern theories of color in philosophy, painting and architecture, literature, music and psychology

Charles Riley

Chapter 6 Colour

History of Color Systems

Aesthetics and Ethics

Aesthetics and Ethics

  • Aesthetics and Ethics are interdependent on each other
  • Steps to an Ecology of mind

Why do good? Why be moral?

  • Do good because its a good value for a virtuous person
  • Do good out of compassion and love for others
  • Do good because it is good for one’s self
  • Do good because world outside is none other than yourself. (Vedantic Perspective)


  • of Design
  • of Arts
  • of Performance Arts
  • of Rituals
  • of Traditions
  • of Narrative Arts
  • of Culture
  • of Architecture
  • of Actions
  • of Thoughts
  • of Senses
  • of Emotions
  • of Values
  • of Experience

Key Terms

  • Virtues
  • Values
  • Aesthetics
  • Arts
  • Morals
  • Ethics
  • Good ness
  • Art and Morals
  • Aesthetics and Ethics
  • Beauty and Goodness
  • Ist person and 2nd Person
  • Integral Theory
  • Ken Wilber
  • Self, Culture, Nature
  • I, We, It/Its
  • Immanual Kant
  • Wittgenstein
  • Sameness and Otherness
  • Difference
  • Boundaries and Networks
  • Hierarchy and Networks
  • Plato and Aristotle
  • Action Learning
  • Reflexive Action
  • Social Ethics
  • Communities of Goodness
  • Environmental Ethics
  • Inter-objectivity
  • Inter-subjectivity
  • Subject and Object
  • Phenomenology and Hermenutics
  • Virtue Ethics
  • Development and Relations
  • Internal vs External
  • Individual vs Collective
  • Culture, Society, and Ethics
  • Narrative Arts
  • Intentions and Actions
  • Sewa and Service
  • Altruism
  • Philosophy of Arts
  • Aesthetics of living culture
  • Traditions, Rituals, and Culture
  • Classical Education
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Dance, Music and Performance Arts
  • Universals
  • Transcendentals
  • Ethnomethodology
  • Nondual Vedanta (Advait Vedanta)
  • Steps to an Ecology of Mind
  • Value Theory
  • Virtue Theory
  • Art Criticism
  • Taste, Style, Manners
  • Relational
  • Aesthetics and Relatedness
  • Consciousness
  • Nondual Awareness
  • Interconnectedness

Ethics as Aesthetics: Foucault’S Critique of Moralization of Ethics

This study found a new idea of ethics to bridge the gap between morality and aesthetics. This new idea is called aesthetics morality. This study concluded as follows: 1) ethics as morality is in the form of teleology, deontology and virtue ethics; 2) ethics is a synthesis of aesthetics and morality; and 3) ethics is aesthetics in the form of care of the self. 

Ethics as Style:
Wittgenstein’s Aesthetic Ethics and Ethical Aesthetics

An inquiry into Wittgenstein’s ethics and aesthetics has to start with the following questions: Can an aesthetics and/or ethics be extracted from his philosophical texts at all? If yes, what kind of aesthetics and/or ethics does Wittgenstein offer beyond his well-known aphoristic comments on the subject? Finally, how can we understand the meaning of his claim that ‘‘ethics and aesthetics are one’’? This article responds to the above questions by presenting an account of Wittgenstein’s ethical aesthetics and aesthetic ethics, elucidating both through the prism of his notion of style as ‘‘general necessity seen sub specie eterni.’’ It explains how logical necessity implodes within the limits of propositional language to open onto the realm of style, within which ethical necessity is to be understood in terms of aesthetic life-form and aesthetic expression is to be understood in terms of ethical enactment.

Es ist klar, daß sich die Ethik nicht aussprechen läßt. Die Ethik ist transzendental.
(Ethik und Ästhetik sind Eins.)

[It is clear that ethics cannot be expressed. Ethics is transcendental.
(Ethics and aesthetics are one.)]
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection

This book brings together a number of new essays in an area of growing concern, namely the intersection or overlap of aesthetics and ethics. Recent developments aside, for the past thirty years or so in Anglo-American philosophy, aesthetics and ethics have been pursued in relative isolation, with aesthetics being generally regarded as the poorer, if flashier, cousin. The attention aestheticians have recently given to moral aspects of art and art criticism, and that ethicists have recently paid to aesthetic aspects of moral life and moral evaluation, give hope of ending this rather artificial isolation, though without necessarily forcing us to accede in Wittgenstein’s gnomic dictum that “ethics and aesthetics are one.”

The intersection of aesthetics and ethics can be understood to comprise three spheres of inquiry. The first is that of problems or presuppositions common to aesthetics and ethics, the two traditional branches of value theory. The second is that of ethical issues in aesthetics, or in the practice of art. And the third sphere is that of aesthetic issues in ethics, theoretical and applied.

As it turns out, the concerns of the present collection do not span the full intersection of aesthetics and ethics as just explained. For reasons of both unity and manageability, the decision was made to foreground aesthetics in the present venture. The result is that the essays fall under the first and second, but not the third ways of understanding the intersection of the two fields.

2 – Three versions of objectivity: aesthetic, moral, and scientific

How does the objective validity of aesthetic judgments compare with the objective validity of moral judgments and scientific beliefs? There are two traditional answers. According to one, aesthetic and moral appraisals both utterly lack the cognitive authority of scientific inquiry, since neither kind of appraiser has access to a fact independent of her own judgments and neither is in a position to claim that all who are adequately qualified would share her judgment. For example, emotivists deprive both aesthetic and moral judgments of both kinds of objectivity. According to the other tradition, well-formed aesthetic and moral judgments have the same cognitive authority as wellformed scientific beliefs, because in all three realms the judgment maker is often in a position to assert a truth independent of her judgments, in a claim to which all adequately qualified inquirers would assent. For example, Kant puts the three realms on a par in both ways.

Each of these traditions has distinctive liabilities, which jointly suggest the need to explore a third alternative. The debunking tradition, depriving both aesthetic and moral judgments of all the authority of science, is hard to reconcile with the pervasive aspirations to truth and interests in impersonal argument of apparently rational people engaged in moral and aesthetic judgment. On the other hand, the claims to universality in the elevating tradition often seem wishful thinking.

Elsewhere, I have defended a view of morality and science that rejects the association in both traditions of rational access to appraiser-independent truth with epistemic universality.

5 – Art, narrative, and moral understanding

With much art, we are naturally inclined to speak of it in moral terms. Especially when considering things like novels, short stories, epic poems, plays, and movies, we seem to fall effortlessly into talking about them in terms of ethical significance – in terms of whether or which characters are virtuous or vicious, and about whether the work itself is moral or immoral, and perhaps whether it is sexist or racist. Undoubtedly, poststructuralists will choke on my use of the phrase “naturally inclined,” just because they do not believe that humans are naturally inclined toward anything. But that general premise is as needlessly strong a presupposition as it is patently false. And, furthermore, I hope to show that my talk of natural inclinations is hardly misplaced here, for we are prone to respond to the types of works in question in the language of moral assessment exactly because of the kinds of things they are.

Moreover, we do not merely make moral assessments of artworks as a whole and characters in particular; it is also the case that these moral assessments are variable. That is, we find some artworks to be morally good, while some others are not; some are exemplary, while some others are vicious and perhaps even pernicious; and finally other works may not appear to call for either moral approbation or opprobrium. So, though we very frequently do advance moral assessments of artworks, it is important to stress that we have a gamut of possible evaluative judgments at our disposal: from the morally good to the bad to the ugly, to the morally indifferent and the irrelvant.

Problems at the Intersection of Aesthetics and Ethics

The Intersection of Aesthetics and Ethics

Ever since the publication of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, the concept of taste has been severed from its moral sense and reduced to a merely aesthetic one.1 Since then two trends have predominated in moral philosophy. The first is a rationalist view of ethics, which proposes the need to subsume particular actions under universal laws. Deontological and utilitarian theories both have this paradigm in common. The second is the refraction of this position, which marginalizes any discussion of moral feeling as a psychological question of emotivism or subjectivism.2 This trend of positivism dismisses feelings as mere emotive states, questions of psychology, subjective, and therefore not binding.

In order to recapture the aesthetic dimensions of moral experience, one needs a view of aesthetics that is not limited to reflections on the beautiful and sublime in nature or art and that is not reducible to an allegiance to taste and manners; and one needs a continuity principle that enables reflection on morality to be true to experience. Two process philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead and John Dewey, present a metaphysics of experience which enriches ethics by illustrating the aesthetic dimensions of moral experience. Where the traditions outlined above view reason as the pivotal faculty in navigating the moral landscape, process philosophy emphasizes the aesthetic categories of feeling and imagination as operative in moral experience.

Those skeptical of “aestheticizing morality” often invoke the show-stopping reference to the Nazi Regime, one which consciously and politically recruited aesthetic ideals toward the crystallization of immorality.3 This is the Reductio ad Hitlerum to which the title refers. Fascism and Nazism in particular habituated a marriage between politics and aesthetics, and took up the goal of making politics a triumphant and beautiful spectacle.4 Art, music, and aesthetic symbols were recruited as instruments toward fulfilling this goal.5 Nazi Germany held “countless historical pageants, Volk festivals, military parades, propaganda films, art exhibitions and [erected] grandiose buildings”6 in order to exemplify “the fascist desire to invent mythic imperial pasts and futures,”7 while stirring the passions of the people for its war efforts. The Nazis denounced any allegiance to liberal political texts such as the Versailles Treaty “in favor of decisive political action based on fatal aesthetic criteria — beautiful vs. ugly, healthy vs. degenerate, German vs. Jew.”8 It is warranted to invoke this as the problem for those who “aestheticize” morality. The Nazi problematic, illustrated by an analysis of two films surrounding the immorality of the Nazi Regime, James Ivory’s The Remains of the Day (1993) and István Szabó’s Taking Sides (2001) illuminates the limitations and failures of the tendency to “aestheticize” morality. These films help show the nuances that reside at this tense intersection between aesthetics and ethics. However, tension between aesthetics and ethics, as depicted by the two films, dissolves once one’s understanding of aesthetics ceases to be reductive and narrow.

The aesthetic dimensions of moral experience in the philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead and John Dewey provide a basis for defining the continuity between ethics and aesthetics. For Whitehead, an aesthetic vision which builds on insights of his descriptive metaphysics enables us to see moral experience as aesthetic. For Dewey, the imagination works on the possibilities at hand in order to resolve morally problematic situations, and the grist for the imagination’s mill is experiential, perceptual, and aesthetic, not merely rational or conceptual. Thus, the broad use of aesthetics advocated herein enables us to draw moral distinctions in the face of Nazi atrocities instead of blindly serving the ideal of artistic creation. Nor does it reduce aesthetics to a fetish for manners. Rather, as including imagination, perception, taste, and emotion, an aesthetic orientation to ethics can encompass the limits posed by these films, and it can morally condemn the Nazi Regime and avoid the Hitler-reductio.

A.N. Whitehead at the Intersection

A sketch of Whitehead’s metaphysics is necessary in order to show how the foundations for moral action may be subsumed under the category of aesthetic experience. According to Whitehead’s systematic metaphysics, the world is a process of becoming. It is ultimately composed of self-creating “actual occasions.”9 The act of self-creation is the “concrescence” of an actual entity, “the final real things of which the world is made up.”10 Thus an “entity” describes an occasion or event in the mode of concrescense, the act of an occasion having prehended its environment. Events create themselves by virtue of their interdependence. The mode of relation each entity has toward others and toward its possibilities in general is “feeling.” “Prehensions” are the feelings which each entity has of its environment, which includes the entire universe, as each entity pulsates and vibrates throughout the cosmos in its process of self-creation.11 Since Whitehead holds that relations are more fundamental than substance, these prehensions constitute the actual entity. Where in traditional metaphysics, substance is primary and the relations among substances are described as secondary attributes, in Whitehead’s description entities are internally related, constituted by their relations. In this process metaphysics, relations are not secondary but primary in that they constitute the entities. When an actual entity prehends its environment, the entity constitutes itself and makes itself what it is.12Each entity serves as the subject of its own becoming and the “superject” of others, imparting itself to other entities in their becoming.13 Actual entities, in process metaphysics, are events, occasions in time, and always situated in a complex, interdependent environment of other entities. Thus, Whitehead’s speculative metaphysics is relational, not atomistic.

This speculative picture of reality lends itself to reflections on moral experience, including an account of Whitehead’s theory of value. In Process and Reality, Whitehead’s theory of value uses strong aesthetic language. He describes intensity of experience as “strength of beauty”: the degree of feeling in an occasion’s prehension of its environment. 14 Further, as John Cobb notes, “The chief ingredients [to beautiful experience] are emotional.”15 The actual entity prehends its environment, feeling its aesthetic surrounding in a chiefly emotional comportment. Because the locus of value is the intensity and harmony of an experience and the emotional sphere contributes chiefly to beautiful experience, emotion need not be corralled by reason, but channeled toward the achievement of beauty. Further, Whitehead shows that philosophers who treat feelings as merely private are mistakenly taking a phase of concrescence to be the whole of experience. For Whitehead, “there is no element in the universe capable of pure privacy.”16 The impossibility of pure privacy undermines the conceptual option of positivists and others who atomize and privatize feeling in order to dismiss its role in moral experiences as subjectivism or emotivism, both of which result in relativism.

Moral experience and aesthetic experience work dialectically: “The function of morality is to promote beauty in experience,”17 but emotions inform morality by adding to the value of experience. Sensation and emotion are not passively received, private reifications; instead, they seamlessly compose the environment we inhabit. Cobb contends that “the purely aesthetic impulse and the moral one exist in a tension” and that “the good aimed at for others is an aesthetic good — the strength of beauty of their experience.”18

Whitehead writes:

In our own relatively high grade human existence, this doctrine of feelings and their subject is best illustrated by our notion of moral responsibility. The subject is responsible for being what it is in virtue of its feelings. It is also derivatively responsible for the consequences of its existence because they flow from its feelings.19

That our existence flows from our feelings reveals the foundation of moral action on aesthetic, αἰσθηματικός, “sensuous” experience. When Whitehead contends that our moral actions flow from our feelings, he places a primacy upon our emotional comportment. The main contribution we make to others is our spirit or attitude.20This spirit is a comportment and temperament, an angle of vision. If our vision is broad and seeks to contribute to the strength of beauty of others’ experience, it is continuous with moral experience. Moral vision is attitudinal and acting according to calculation, deliberation, and reason, while poor in spirit, is not moral action. Whitehead posits a theory of value where our goal is to realize a strength of beauty in our immediate occasions of action. Taking a calculating attitude towards future consequences endangers this goal.21 It is misleading to think that one can calculate rationally toward that best action.22 Rather, such moral rationalism can justify activity that we feel is inhumane, evil, ugly, unjust, and wrong. It can sever means from ends and justify that which our sentiments would impeach.

Whitehead’s speculative metaphysics, by using humanistic and aesthetic language, includes a description of moral experience. Occasions of activity become harmonious with their environment by acting in the service of beauty. Actions emanate from feelings, and right action is not the function of rational deliberation, but of whole-part relations, of fitting the variety of detail and contrast under the unity of an aesthetic concrescence. Whitehead’s is a seductive account of reality, but nowhere in it do we find something like evil. Those skeptical of such an aesthetic description of moral experience may ask, “Where is the Holocaust in this picture?” Thus, below a recourse to two films about Nazism, aesthetics, and morality enables the skeptic to reexamine the continuity between ethics and aesthetics and consider a broader, less reductive, understanding of aesthetics itself. Before addressing this question, another account of how process philosophy maintains continuity between ethics and aesthetics is in order.

John Dewey at the Intersection

In order to outline Dewey’s description of the aesthetic dimensions of moral experience, a cursory illustration of the continuity at work in his metaphysics of experience and theory of inquiry is in order. Dewey described the generic traits of human experience as both precarious and stable.23 Indeterminate situations produce the conditions of instability.24 Subjecting a precarious situation to inquiry constitutes it as problematic, enabling an agent to identify possible means of resolving the situations within the constituent features of the uniquely given situation. Our employment of imaginative intelligence directs our activity in an effort to resolve the situation by rearranging the conditions of indeterminacy toward settlement and unification.25

In a manner similar to Whitehead, Dewey refers to the creative integration of the entire complex situation with the term “value.”26 One constituent in the activity of unifying the problematic situation is the end-in-view, which functions as a specific action coordinating all other factors involved in the institution and resolution of the problem. The value is the integration and unification of the situation. When the end-in-view functions successfully toward the integration of the situation, the resultant unification is a “consummatory phase of experience.”27 Dewey wrote, “Values are naturalistically interpreted as intrinsic qualities of events in their consummatory reference.”28 Their naturalistic interpretation renders the experience of value and the process of valuation continuous with other natural processes. That is, the ends-in-view, whether or not these are moral ideals, do not exist antecedent to inquiry into the complex, historical, and uniquely given situation, as the rationalists would have it. The general traits of moral experience are found within aesthetic experience — dispelling the need dichotomize experience into the cognitive and the emotional — because values are qualities of events.

The ability to examine the aesthetic dimensions of moral experience depends on the way Dewey defines an aesthetically unified and integrated experience as consummatory. The consummation refers to the experience of the unification of meaning of all of the phases of a complex experience.29 Thus, the aesthetic experience gives a holistic meaning to the precariousness of its parts. The value of an experience, including moral value, refers, as in Whitehead’s description, to whole-part relations and the unification of various elements therein.

Art is the skill of giving each phase its meaning in light of the whole. Art unifies each function of the experience, giving reflection, action, desire, and imagination an integrated relation both to each other and to the possibility of meaningful resolution.30 Thus, Dewey refuses to parcel out a separate faculty at work in isolation in any meaningful experience, whether that is reason in cognition or emotion in sympathetic attention to a friend. The consummatory experience is one in which we employ imaginative intelligence in appropriating aesthetic, felt elements of experience above and beyond their immediacy and one in which the instability of their immediacy is seen imaginatively as a possibility toward its meaningful integration.31

Thus, artful conduct includes moral conduct, but in a way that both avoids the need to import ideals transcendent to our experience and gives moral ideals their reality in the meaning that ensues in the consequences of their enactment. The features of artful conduct inherent in moral behavior concern the ability to see possibilities in the elements of precariousness, “to see the actual in light of the possible.”32 Where the rationalist searches for a universal concept to justify a given, isolated action whose justification could be known but not felt, the moral imagination enables the agent to envision in her environment the constituent possibilities in order to reconstruct the situation.

Both Whitehead and Dewey treat moral experience as continuous with the aesthetic experience of intensity, meaning, unification, and harmony found in the consummatory phase of experience, or in Whitehead’s terms, in concrescence. Both treat vision and imagination, not calculative rationality, as operative in navigating morally problematic situations. The general trend running through these process philosophies that maintains continuity between ethics and aesthetics concerns whole-part relations. The individual in morally charged situations must harmonize her particular conduct to the whole of her environment broadly construed. She must imaginatively find the proper fit of her conduct with her greater cultural context. If she succeeds, she harmonizes her experience and the part coheres with the whole. Value, harmony, and stability ensue. Whitehead and Dewey describe our moral experience at a sufficient level of abstraction, one which could include the hosting of a dinner party or the conducting of an orchestra. Each part must cohere with the whole — harmony is the motivating ideal.

Much like Whitehead, Dewey gives us a processive account of reality which seems to cohere with personal experience; however, Dewey’s description of the pattern of inquiry has been accused of being so broad and vague that the Nazi resolution of the Jewish problem could be described according to it..33 The Germans under Hitler constituted their situation during the Great Depression as problematic. Their economy was in shambles, and their national pride was wounded. They found within their situation the constitutive elements, marginally-German, supposed conspirators and enemies of all sorts, to employ in resolving their situation. They achieved a sort of integration of their experience and a distorted sort of harmony in armament and invasion to reincorporate native Germans outside of their truncated borders. They consciously recruited aesthetic ideals and played on the national emotions of soil and blood. Thus, according to the Hitler-reductio, to condemn morally their actions with the language of Dewey or Whitehead is no easy task. The reductio causes moral philosophers to long for universality in any of its rationalist iterations.

The British Problem at the Intersection: The Remains of the Day

The philosophical depiction of aesthetic experience, of which moral dimensions compose a part, is problematic if individuals acting under aesthetic norms, guided by manners and in service of harmonizing part-whole relations, engage in outright immorality or shy away from moral duty in the face of evil. This is the “British” problem because to highlight it, we must attend to the British characters in The Remains of the Day. While much has been written on the film (and the Ishiguro novel upon which it is based), about the role of class and the symbolic nature of British imperial politics, the film also serves as an excellent test case for the continuity between aesthetics and ethics.34 The setting of The Remains of the Day, the aristocratic estate of Darlington Hall in rural England, announces an aesthetic emphasis on beauty and order which persists throughout the film. Most of the action in the film occurs in the pre-war 1930s, but the film flashes forward to the post-war 1950s to show “present” character interactions. The central characters are an emotionally-repressed butler, Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), his superior and owner of the estate in the 1930s, Lord Darlington (James Fox), and his fellow caretaker of the estate, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). The problematic relationship between aesthetic orientation and morality comes into view by focusing on Lord Darlington’s demeanor throughout the events of the 1930s, and Mr. Stevens’s comportment to the politically and morally problematic events that unfold at Darlington Hall.

Lord Darlington had a friend in Germany against whom he fought in the First World War, with whom he intended to sit down and have a drink after the war. But this never happened, as the German friend, ruined by the inflation that ensued in the post-Versailles Weimar Republic, took his own life. Lord Darlington exclaims to Mr. Stevens, “The Versailles Treaty made a liar out of me.” Darlington laments that the conditions of the treaty, (debt reparations, guilt clause) were too harsh: “Not how you treat a defeated foe,” as Darlington puts it. With this as his proximate motivation, Lord Darlington uses his influence to broker the policy of appeasementtoward Nazi Germany. It appears that Lord Darlington puts manners before moral duty. He hosts the delegates from Germany, France, and the United States at his home, and they dine dressed in black tie, served by the army of under-butlers commanded by Mr. Stevens.

One is tempted to view Lord Darlington’s behavior as kind, if not for other telling incidents. He temporarily agrees to employ two Jewish refugees at his estate, and it is made clear to the viewer that he understands the dangers they faced in Germany and that his home is serving as a sanctuary. However, after reading the work of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Lord Darlington orders that two German, Jewish maids should be discharged, as he considers their employment inappropriate for his German guests. Mr. Stevens carries out the order without reflection, while Miss Kenton threatens to resign in protest, but fails to follow through out of self-admitted weakness.35 Thus, Darlington knew of the Nazi policies in Germany, understood the potential plight of the maids, but fired them anyway in service of behavior “appropriate” for his German guests.

Darlington’s elevation of manners above duty reappears as he cannot even tell his godson (Hugh Grant), whose father has died and who is soon to be married, about the birds and the bees. He asks Mr. Stevens, his butler, to do it for him. Darlington seems unwilling to confront the issue of sexuality as it offends his Victorian manners and sensibilities. Thus, manners, while they can be seen as the outward display of inner character, here get in the way of the more difficult, unmannerly, and inappropriate conduct commanded in the face of negotiation with the Germans, the employment of the Jewish maids, and the acceptance of surrogate fatherly duties.

Mr. Stevens’s motivations are more opaque to the audience. He is so univocally driven to serve and fulfill his duty to Lord Darlington, that he almost fails to portray any moral subjectivity.36 But as the head butler, his service is also for the aesthetic ideals of orderliness and cleanliness. The prospect of a dustpan being left on the landing frightens him, such that he rushes to retrieve it before his employer notices his shortcoming. Mr. Stevens’s single-minded focus is best displayed when his own father, also an employee, is dying. Stevens attends to the dinner of the foreign delegates without pain or pause, while his own father lies on his death bed. His relationship with Miss Kenton, central to the development of his character, reveals his coldness, emotional repression, and narrowly driven service toward aesthetic ends. Miss Kenton first extends kindness to Mr. Stevens by putting flowers in his office, but he asks that they be removed so as not to distract him. She falls in love with Mr. Stevens and ends up in tears when she tries to break through his emotional wall and communicate her love to him. But he ignores her and asks to be excused to attend to his duties. Before her eventual departure and engagement to another man, she insults Stevens out of manifest distress that he has never expressed any emotional interest in her, but he still remains unmoved. After his reunion with her in the 1950s, Stevens departs for Darlington Hall in a deluge of rain. Kenton cries, but Stevens, still fails to demonstrate any feeling and only raises his hat out of politeness. While Stevens’s class-based subordination could explain his failure to fulfill his duty to his father, his coldness to Miss Kenton illustrates that he was a cold rationalist in service of aesthetics — thinly defined aesthetics.

Reflecting on Mr. Stevens’s relationship to Miss Kenton reveals two sides of the problem at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics. First, because he serves only the aesthetic ideals of order, beauty, and cleanliness, he does a disservice to the human and intersubjective dimensions of moral experience. He is polite but inattentive and stoic in the face of obvious human suffering, from the firing of the Jewish maids, to the death of his father, to the jilted and regretful Miss Kenton. Does this pose a problem for the continuity between aesthetics and ethics? Stevens serves beauty at the cost of moral duty but also interpersonal sympathy. Since an emotional angle of vision is the necessary condition for attending to moral circumstances, his aesthetic orientation is too narrow. While he has an aesthetic ideal as his motive, he has a rational methodology to achieve it. He acts in each situation as if subsuming his particular action under the universal conceptual criteria of serving beauty and order. He does not allow his actions to flow from his feelings as Whitehead would prescribe. His contribution to others is his spirit, but this is a cold, deliberate, and rational spirit. Thus, with Mr. Stevens as a test case, a conception of aesthetic experience needs to be broad enough to include emotional comportment. Failing to do so through operating in service of a narrow ideal of beauty reveals an impoverished sense of aesthetics which results in immorality.

American Congressman, Mr. Lewis (Christopher Reeve) of The Remains of the Dayserves as a pivot to the American problem at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics discussed at length below. Laughed at as nouveau riche by the British delegates, Lewis attends the conference with the intent of resisting the policy of appeasement. Because he fails to recruit the French delegate, Dupont d’Ivry (Michael Lonsdale), to his side (D’Ivry is busy attending to his sore feet), Mr. Lewis resorts to making an impolite toast at the black tie dinner. He argues in favor of the Realpolitik of professionals, rather than that of “honorable amateurs,” which is his epithet for the noblemen in his company and the Lord who is his host. In his toast “to the professionals” he embodies the moral high ground against the Nazis and the unmannerly and barefooted behavior of a stereotypical American on aristocratic soil; thus he hammers in the wedge that separates manners from morals. Apparently, Americans stand up for right against wrong even at the expense of politeness and pretty conduct. Lewis is a representative character for those skeptical of continuity between aesthetics and ethics. He knows that aesthetic ideals, when reducible to the appreciation of good taste and mannerly behavior, can dull moral distinctions. Yet he fails to unify the precariousness of his situation in a manner which Whitehead or Dewey describe.

The American Problem at the Intersection: Taking Sides

Taking Sides tells the story of Dr. Wilhelm Furtwängler, (Stellan Skarsgård), one of the most respected German conductors of the 20th century, who chose to remain in Germany during the Nazi regime. After Germany’s defeat, he fell victim to a ruthless investigation by the Allies. The major in charge of the investigation is a stereotypically uncultured American, Major Steven Arnold (Harvey Keitel), who works in the insurance business. Arnold tries to uncover how complicit Furtwängler was. Furtwängler was appointed to the Privy Council, he was Hitler’s favorite conductor, and Goebbels and Goering honored him. However, he never joined the Nazi party, he helped numerous Jews escape, and several witnesses testify that he tried to protect Jewish musicians under his direction.

The audience is left to judge Furtwängler morally. On the one hand, Arnold has the moral high ground. The Nazis perpetrated the Holocaust, and the Allied victory ended it. Justice awaits the guilty. But Major Arnold is no Congressman Lewis, who has the outward appearance of a British Peer but falls short of their mannerly conduct only by degree. Arnold is a bullying interrogator, somewhere between the caricature of an ugly American and a down-to-earth pragmatist who thinks musical genius is no excuse for collusion with Nazism, and he is willing to employ an overbearing rudeness to expose this. For Arnold, the question is all about strength of will, and he deems Furtwängler weak. However, Arnold seems to misunderstand most of Furtwängler’s replies to his questions, and at times, his interrogation seems like self-righteous taunting and badgering. The viewer is left wondering whether the distressed conductor or the clinched-fist interrogator is acting more like a Nazi.

In one telling exchange, Furtwängler claims that art has mystical powers, which nurture man’s spiritual needs. He confesses to being extremely naïve. While having maintained the absolute separation of art and politics, he devoted his life to music because he thought through music he could do something practical: to maintain liberty, humanity, and justice. Arnold replies with sarcastic disdain, “Gee, that’s a thing of beauty. […] But you used the word “naïve.” Are you saying you were wrong in maintaining the separation of art and politics?”37 Furtwängler replies that he believed art and politics should be separated, but that they were not kept separate by the Nazis, and he learned this at his own cost. Furtwängler is in an obvious bind here. He cannot hold the following propositions together without internal contradiction: (1) Art has mystical power which nurture’s man’s spiritual needs; (2) Art and politics should be kept separate; (3) Art can maintain liberty, justice and humanity; (4) Art was not kept separate from politics during Nazi rule in Germany, and this was a bad thing. If art nurtures man’s spiritual needs, but art must be kept separate from politics, are man’s spiritual needs distinct from questions of community and well-functioning societies? Put otherwise, can music perform its practical function of maintaining justice, while being separate from politics? It would not seem so.

In what follows this interrogation, Arnold accuses Furtwängler of weakness, of selling out to the Nazis for ordinary petty reasons of fear, jealousy of other conductors, and selfishness. Arnold’s two subordinates are offended by his demeanor and his denigration of a national artistic genius and hero. His assistant eventually refuses to participate. She claims that Arnold is embodying the demeanor of the S.S., which she witnessed firsthand. But Arnold shows her a film of corpses being bulldozed into mass graves, and he tells her that Furtwängler’s friends did this, and by virtue of the fact that Furtwängler actually helped some Jews escape, he knew what they were doing.

The moment of supposed revelation for the viewers of the film comes by way of archival footage, in which Furtwängler is shown shaking hands with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels after a concert. Furtwängler’s face reveals the complexity of emotions at work — placidness, fear, and contempt. Furtwängler wipes his hand on his leg, revealing his disdain for his patron, but remains reserved and inoffensive. At once the viewer feels he is redeemed, because his true feelings for Goebbels and the Nazi project are revealed, but Furtwängler’s weakness is evident, as Arnold would have pointed out. Ultimately Furtwängler served the harmonious sensibility of artistic creation. Indeed, throughout the film the German admiration of him is severe, especially when contrasted to Arnold’s unimpressed frankness with him. The German temperament and faithfulness to aesthetic appreciation is manifest in a scene where the German audience stands in the rain, listening to Furtwängler conduct a symphony. To leave would offend, and service to the aesthetic ideals cannot give way to pragmatic considerations — how “American” that would be! One imagines Arnold thinking “what insensible dolt stands in the rain to listen to music?” Perhaps Congressman Lewis’s willingness to offend at the black tie dinner can be seen as a middle ground between Arnold’s bullying and Furtwängler’s and Darlington’s inverted values. However, this might only translate conduct into class, hiding the one true moral question beneath another layer of social convention. Arnold would insist that knowing where your salad fork belongs may not prevent you from colluding with murderers.

The Continuity between Ethics and Aesthetics

For both Whitehead and Dewey there are no universal moral situations. Our occasions of experience are always contextual and specific, never occurring in vacuous actuality. But this calls for a more general approach to descriptive ethics, not a more particularized prescription of universal moral laws. Both philosophers begin with a description of the general traits of experience and each uses highly aesthetic language. Each treats imagination and vision, not rationality, as operative in navigating morally problematic situations. Whitehead, by making feeling a metaphysical category, gives emotion a primary role; Dewey, in collapsing the gap between scientific, practical, and moral inquiries, gives imaginative intelligence primacy.

Neither of our two films presents the ideal character, with an emotional comportment and an intensity of experience able to serve as the causally efficacious and morally demanding superject in its environment. Nor do they offer a character of superior imaginative intelligence who finds and applies the elements of her problematic situation as means toward the valuable integration of meaning. This is not a surprise. England appeased the Nazis; the Holocaust occurred and so did the very limited prosecution of the guilty by the Allies afterwards. Furthermore, ugly, but welcomed, Americans plodded onto European soil either on the model of Major Arnold, at worst, or on that of Congressman Lewis at best. (He eventually buys Darlington Hall and retains Mr. Stevens as his butler, but he installs a ping-pong table there, of all aesthetic affronts). Does the “American” problem recur in summer retreats to European museums and cafes? Americans plod, loud and entitled, over the artistic feats of the Continent, and their European hosts translate aesthetic missteps into moral offense.

Where did each character fall short, and what did their shortcomings reveal about the intersection of aesthetics and ethics? Lord Darlington employed his servants to erect a mannerly and orderly veneer between him and that which is ugly. However, he can be viewed as a tragic figure because his mild manners and sensitivity to common cultural (and aesthetic in the narrow sense) values with the Germans were used against him. He ended in disgrace as the news of his involvement in the appeasement was publicized by the press. But his heightened sense of manners disabled him from confronting the soil of moral problems as he did not want to get dirty — (that’s what the servants are for). The head butler, Stevens, was not the emotionally comported or spontaneously active character tacitly advocated for by Whiteheadian ethics, but the coldly rational and deliberative agent serving a narrow aesthetic end. Miss Kenton and Furtwängler demonstrated a weakness of will in the face of wrong-doing, and for that they are condemned, not by an aesthetic measure, but by a pragmatic one. Their beliefs were their propensities to act, and their inability to act revealed a weak belief in their moral ideals.38 But the American characters are not morally pure. As the victors, the

tools they had at their disposal to resolve their situations were ready at hand, and they too were constituted by their prehensions of their environment. Denigrating an artistic genius does not show the service of a moral ideal, but only the privileged position of Major Arnold of judging Furtwängler’s weakness from outside his context.

These films do illustrate the tension at work at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics. While both films depict the limitations and failures of the tendency to “aestheticize” morality, they do not prove the need to import a falsely universal moral ideal antecedent to the experience of a particular problematic situation in order to judge right from wrong. Insofar as the tools needed to make these judgments are had in experience, they have been, accurately described by figures like Whitehead and Dewey, in aesthetic language. The Reductio ad Hitlerum only succeeds if the meaning of aesthetics is deflated and reduced to something much narrower than either Whitehead or Dewey intended, such as reflection on artistic creation. The broad use of aesthetics advocated here does not fail to draw moral distinctions in the face of Nazi atrocities while blindly serving the ideal of artistic beauty or mere manners. Rather, as including imagination and emotion, an aesthetic orientation to ethics encompasses the problems posed by the characters’ shortcomings, even if their moral shortcomings run parallel to their heightened aesthetic and misguided sensibilities.

  1. Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, (London: Continuum, 2006), 31. Nöel Carroll makes the further claim that because of Kant’s aesthetic theory and its interpretation, twentieth century philosophers have neglected the ethical criticism of art. (Noël Carroll, “Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research,” Ethics, Vol. 110, No. 2 (January 2000), pp 350). ↩︎
  2. Thomas Alexander, “John Dewey and the Moral Imagination: Beyond Putnam and Rorty toward a Postmodern Ethics,” Transactions of the Charles Sanders Peirce Society, Vol. XXIX, No. 3, (Summer 1993), 373. ↩︎
  3. For a complex examination of this problematic, see George Kateb, “Aestheticism and Morality: Their Cooperation and Hostility,” Political Theory, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 5-37. ↩︎
  4. See Noël Carroll, “Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research,” Ethics, Vol. 110, No. 2 (January 2000), pp. 350-387. Carroll highlights the problematic relationship between ethics and art criticism by examining the immorality and aesthetic value of The Triumph of the Will, among other artifacts. ↩︎
  5. Boaz Neumann, “The National Socialist Politics of Life,” New German Critique, No. 85, Special Issue on Intellectuals (Winter, 2002), p 120. ↩︎
  6. Paul Betts, “The New Fascination with Fascism: The Case of Nazi Modernism,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct., 2002), 546. ↩︎
  7. Betts, “The New Fascination with Fascism,” 547. ↩︎
  8. Betts, “The New Fascination with Fascism,” 547. ↩︎
  9. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, (London: The Free Press, 1978), 18. ↩︎
  10. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 18, 22. ↩︎
  11. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 19. ↩︎
  12. Harold B. Dunkel, “Creativity and Education,” Educational Theory, Volume XI, Number 4, (1961), 209. ↩︎
  13. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 29. ↩︎
  14. John B. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value,” Accessed 2/27/2015. ↩︎
  15. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  16. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 212. ↩︎
  17. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  18. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  19. Process and Reality, 222. ↩︎
  20. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  21. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  22. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  23. Dewey, Later Works Vol. 1, Ed. Boydston, (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1990) 42-45. ↩︎
  24. Dewey, Logic The Theory of InquiryLW 12: 110. ↩︎
  25. Dewey, LW 12: 121. ↩︎
  26. James Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value, (New York: Humanities Press, 1972), 132. ↩︎
  27. Dewey, LW 10: 143. ↩︎
  28. Dewey, LW 1: 9. ↩︎
  29. Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value, 150. ↩︎
  30. Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value, 151. ↩︎
  31. Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value, 152. ↩︎
  32. Alexander, “John Dewey and the Moral Imagination,” 384. ↩︎
  33. Richard Posner*, Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy*, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 45. Posner claims that pragmatism, via Darwinism, has nurtured philosophies including Nazism. ↩︎
  34. See, for example, Meera Tamaya, “Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day: The Empire Strikes Back,” Modern Language Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2 (spring, 1992), pp. 45-56. Tanaya focuses on the relationship between Darlington and Stevens as one of colonizer and colonized, subject and object. ↩︎
  35. See Geoffrey G. Field, Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981). ↩︎
  36. See McCombe, “The End of (Anthony) Eden: Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” and Midcentury Anglo-American Tensions,” 78. ↩︎
  37. See Page R. Laws, “Taking Sides by Ronald Harwood; India Ink by Tom Stoppard,” (review), Theatre Journal, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 107-108. Laws makes note of the fact that the Nazis used art in the service of politics. ↩︎
  38. Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers (1958-1966), Vol. 5, Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, eds., (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), 400. ↩︎


Alexander, Thomas. “John Dewey and the Moral Imagination: Beyond Putnam and Rorty toward a Postmodern Ethics.” Transactions of the Charles Sanders Peirce Society. Vol. XXIX. No. 3. (Summer 1993).

Betts, Paul. “The New Fascination with Fascism: The Case of Nazi Modernism.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 37. No. 4. (Oct., 2002).

Carroll, Noël. “Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research.” Ethics. Vol. 110, No. 2 (January 2000), pp. 350-387.

Cobb, John B. Jr. “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.”

Dewey, John. Later Works Vol. 1, Ed. Boydston, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1990.

Dewey, John. Later Works Vol. 10. Ed. Boydston, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1990.

Dewey, John. Later Works Vol. 12. Ed. Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1990.

Dunkel, Harold B. “Creativity and Education,” Educational Theory. Vol. XI. No. 4. (1961).

Field, Geoffrey G. Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

Gadamer, Hans Georg. Truth and Method. London: Continuum, 2006.

Gouinlock, James. John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value. New York: Humanities Press, 1972.

Ivory, James. The Remains of the Day. Merchant Ivory Film, 1993.

Kateb, George. “Aestheticism and Morality: Their Cooperation and Hostility.” Political Theory. Vol. 28. No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 5-37.

Neumann, Boaz. “The National Socialist Politics of Life.” New German Critique. No. 85. Special Issue on Intellectuals (Winter, 2002), pp. 107-130.

Peirce, Charles Sanders, (1958-1966) Collected papers. Vols. 1- 6, Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, eds., (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).

Posner, Richard. Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Szabó, István. Taking Sides. Paladin Production S.A., 2001.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality. London: The Free Press, 1978.About the Author: 

Seth Vannatta earned his PhD in philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Morgan State University, where he won the university award for research and scholarship in 2012. He studies the history of philosophy and American philosophy and is interested in philosophy’s relationship to other dimensions of culture including law, politics, education, and sport. He is the author of Conservationsim and Pragmatism in Law, Politics, and Ethics(Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and editor and contributor to Chuck Klosterman and Philosophy: The Real and the Cereal (Open Court, 2012). He has published articles in The Pluralist, Contemporary Pragmatism, The European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, Education and Culture, and others.

Notes on Ecological Aesthetics and Ethics

By David George Haskell

A sense of beauty is a rigorous, perhaps even objective, foundation for environmental ethics. Our human aesthetic judgment integrates many strands of experience: intellect, emotion, bodily senses, and all we know from our interactions with others, both human and non-human others. From this integration, we understand the good.

Of course, an aesthetic sense is subject to the whims of desire, passing fads, and superficial impressions. So a well-grounded ethic depends for its rigor on a mature sense of aesthetics. By “mature,” I mean a sense of aesthetics that emerges from many years of lived relationship with a place and its community of life, both human and non-human. Such experience allows us to “unself” our judgment into the wider experience of the community. Our aesthetic and then our ethic will thus emerge not just from the limited confines of our own self, but from the knowledge that lives within the networks from which communities are made.

Once we—collectively—have an integrated sense of aesthetics, we can begin to discern what is beautiful and what is broken about a place, and, from there, I believe we can begin to form an objective—or near-objective—foundation for ethical discernment. Answers emerge from the community of life itself, filtered through human experience and consciousness.

What do I mean by that? Years of experience in a particular place will open us to the lives of other people and other species in that place, so our sense of aesthetics will incorporate their realities. Once we have that, we have a ground for moving forward and making ethical decisions that are actually deeply rooted in the physical, biological realities of a place, rather than coming only from abstractions of a seminar room or dogmas in a philosophy born in another ecosystem.

Aesthetics is often presented as something that’s very subjective, divorced from the reality of the world. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. A sense of ecologic aesthetics comes from a very gritty, sensually rich experience that has its tendrils in the realities of a place.

None of this can answer the ethical nihilist who poses the question, “So, what? Ethics are vaporous illusions carved into the human nervous system by evolution.” But if some ground for ethics does exist in this universe, then a sense of aesthetics can, I think, help us find this ground by a process that fully acknowledges and embraces our existence as evolved members of ecological communities. This is a fully biological foundation for ethics.

On a practical level, if we try to answer questions about how to live in particular places without first listening to the realities and particularities of the place itself, our answers are going to be unmoored and will have terrible consequences. Understanding how to live ethically in a place is an extraordinarily complicated, important, and difficult challenge. Moving forward with answers that are not based on deep engagement with a place and its inhabitants is a recipe for disaster. So action in the world demands, first, a practice of listening.

Religious and philosophical traditions have known this for many millennia: contemplation and action go together, just as the inhale and the exhale go together. Monastic communities are deeply contemplative, but also have engaged in action in the world—whether that action is caring for other people in hospitals, or agricultural action, or caring for the sick. This history evinces the truth that we need open, contemplative spaces within our lives, especially lives of action. I think there’s a hunger for that kind of open space. Without it, we feel a desperation and a feeling that we’re up against the wall without a good way forward. Contemplative practices create spaces for new ideas, new connections to emerge. That sounds like a rather goal-oriented way of putting it, but I do think that one of the fruits of contemplation is an increased ability to come up with new ideas or to see old ideas in a new light.

In the environmental community, there are some instances of people making decisions about the fate of ecosystems when the decision-makers have never experienced the ecosystem at stake. When NGOs, governments, or businesses have decision-making structures that are divorced from the lived experience of a place, then the outcomes will most likely not be good for that place or the people in them. We need to bring lived experience of ecosystems back into the decision-making process.

Call: Aesthetics and Ethics in the Digital Age – British Society of Aesthetics Conference

Published: AUGUST 20, 2020

Call for Abstracts

British Society of Aesthetics: Aesthetics and Ethics in the Digital Age
27th and 28th May 2021
Cambridge, UK

Submission deadline: 31st December 2020

Submissions are invited for the upcoming conference British Society of Aesthetics: Aesthetics and Ethics in the Digital Age. The conference will take place on 27th and 28th May 2021 in Cambridge, UK.

The aim of this conference is to explore some developments in recent practice that raise new and interesting questions for the philosophy of art. Artists, working independently in different parts of the world, are creating new forms of technological interfaces and experimenting with the biological, the nano and the digital. At the heart of all their works is a deep ethos of balancing the aesthetic and the ethical in how we relate with others and our environment, whether in the same physical space or as distributed bodies. The spheres of the arts, sciences, and (in particular) technology overlap both to explore and to attempt to change the way in which we live in the world. These artistic practices raise questions about the interaction between aesthetics and ethics that go beyond those familiar to us in discussions over the past decade or so.

Abstracts of up to 1000 words should be submitted as an email attachment to Satinder Gill ( and Derek Matravers ( Please include the talk title, author’s name, affiliation and contact details in the body of email; and please write “BSA Conference Submission” in the subject line.  Abstracts should outline a talk lasting 25 minutes, on a topic related to the topic of the conference. The deadline for submissions is the end of 31st December 2020.

There will be no registration fee for the conference. UK-based contributing speakers will be encouraged to apply for the BSA Travel Stipend to cover travel and accommodation costs. The conference will adhere to BPA/SWIP Good Practice Scheme.

The conference website is For more information, please email Satinder Gill or Derek Matravers (emails above).

This conference is generously supported by the British Society of Aesthetics.

The relationship between aesthetics and ethics has long been the topic of scholarly debates, from Kant’s (1928[1790]) insistence that the experience of beauty involved disinterested contemplation and, subsequently, the separation of aesthetics from ethics, or Wittgenstein’s (1961[1889]) enigmatic proposition that ‘ethics and aesthetics are one’, to the numerous enquiries into the ethical aspects of art and art criticism or the aesthetic aspects of moral life and moral evaluation (e.g. Bourdieu 1984, Foucault 1985, 1986, Eco 1986, Eagleton 1990, Guattari 1995, Korsmeyer 1998, Levinson 2001, Rancière 2006, Osborne and Tanner 2007).
How has anthropology related to these debates? Thompson (2006[1973)], Bateson (2006[1973)], or Boone (1986), for example, in the tradition of a holistic anthropology, have analysed local concepts of beauty and illustrated the ways in which these concepts articulated with religious and moral values. Gell (1998), to give another example, through his notion of the artwork as an index, which enables the observer to make causal inferences about the artist’s intentions, has theoretically paved the way for inquiries into the morality of intentions. Furthermore, how can anthropology contribute to these debates, especially in light of its increasing interest in ethics (e.g. Lambek 2010, Faubion 2011, Robbins 2013, Keane 2013, 1014, Fassin and Lézé 2014, Laidlaw 2014)?

Participants have been invited to address the relationship between aesthetics and ethics in anthropology and to consider the following questions:
i) do the definitions of aesthetics and ethics currently in use in anthropology help or hinder us in our reflections on their relationship?
ii) when are the questions of aesthetics and ethics similar?
iii) what kind of theoretical framework is appropriate for reflecting on this relationship? (e.g. value theory; then the questions might be: how does aesthetic value relate to the notion of value generally? how does ethical value relate to the notion of value generally? are these types of value incompatible?)
iv) what kind of ethnographic topic is appropriate for reflecting on this relationship? (only those where there is an explicit expectation that aesthetic principles are guided by ethical considerations, such as Qur’anic art and Islamic fashion?)
v) should a third term, that is, politics, be also taken into consideration in order to better understand the relationship between aesthetics and ethics?

About this topic 

SummaryBroadly construed, Aesthetics and Ethics concerns the relationship between art and morality. Here we ask: Can artworks provide moral knowledge? Can artworks corrupt and instruct morally?  More narrowly construed, the category concerns the relationship between aesthetic and moral value. The chief question is this: Do moral flaws with works of art constitute aesthetics flaws? In addition, we can ask if aesthetic value is morally significant. This last issue has important implications for environmental ethics.
Key worksThe most important collection on the topic is Levinson 1998. The majority of the work on the topic is in essay form, but there are a few influential books. Gaut 2007 is an important, recent monograph. 
IntroductionsAlthough a bit out of date, Carroll 2000 provides an excellent overview of the area.  Gaut 2001 is also an excellent introduction.


Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research.

Noël Carroll – 2000 – Ethics 110 (2):350-387.

Art and Ethics.

Berys Gaut – 2001 – In Berys Nigel Gaut & Dominic Lopes (eds.), 

The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. Routledge. pp. 341–352.

Art, Emotion and Ethics.

Berys Gaut – 2007 – Oxford University Press.

Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection.

Jerrold Levinson (ed.) – 1998 – Cambridge University Press.


In recent years, American Studies have taken a turn toward the political. However, although poststructuralism and deconstruction have undermined numerous of the moral-philosophical dogmas of the Western metaphysical tradition, many of the political claims that the revisionist turn in American Studies has voiced still rest, if tacitly, on these moral and ethical assumptions. As the latter often collide with the theoretical axioms that inform these revisionist works, some resort to what one could call the “pathos of marginality” and rather vague concepts of “otherness.” Moreover, these political-ideological readings often completely blot out aesthetic aspects, as these are suspected to be carriers of implicit and hegemonic strategies of representation.

In the first part, this study analyzes what role “otherness” plays in the most influential moral-philosophical approaches to date – from Aristotle and the Neo-Aristotelians (Alasdair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum) via Kantianism and its deconstructors (Jean-François Lyotard, J. Hillis Miller) to the works of Paul Ricoeur and Emmanuel Levinas – and sheds light on its highly problematic status in Western notions of justice. Moreover, on the background of these analyses it examines the role that aesthetics plays not only for, but within these approaches, with a special focus on what task literature is accorded to dramatize the clash of sameness and otherness.

Starting from a revised notion of the sublime, the second part “applies” the different approaches to four American novels: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor, Richard Wright’s Native Son, and N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, and examines how far the moral-philosophical systems carry to elucidate these texts. What becomes clear is that none of these works can be captured in their complexity by either one moral philosophy or one political agenda, in that every literary “exemplification” of such theory inevitably falls prey to the treacherous dynamics of the example – a dynamics that inhabits literature and haunts ethics, and that defies literature’s instrumentalization by either ethics or ideologies.

Keywords: American Studies, Aesthetics, Ethics, the Sublime, the Other, Otherness, Immanuel Kant, Jean-François Lyotard, J. Hillis Miller, Martha Nussbaum, Alasdair MacIntyre, Paul Ricoeur, Emmanuel Levinas, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Herman Melville, Billd Budd, Richard Wright, Native Son, N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn, Ecology.


List of Abbreviations for Reference Works


American Studies Today

Enter (And Leave): The Aesthetic

Difficult Neighbors: Ethics and Aesthetics

The Novels

I. The Kantian Legacy of Deconstruction

1. Kant – for Example

2. The Ethics of Reading and the End of History

2.1. Ce dangereux exemple…

2.2. De Man’s Demands

2.3. …close the gap!

2.4. Giving the Li(f)e to Miller’s Lie

3. Toward a Politics of the Sublime: Jean-François Lyotard

3.1. The Idea of the “Idea”

3.2. Lyotard Just Gaming?

3.3. The Sacrificial Sublime

II. The Return of Aristotle: Alasdair MacIntyre and Martha Nussbaum

4. Going Back Home: MacIntyre and the Greek Polis

4.1. The Price of Historicization

4.2. The Polis Rebuilt

4.3. Virtual Ethics and Virtuous Reading

4.4. Ethics, Practice, and the Narrative Unity of a Human Life

5. A Mind too Refined to be Touched by an Idea: Martha Nussbaum’s Aristotelian Liberalism

5.1. Aristotle and the Virtues

5.2. The Tragic Muse as Éducation Sentimentale

5.3. The End of Tragedy and The Limits of Identification

III. Approaching the Other: Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur

6. Oneself for the Other: Emmanuel Levinas

6.1. Facing The Other

6.2. Ethics, Politics, and Literature

6.3. The Other Sublime

7. Oneself as Another: Paul Ricoeur

7.1. Toward a Narrative Ethics

7.2. Narration and Alterity

7.3. A Tragic Encounter – Narrating the Other

IV. Toward an Ethics of Literature

8. Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

8.1. How to Turn a Thing Into a Man, or: Categorical Imperative vs. Golden Rule

8.2. Sentimentalism as Aesthetic and Ethical Strategy

8.3. The Economy of Religion and Politics

8.4. Face/Off

9. Herman Melville: Billy Budd, Sailor

9.1. Phronimos Goes To War

9.2. Literature, Responsibility, and Political Philosophy: Hannah Arendt and Paul Ricoeur

9.3. (Ef-)facing the Other – Melville’s Silences, Ethics, and War

9.4. Singular Madnesses, Maddening Singularities: Vere, Billy, and the “Hebrew Prophets”

10. Richard Wright: Native Son

10.1. Polis into Metropolis, or: How to Identify with a Rat

10.2. Whose Narrative Is It, Anyway?

10.3. The Racial Sublime

10.4.  Re(w)ri(gh)ting Native Son, Or: Who’s Afraid of Bigger Thomas?

11. N. Scott Momaday: House Made Of Dawn

11.1.  Polis into Pueblo, or: How to Identify with a Bear

11.2. “Evil Was”: Balance, Control, and the Ethics of Myth

11.3. To Kill or Not to Kill

11.4.  Excursus: Is there an other Other? Toward an Environmental Ethics



Index of Names

My Related Posts

Aesthetics and Ethics: At the Intersection

On Aesthetics

On Beauty

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful

On Classical Virtues

Indra’s Net: On Interconnectedness

Levels of Human Psychological Development in Integral Spiral Dynamics

Arts and Moral Philosophy

Human Rights and Human Development

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Key Sources of Reserach


Jeffory Dean

Aesthetics and ethics

Tanner, Michael

Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection

Problems at the Intersection of Aesthetics and Ethics

Seth Vannatta (Morgan State University)


Diané Collinson

The British Journal of Aesthetics, Volume 25, Issue 3, SUMMER 1985, Pages 266–272, 01 March 1985

Aesthetics and Ethics in Gadamer, Levinas, and Romanticism: Problems of Phronesis and Techne

David P. Haney

PMLA Vol. 114, No. 1, Special Topic: Ethics and Literary Study (Jan., 1999), pp. 32-45 (14 pages) Published By: Modern Language Association 

The Marriage of Aesthetics and Ethics

Series: Critical Studies in German Idealism, Volume: 15

Editor: Stéphane Symons

Ethics as Aesthetics: Foucault’S Critique of Moralization of Ethics

October 2019

Project: Ethics as Aesthetics: Foucault’s Critique of Moralization of Ethics

Erwin Arellano Mallo

University of Southern Mindanao

“One and the Same? Ethics, Aesthetics, and Truth.” 

Eaglestone, Robert.

Poetics Today 25, no. 4 (2004): 595-608.

Notes on Ecological Aesthetics and Ethics

By David George Haskell

Aesthetics & Ethics: Otherness and Moral Imagination from Aristotle to Levinas and from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to House Made of Dawn

Thomas Claviez

Aesthetics & Ethics: Otherness and Moral Imagination from Aristotle to Levinas and from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to House Made of Dawn

(Heidelberg: Winter, 2008)

Wittgenstein’s Aesthetics

Aesthetics and Ethics

Aesthetics and Ethics  

Richard Eldridge

The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics

Edited by Jerrold Levinson

The Ethics of Aesthetics

Don Ritter Berlin, Germany

“Ethics and Aesthetics are One”: The Case of Zen Aesthetics

Bai, H. (1997).

Canadian Review of Art Education, 24(2), 37-52.

Ethics as Style:
Wittgenstein’s Aesthetic Ethics and Ethical Aesthetics

Kathrin Stengel

Independent Scholar, New York

Knots in Yoga

Knots in Yoga



Key Terms

  • Granthies or Knots
  • Bandha or Locks
  • Chakra or Energy Centers
  • Nadis
  • Kundalini shakti
  • Tantra
  • Yoga
  • Knots
  • Triplicity
  • Tribhang
  • Trefoil Knot
  • Dhumra Linga, Bana Linga, Itara Linga
  • Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra Knots
  • Tamas, Rajas, Sattva Gunas

3 Granthi in Kundalini Yoga


In Kundalini Yoga, it is said that there are three Granthi can be responsible for preventing prana from rising up through Sushumna Nadi. This Granthi three knots prevent one’s full potential from Kundalini rising energy. These three knots are Brahma Granthi, Vishnu Granthi and Rudra Granthi. They also relate to the Prakritis three Gunas (Tamas, Rajas and Sattva).

Some yogis in yoga see Granthi as a bamboo tree, where each segment is a barrier or barrier to the increase in kundalini energy.

The chakras in the psycho-physical human body at the dormant state form complex intertwined structures, called Granthi, or knots, as they are “link” matter and spirit, enhancing the sense of ego. There are three main granthis in the human body, which make the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva respectively, and they are called Brahma Granthi, Vishnu Granthi and Rudra Granthi.
In any practice to achieve success in the process of Kundalini awakening it is important to open these psychic knots. However, it is quite difficult because of granthi inextricably connected with all that we are accustomed to thinking of our personality, our habits, qualities, desires.

Three granthis together constitute the unconscious complexes (samskara) woven by illusion, and the weight and rigidity of the past is strong opposition to the passage of spiritual power.

The three Granthi are :

  1. Brahma granthi. it covers the area of Mulahara and Svadhisthan chakras. Some call it the perineal knot. It relates to the Tamas Guna (Mulahara and Svadhishthana) the universal destructive power.
    In both the Jabal and the Yogashikha Upanishad state that this granthi is located in the Muladhard chakra. However, most tantric scriptures place it in the Manipura chakra.
  2. Vishnu granthi (doing and prana). It covers the area between Manipura, Anahata and Vishuddi chakras. Sometimes it is known as the navel knot. It relates to the Rajas Guna (Manipura and Anahata) – the universal power of motion and activity.
    Vishnu granthi is said to be located in the area of Anahata chakra (the heart center), which is also the seat of prana. The heart is also the major knot chakra. So, to take the Kundalini Shakti into the passage of the Sushumna through Anahata chakra is also not very easy.
  3. Rudra granthi (Jnana, true knowledge). It covers the areas of Ajna and Sahasrara chakras. It is also known as the forehead knot. Unlike the other five chakras, the Ajna chakra is not connected to the spinal cord. So, the Rudra granthi is blocking the flow of prana beyond the sixth chakra between the eyebrows, Ajna chakra, upwards toward Sahasrara. It relates to the Sattva Guna (Vishuddha and Ajna), the universal creative power.

The Brahma granthi separates the first two chakras (Mulahra and Suadhisthana chakras) from the Manipura chakra. The sympathetic chain is continuous, however, at the upper level of the splanchnic nerves, the presynaptic system changes to the post-synaptic system. So, one can say the Vishnu Granthi is between the Manipura and the Anahata chakras.

Brahma Granthi is the first major block that sadhaka need to transcend. This granthi keeps a person under the illusion of the material benefits, physical pleasures, lethargy, ignorance, and uncertainty.
Among all the most powerful is an illusion of physical pleasure. This granthi plays an important role because it is responsible for the material man’s thinking. It creates a kind of attraction in the nature of the human mind.

Brahma granthi is covered by the essence it produces. This essence is called as “Kledam”. It is colorless and smells as a lotus flower. It is like a mixture of ‘Kapha’ which covers the entrance of Sushumna and also lubricates the Nadi connected. This lubrication helps the pulses of Nadi.

This Kledam is a thick mixture and thickens when we get older if we don’t practice yoga. With the power of Yoga can penetrate this barrier and go up through Sushumna through each barrier.

In short, anatomically the Granthis exist due to either the change of systems from sympathetic to parasympathetic, the separation of Vagus nerve from the Sacral nerve, or the changes from presynaptic fibers to postsynaptic fibers.

The philosophy of Kundalini Yoga is associated with the flow of energy in the channels called Ida and Pingala, (the female and male channels of the astral body, comparable to the sensory and motor nerves of the physical body) and its criss-cross centers in the spinal canal called Sushumna Nadi called chakras.

The three major intersections in the central Sushumna Nadi are at Muladhara (pelvic region), Anahata (chest region) and Ajna chakras (between the eyebrows) are interpreted as Granthi because the exchange energies of physical and mental levels occur at these three places and named after the Trinity.

Granthi means a knotted area which prevents the free flow of energy (Prana) from rising upwards. The concept and explanations related to granthi is a vague term that deals with very internal issues of undoing it and hard to give a figurative expression in a stone medium because they are levels of awareness where the power of Maya, ignorance, and attachment to material things are especially strong.

According to ancient spiritual science, every human has a gross physical body, the subtle astral body, and mind as its counterpart which is linked to each other. Though mind resides and interacts in the physical body, it cannot be given proof for its structure nor location in the body, but the mind influences the astral body also. The energy for the physical body is through external aids, but, energy for the astral body is dependent on the calm state of mind which can be achieved by getting out of the worldly entanglements termed as granthi.

The Ida and Pingala Nadi that are like spirals of opposite poles of the central axis intertwine and unlock while passing through the seven chakras. Psychic knots of granthis are like protective blockages for the gradual change in awareness and open only with the purification of mind and balance between the two Nadi. The purpose of granthis is to block the sudden upward flow of prana, are like circuit breakers to protect the overload that may occur to the practitioner in case of a spontaneous ascension. The display of ‘granthis’ is associated with the ‘Trinity’ as the three main deities (Tri Murti).

They are visualized like psychic knots or obstacles on the path of the awakened kundalini, (The power of awareness) which is difficult to pass through for every human, as it brings about a change in personality. Each aspirant must transcend these barriers to make a clear passageway for the ascending kundalini. In tantra based sculptures, the two major components Nadi, Ida and Pingala of kundalini as are pictured in anthropomorphic form as male and female human figures and crisscross is indicated as in contact or the hand positioned in the specific region of chakra.

In sculptural representations of this topic, the figures, since it is related to mind, the core of ‘Chitta’, are usually presented in a nude form, as the bare body represents the unadorned form of mind. In symbolic representations, they are like male and female snakes coiling at three places. The psychic Knots of granthi is depicted in the symbolized form as the Shiva Linga symbol. Different temples use different motifs to convey this topic in sculptures. The two sculptural representations are:

  • Symbolic representation of granthi, through the Linga and snakes.
  • Representation of grant in the human body in a personified form.

Kundalini yoga, a classification under tantra yoga is the form of subtle energy that flows in tubular channels called Nadis towards the conductor. The conductor is nothing but the nerve energy in the physical body that is encased in the spinal canal and called Sushumna. The intersections are recognized as chakras, seven in number, where the two nadi crisscross. At every chakra, a perfect balance and harmony must be established between the two Ida, Pingala Nadi or otherwise the energy of kundalini cannot progress to higher levels in the central channel of Sushumna.

In sculptural representations of tantra yoga depictions, the mind was projected as the female deity and prana as the male deity. Some sculptures depict the two male and female figures to be in contact at three or five regions like the foot, knee, genital place (Muladhara), heart (Anahata) and the tip of the nose (that is connected to Ajna chakra). Some schools recognize the chakras to be sixteen starting from foot, knee, palm, and so on. The contact at the foot and knee is suggestive of the lower points from which the Ida and Pingala (Female and male Nadi) arise and proceed. The contact at the foot is suggestive of the initial phase of activating the Ida and Pingala Nadi.

To clear Brahma granthi is to establish in totality, clearing Vishnu granthi is perceiving the existence of universal life principle and to clear Rudra granthi is to attain a non-duality of realization of oneness and universal awareness.


Brahma Granthi

Brahma Granthi at Muladhara chakra is represented by the Dhumra Lingam. Dhum means smoky. The linga is represented smoky and ill-defined (some Lingas made of Sphatika – a crystalline form of quartz stone) as a Symbol of the physical world. It is also called Svayambhu linga- the self-created linga. It signifies the establishment of life principles in totality.

Brahma granthi functions in the base region of the Muladhara chakra at the genital area and hence a display of organs. It implies the entanglement with physical pleasures, material objects, and excessive selfishness or a sense of fear. It also implies the ensnaring power of tamas – negativity, lethargy, and ignorance. Such negative qualities act as hindrances and stop the serpent power kundalini from awakening. Once this blockage is removed from the energy instincts of the deep rootedness with worldly affairs, the realm of consciousness gets awakened and the trapped serpent power energy is released. The kundalini or primal energy is thus able to rise beyond Muladhara and Swadhisthana without bogged down by the attractions to which our consciousness is hooked. On breaking open the Brahma granthi, the practitioner feels relaxed and enjoys bliss arising from the void.

The figures related to the granthis are nude because they are related to the state of mind ‘Chitta’ and personal. Muladhara relates to, Ajna chakra as the starting and release points of prana, which is indicated in the sculptures as contact points. Muladhara has a direct link to Ajna chakra – situated in midbrain but indicated as above the nose, between the eyebrows. The subtle energy of these two Ida-Pingala currents crosses over to connect with the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Brahma granthi is the manifest force of the energy of life and creation, depicted in sculptures as the pleasure of touch. It is known as blockage of Brahma because it holds the consciousness at the level related to physical dimensions like sensuality or procreation. Once this blockage is overcome, the consciousness of deep rootedness to worldly pleasures is released. The kundalini can rise above, crossing this knot.

Vishnu Granthi

Vishnu Granthi in Anahata chakra (between Manipura and Ajna chakra) is represented as Bana Linga. The linga is depicted red or gold-colored as a Symbol of the subtle world. Clearing Vishnu knot is to perceive the existence of universal life principles.

The contact at the chest is the second stage of awareness at Vishnu granthi – to detach from emotions related to bondage. Vishnu granthi operates in the region of the Anahata chakra in the heart region. It is associated with the bondage of emotional attachment and attachment to people and inner psychic visions. It relates to the qualities of rajas – the tendency towards passion, ambition, bondage and assertiveness, individual ego and power. Once the blockage at Vishnu granthi is removed, the practitioner feels great bliss. The sustenance energy undergoes a change from the localized centers of the physical level to the universal level which means the energies of the body become harmonious with the energies of the cosmos. The interaction between the individual personality and the cosmos begins to happen naturally & spontaneously, enhancing the quality of compassion.

The position of placement of chakra wheel as balls suggests that she is activating the Ida and Pingala in legs as well as in hand with the acupressure or chakra ball. It also gives a hint that opening out of Vishnu granthi is not a spontaneous act. It begins from the hand and leg Nadi, followed by the opening of Brahma granthi at Muladhara. In the right hand, as she is holding the ball, highlighting the thumb as the starting point of Nadi in hands. Activating the center of hands and feet is beneficial to health.

The freedom from the knotty – worldly problems and the freedom from knotty congestion in her meridians that restricts the flow of bioenergy at her mental and physical levels – are viewed as obstacles, the root cause for problems and indicated as the cloth around the breasts called ‘kanchuka’ with a knot. Philosophically, clearing the knot of kanchuka means liberation – freedom from ignorance, bondage, commitments due to obligations of bondage, power are the obstacles project as knotty problems in life. The aspirant is constantly advised to dissociate from all limitations and identify oneself with all the pervading, blissful, non-duality spirit of the Brahman.

Rudra Granthi

Rudra Granthi in Ajna chakra is called Itara or Itakhya Linga. The linga is black, well defined with a very consolidated outline. Here, in Ajna, the awareness of ‘what I am’ is more sharply defined and various capacities are being awakened. The Dhumra and Bana Linga are depicted in lotus petals and only Itara linga is well defined. It signifies a state of non-duality. Clearing of Rudra granthi promotes spiritual vision. Awareness goes at the transpersonal level with super consciousness.

The loving gaze was used as a simile in tantra based sculptures to explain the abstract concept that mind (female) and prana (male) are harmonizing and mind is coming under the control of prana, in other words, mind is one with the object concentrated upon enjoying supreme bliss and super consciousness called ‘samadhi’.

The third contact at nose tip is related to crossing the hurdle of Rudra granthi – restraining from the thoughts of pride that comes sometimes from service to others or as the knower of knowledge. The pride prevents one from uniting with all with a non-dual thought. The three granthis when crossed, open the doors of Sahasrara chakra promoting spiritual vision and super consciousness. The Ida Pingala Nadi first intersect at the base of the spine and ends at the third eye center indicated at the apex of the nose. At the third eye center, these two currents cross over to connect with the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

The nose of the two male and female figures touch to symbolize the revitalization of memory and concentration of intuitive knowledge or cognition. Physiologically, the nasal nerves of olfactory bulb travel directly to the limbic area of the brain which controls the unconscious intuition of memory and sexuality. It functions in the region of Ajna chakra governing the Ajna and Sahasrara chakras. It represents the transformation of an existing form, idea or concept into the universal aspect. It is associated with the attainment of siddhis, a psychic phenomenon but still attached to and the concept of self as the power. In a psychological perspective, though serving others is a completely satisfactory way to spend one’s life at this stage, this service could create resentment against others, and view them as lesser beings as the pride of acquiring knowledge sometimes gains an upper hand. One must surrender the sense of individual ego and transcend duality to make further spiritual progress and then complete the circle by bringing that consciousness into compassionate actions.

With awareness, yoga practitioners ascend towards the Sahasrara chakra where the final merging of the individual Soul or Atman with the universal cosmic soul takes place to achieve the realization of oneness.

Awakening of Kundalini Shakti

Rshi Patanjali said “it is very difficult to walk on this Yoga path (Kundalini) like walking in the eyes of a knife that is very sharp, wrong or slipped a little too wounded” also walked to meet Him like doing a masterpiece project, all obstacles and obstacles we must be able to overcome only with determination. , disciplined and diligent practice.

So far we leave Him to approach him is something that requires extra energy. The energy that drives the realization of the Yoga goal is Kundalini Energy. Energy is power, power, shakti, power or whatever the term all of this already exists within us and also outside ourselves. Enormous energy that lies dormant in the form of a 3.5-circle snake with his head facing down around Linga swayambhu Siwa.

If the Kundalini energy is able to be raised, this energy will push someone to reach his life goal or his Yoga goals. The increase in Kundalini’s energy will cleanse every chakra that is passed then activate the chakras and various Siddhas will be felt even though it is still only a moment. The increase in Kundalini will be very helpful, especially to increase self-awareness and the vitality of the body is also increased, for example, to help self-healing or even become a healer.

But what needs to be considered is not only the benefits that are very useful, but also how we deal with every problem caused by the rise in Kundalini. Because the increase in kundalini will clean and open the knot chakra because kundalini is only limited to energy so this energy will play just breaking down, so we need to know the knowledge and directing techniques so that nothing happens that is desired. Many spiritual aspirants have fallen ill because of Him without realizing that the cause is Kundalini (kundalini syndrome).

Everyone has this Energy hidden in our body. Kundalini energy is very large energy like nuclear energy in the body. It can be imagined how much energy is in our bodies if this energy we are able to generate. To generate Kundalini energy you need sufficient knowledge, especially regarding the Main Chakra. In addition to this knowledge, a guide who really knows about the awakening of Kundalini or a spiritual teacher is very much needed.

Kundalini is the mother who protects us, the mother of the universe is often referred to as Mrs. Durga (Hyang Nini Bagawati), Mrs. Gayatri and Mrs. Saraswati. To awaken this Sakti Energy there are various ways and with certain training.

If the awakening of Kundalini towards this negative direction will have unfavorable consequences, there are several things that are affected that can hurt the physical body, this can be really real or will change the nature, emotions, behavior, and others towards the negative.

Kundalini is more commonly interpreted as a scroll, a power is in “Kunda” which is a quadratic place or mandala (Muladhara chakra), encircling the “Linga” three half circles that are above the “Yoni” Kundalini in the form of a snake resides in the cakra Muladhara and in in Muladhara there is linga and yoni this is where Kundalini as a power of silence. Kundalini is also known by various names including Mrs. Durga, Mother at times, Mrs. Bhuta, Mother Universe, Mrs. Bagawati and so on, all Mother’s names are Himself. She is also referred to as Ibu Prana, the inner Power of the Mother or latent energy whatever the name refers to her. I offer my devotion to the Great Mother … Energy Mother …

The negative polarities will flow towards the positive polarity, and the positive polarity is in the fontanel in Sahasrara Cakra where the Supreme Lord is located. Passive Shiva who is silent but whose vibrations spread to meet nature. Single Shiva (Eka) and many (various) at the same time. Shiva who lives in Sahasrara means that the vibrations of his silence dwell in each person’s Sahasrara. He sits in his favorite siddhasana, he whose body is bright as the reflection of sunlight on a snow mountain, whose hair is neatly woven, which flows holy Ganga water, surrounded by beautiful crescent moons, wears snakes as His necklace, blue-necked, body covered with weed, His two hands lifted up to give blessings and deliver from all fears, adorned with tiger skins as His garments, who sat on a lotus of thousands of golden leaves, whose smiles emit vibrations of peace.

The awakening of the Kundalini energy flow is determined by our level of consciousness, or in other words, we process it, we are the controller.

The thing to consider is that energy is still energy, He will follow our own consciousness, follow our mindset if we think towards virtue

Purification of Karma through 3 Granthi

In each bulkhead, vertebrae are stored with positive and negative karma as long as humans life. Every action or result of mental karma will be placed according to the place that caused it.

For example karma as a result of:

  • Material things, rough emotions, supernatural powers, magic, etc. are stored at the bottom (Muladhara).
  • Desires, desires and low egos are stored in Swadistana.
  • Subtle emotions, dynamism, strength, etc. are stored in the central node of the Manipura chakra (Stomach).
  • Feelings, love, envy, sadness, happiness, will be stored in the heart’s central node (Anahata),
  • The ego is more subtle, including the highest ego that wants to reach God stored in the Wisudhi chakra.
  • Mental instability, ignorance, wisdom, weigh and decide right and wrong, good and bad, mental balance, are stored in Ajna before heading for Enlightenment (in the Sahasrara chakra), … etc … according to the causes of chakra activeness and its consequences.

The two way of Oneness and Karma Melting through this method (granthi) :

  1. From top  (Sahasrara chakra) heading down through Sushumna. The meeting was in the deepest depth of Ajna. While experiencing calm, it will release fluid from the pineal gland, producing a form of fluid / Tirta Amritha which then drips into Sushumna, penetrates and removes impurities in each segment.
    This method is considered safer, and the risk is minimal. Although safe, it does not mean without obstacles and mental obstacles that need to be overcome. The effect is cold and some even feel like ice water flowing in each segment to the lower end until it merges with the power of Kundalini (Shiva-Shakti).
  2. From bottom (Muladhara chakra) by awakening the power of Kundalini. This Kundalini fire breaks through and increases the burning of karma in each of its ascension paths until it experiences unification in Sahasrara (Shiva-Shakti).
    In every process of ascension ranging from the most subtle (the heat) to the magma fire, the perpetrator will experience many obstacles to significant changes in mental effects and the temptation to get siddhi.

Being aware of every moment of attitudes and mental changes or the like is very necessary to get to the next level, as well as efforts to unleash the power of the siddhis obtained. Giving up the siddhi that is obtained does not mean that it will disappear when the higher attainments all of the things below will also be followed and controlled (included).

Both unity from above and taking the road from the bottom produced “Amritha / Tirta Kundalini”. The effect of this will result in peace, calm, silence, towards Samadhi.

In Bali, this meaning is also poured into the song Wargasari Down the Tirta so sublime … etc. Where this is the way from above (Requesting) the union of Shiva and Durga / Shakti (Kundalini).

In Kanda pat he the power that results in the purification of Tirta seeps through the bamboo cavities, arteries and the like depending on the experience he sees,

This result is also a Tirta “wiping out” (negative melting) released through saliva (vaguely inserted in a glass of water for Tirta by some Balinese healers). While some possessed (kerauhan) he came out through a kind of mucus through the nose when possessed.

Untying the Knots That Bind Us








March, 2015

The Sanskrit word granthi means “knot” or “doubt” and also means “an especially difficult knot to untie.” People in India wearing a sari or dhoti cloth will form a small pouch to hold money, and close it by knotting the fabric – this tightly knotted purse is called a granthi. Granthi in spiritual practice are psychological or psychic barriers to total freedom. Granthi prevent prana from moving freely up sushumna nadi. Granthi bind the soul; they lock us to our misperception of reality (avidya) and self (asmita). They hold us to our preferences (raga and dvesha) and root us in fear of death (abhinivesha). Knowledge (jnana) is a key component to transcend fear, and together with action (karma) they give wings to our spiritual desires – the rise of Kundalini.

The hathayoga methods for untying these knots are the bandhas, or energy locks. By focusing the pranas in Sushumna Nadi the bandhas increase the potency of the rising Kundalini allowing us to transcend normal restrictions of thinking and acting.

Brahma Granthi is located at the base of the spine between Muladhara Chakraand Svadhisthana Chakra where primitive brain functioning like the “fight or flight reflexes” guarantee survival. Fear of death, anxiety about food, shelter or clothing, or general lack of grounding, all manifest as Brahma Granthi. When you experience fear in an asana like handstand or split, and the fear itself prevents success, this is Brahma Granthi. Lack of spare time can be part of this knot. When your bills and rent payment keep you at work and away from yoga, that is Brahma Granthi.

Mula (Root) Bandha is the first consolidation of Prana and Apana, piercing Brahma Granthi. Vitality, thought, breath, and speech are joined in pursuit of truth. This root lock can be applied all the time transforming every thing we do into a holy act.

Vishnu Granthi knots energy between Manipura Chakra and Anahata Chakra. This Granthi is a knot of individual ego and power. Our clinging to ego, self-cherishing and the quest for personal power can slow spiritual success. Fear of being ignored or of loosing prestige may plague our spiritual growth. This is a knot of power and manipulation, but it is also the knot of accumulation. Accumulation of power, possessions, and fame, all tie us to this level of consciousness. In order to transcend this level of consciousness we must “give up the love of power, for the power of love!” The degree of vulnerability that we show in life – the ability to put our façade aside and challenge our own status quo, unties Vishnu Granthi.

Uddiyana (Flying up) Bandha is the second consolidation of Prana, Apana, and Samana vayus.

Applied together with Mula Bandha, this lock pierces Vishnu Granthi. The individual is able to transcend individuality. The whole abdomen is drawn in and up – symbolizing the renunciation of accumulation and concentration of energy upward toward Anahata Chakra.

Rudra granthi is knotted between the Anahata and Ajña chakras. The attractiveness of heart centered action and the experience of serving others can distract the yogi who desires to “Be Love” – not just experience it. Serving others is a completely satisfactory way to spend your life, but this service could become your cross to bear, where you hold resentment against others, and view them as lesser beings. We must strive to transcend otherness and experience the “oneness of being” in the highest levels of consciousness, and then complete the circle by bringing that consciousness into our compassionate actions. When we are free from the illusion of otherness our actions emerge spontaneously from Love. Jalandhara Bandha enables this leap of consciousness.

The consummate consolidation of prana is Jalandhara Bandha (Cloud Catching Lock or Net Lock – for the network of nadis in the neck) when Prana, Apana, Samana and Udana vayu in Sushumna Nadi loosen Rudra Granthi, and the veil of separation is lifted.

Teaching Tips

  • The yoga practices reveal where we are stopped by granthi, psychological knots, and give us tools for negotiating and loosening those limitations. The granthi are pierced through asana, meditation, pranayama, samyama, virtuous acts, purification of diet, good intention, yama and niyama, mudra, and through nada techniques like chanting and mantra.
  • Practice each bandha separately.
    • Mula: This bandha can be applied while breathing and moving freely.
      The two parts of this lock are a) contraction of the interior of the perineal body on men, or the vaginal walls for women, and b) the area from the pubic bone to navel draws inward and upward slightly.
    • Uddiyana: The diaphragm moves toward the throat drawing the entire abdomen in and up. This lock is only practiced on exhale retention when breathing is not possible and movement is internalized.
    • Jalandhara: Can be applied after inhale or exhale, bringing chest to chin. The spine should stay relatively straight and the chin should rest in the cleft between the clavicle bones.
  • Teach all bandha applied simultaneously in Mahamudra. See Hathayogapradipika Chapter 3, Verses 10-13
  • Investigate the psychological barriers to freedom that are embodied in the granthi, from fear of death and anxiety about survival (Muladhara,) to the accumulation of power and prestige (Manipura,) to the “feel good” effect of helping others, rather than serving others (Anahata.)
  • Teach about the Pranamaya Kosha and it’s component vayus. Asana practice most directly affects the Pranamaya Kosha and consolidates the energy of consciousness into a force of enlightenment.

In Bhagavad Gita 7.1 there is a reference to granthi as doubt, and refuge of the Lord as freedom from that doubt. In Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.17-21, bhakti-yoga severs the granthi (hard knot) of material affection and enables one to come at once to the stage of asamsayam-samagram.

The Bandhas and the Granthis


Bandhas are inner body locks that engage both the physical and the energetic body. They provide inner support during asana practice, stimulate the flow of prana and help to release the granthis, which can be understood as energy blockages or psychological knots.

By combining the action of opposing muscles, the bandhas can be activated. Their use during asana practice increases strength, stability and mental focus. Their use during pranayama intensifies its cleansing effect by directing agni or the internal fire to burn the waste matter that has settled and blocks the flow of energy.

Often referred to as locks, the bandhas help to balance two important energies within the body: the prana vayu and apana vayu. If prana is associated with drawing in that which nourishes us, apana is associated with letting go of that which is potentially toxic. Prana is connected to the inhalation and apana to the exhalation. The meeting of these two opposing energies at the base of the spine awakens the Kundalini energy.

There are three main bandhas: Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Mula bandha. Activating all three of these bandhas at the same time is referred to as Mahabandha or main lock.

The Bandhas


The Bandhas

Jalandhara Bandha: the throat lock. Jalandhara bandha can be applied by contracting the front muscles in the neck when tucking the chin towards the sternum. This bandha is naturally activated in some asanas like Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) or Halasa (Plough Pose). It is subtly activated during Ujjayi pranayama in which the glottis (the area where the vocal cords are located) is gently contracted.
This bandha focuses the mind on the fifth or throat chakra and contains the upward-flowing movement of prana past the throat. It also seals off the downward movement of “nectar” from the sahasrara or crown chakra, which is said to preserve youth and vitality.

Uddiyana Bandha: the abdominal lock. Uddiyana bandha is applied by contracting the upper abdominal muscles (just below the solar plexus). This bandha is naturally activated after each exhalation when the lungs are emptied and the diaphragm rises. During asana practice it is especially useful to apply this bandha to support the lumbar region in back bends. When used together with Mula bandha, it strengthens the abdominal muscles. While performing asanas it is not possible to fully engage this bandha as it would constrain breathing. This bandha focuses the mind on the third chakra and directs prana up towards the sixth chakra.

Mula Bandha: the root lock. Mula bandha is applied by contracting the pelvic floor and elevating the inner organs in this region like the bladder and genitals. Other groups of muscles, like the upper leg adductors (by slightly pressing the knees together), can intensify this bhanda. If engaged during asana practice it is said to “provide an extra lift, which is especially useful when jumping”. This bandha focuses the mind on the first chakra, and directs prana from the pelvic region upwards, providing energy to the whole body and stopping it from flowing downwards out of the body.

Activating the bandhas can also help to unblock the three granthisor knots that prevent prana from freely circulating within the Sushuma nadi. These knots can block the chakras and keep us tied to negative attitudes and emotions, preventing us from fully experiencing the richness of life.

The Granthi

The Granthi


The Bramha or Vital Granthi is associated with the first three chakras (root, sacrum and solar plexus). This granthi blocks us by feeding our attachment to physical comfort, material wealth and accumulation. It can be unblocked by activating Mula bhanda. To regulate the energy in these vital chakras and granthi, Patanjali recommends self discipline.

The Vishnu or Love Granthi is associated with the fourth and fifth chakras (heart and throat). This granthi blocks us by feeding our attachment to emotional excitement, self-centeredness and lack of receptivity to others’ needs. It can be unblocked by activating Uddyiana bandha. To boost the energy of the love chakras and granthi, Patanjali recommends devotion and commitment.

The Rudra or Light Granthi is associated with the last two chakras (third eye and crown of the head). This granthi blocks us by feeding our attachment to our opinions, prejudices, fantasies and intellectual pride. It can be unblocked by activating Jalandhara bandha. To dissolve pride and “dark” mental patterns, Patanjali recommends self-knowledge.



Please see my related posts

Knot Theory and Recursion: Louis H. Kauffman

Interconnected Pythagorean Triples using Central Squares Theory

The Great Chain of Being

Indra’s Net: On Interconnectedness





Key Sources of Resources


Untying the Knots That Bind Us

Recursion, Incursion, and Hyper-incursion

Recursion, Incursion, and Hyper-incursion


How do Past and Future inform the present?

What happens in the Present is not only determined by the Past but also by the Future.  Karma and Destiny both play a role as to what is going on in your life Now.

Key Terms

  • Recursion
  • Incursion
  • Hyper Incursion
  • Discrete Processes
  • Cellular Automata
  • Fractal Machine
  • Hypersets
  • Interpenetration
  • Turing Machine
  • Symmetry
  • Non Well Founded Set Theory
  • Sets as Graphs
  • Leela
  • Predetermined Future
  • Bhagya
  • Fate
  • Destiny
  • Karma
  • Anticipation
  • Four Causes of Aristotle
  • Material Cause
  • Formal Cause
  • Efficient Cause
  • Final Cause
  • Left Computer
  • Right Computer
  • Parallel Computing
  • Fifth and the Fourth in Music Theory
  • Bicameral Brain
  • Hemispheric Division of Brain
  • One, Two, Three.  Where is the Fourth?


The recursion consists of the computation of the future value of the variable vector X(t+l) at time t+l from the values of these variables at present and/or past times, t, t-l, t-2 ….by a recursive function :

X (t+ 1) =f(X(t), X(t-1) …p..)

where p is a command parameter vector. So, the past always determines the future, the present being the separation line between the past and the future.

Starting from cellular automata, the concept of Fractal Machines was proposed in which composition rules were propagated along paths in the machine frame. The computation is based on what I called “INclusive reCURSION”, i.e. INCURSION (Dubois, 1992a- b). An incursive relation is defined by:

X(t+l) =f(…, X (t+l), X(t), X(t-1) ..p..).

which consists in the computation of the values of the vector X(t+l) at time t+l from the values X(t-i) at time t-i, i=1, 2 …. , the value X(t) at time t and the value X(t+j) at time t+j, j=l, 2, …. in function of a command vector p. This incursive relation is not trivial because future values of the variable vector at time steps t+l, t+2 …. must be known to compute them at the time step t+ 1.

In a similar way to that in which we define hyper recursion when each recursive step generates multiple solutions, I define HYPERINCURSION. Recursive computational transformations of such incursive relations are given in Dubois and Resconi (1992, 1993a-b).

I have decided to do this for three reasons. First, in relativity theory space and time are considered as a four-vector where time plays a role similar to space. If time t is replaced by space s in the above definition of incursion, we obtain

X(s+ l) =f( …, X(s+ 1), X(s), X (s-l) …p.).

and nobody is astonished: a Laplacean operator looks like this. Second, in control theory, the engineers control engineering systems by defining goals in the future to compute their present state, similarly to our haman anticipative behaviour (Dubois, 1996a-b). Third, I wanted to try to do a generalisation of the recursive and sequential Turing Machine in looking at space-time cellular automata where the order in which the computations are made is taken into account with an inclusive recursion.

We have already proposed some methods to realise the design of any discrete systems with an extension of the recursion by the concept of incursion and hyperincursion based on the Fractal Machine, a new type of Cellular Automata, where time plays a central role. In this framework, the design of the model of any discrete system is based on incursion relations where past, present and future states variables are mixed in such a way that they define an indivisible wholeness invariant. Most incursive relations can be transformed in different sets of recursive algorithms for computation. In the same way, the hyperincursion is an extension of the hyper recursion in which several different solutions can be generated at each time step. By the hyperincursion, the Fractal Machine could compute beyond the theoretical limits of the Turing Machine (Dubois and Resconi, 1993a-b). Holistic properties of the hyperincursion are related to the Golden Ratio with the Fibonacci Series and the Fractal Golden Matrix (Dubois and Resconi, 1992). An incursive method was developed for the inverse problem, the Newton- Raphson method and an application in robotics (Dubois and Resconi, 1995). Control by incursion was applied to feedback systems (Dubois and Resconi, 1994). Chaotic recursions can be synchronised by incursion (1993b). An incursive control of linear, non- linear and chaotic systems was proposed (Dubois, 1995a, Dubois and Resconi, 1994, 1995). The hyperincursive discrete Lotka-Voiterra equations have orbital stability and show the emergence of chaos (Dubois, 1992). By linearisation of this non-linear system, hyperincursive discrete harmonic oscillator equations give stable oscillations and discrete solutions (Dubois, 1995). A general theory of stability by incursion of discrete equations systems was developed with applications to the control of the numerical instabilities of the difference equations of the Lotka-Volterra differential equations as well as the control of the fractal chaos in the Pearl-Verhulst equation (Dubois and Resconi, 1995). The incursion harmonic oscillator shows eigenvalues and wave packet like in quantum mechanics. Backward and forward velocities are defined in this incursion harmonic oscillator. A connection is made between incursion and relativity as well as the electromagnetic field. The foundation of a hyperincursive discrete mechanics was proposed in relation to the quantum mechanics (Dubois and Resconi, 1993b, 1995).

This paper will present new developments and will show that the incursion and hyper-incursion could be a new tool of research and development for describing systems where the present state of such systems is also a function of their future states. The anticipatory property of incursion is an incremental final cause which could be related to the Aristotelian Final Cause.

Aristotle identified four explicit categories of causation: 1. Material cause; 2. Formal cause; 3. Efficient cause; 4. Final cause. Classically, it is considered that modem physics and mechanics only deal with efficient cause and biology with material cause. Robert Rosen (1986) gives another interpretation and asks why a certain Newtonian mechanical system is in the state (phase) Ix(t) (position), v(t) (velocity)]:

1. Aristotle’s “material cause” corresponds to the initial conditions of the system [x(0), v(0)] at time t=0.

2. The current cause at the present time is the set of constraints which convey to the system an “identity”, allowing it to go by recursion from the given initial phase to the latter phase, which corresponds to what Aristotle called formal cause.

3. What we call inputs or boundary conditions are the impressed forces by the environment, called efficient cause by Aristotle.

As pointed out by Robert Rosen, the first three of Aristotle’s causal categories are tacit in the Newtonian formalism: “the introduction of a notion of final cause into the Newtonian picture would amount to allowing a future state or future environment to affect change of state in the present, and this would be incompatible with the whole Newtonian picture. This is one of the main reasons that the concept of Aristotelian finality is considered incompatible with modern science.

In modern physics, Aristotelian ideas of causality are confused with determinism, which is quite different…. That is, determinism is merely a mathematical statement of functional dependence or linkage. As Russell points out, such mathematical relations, in themselves, carry no hint as to which of their variables are dependent and which are independent.”

The final cause could impress the present state of evolving systems, which seems a key phenomenon in biological systems so that the classical mathematical models are unable to explain many of these biological systems. An interesting analysis of the Final Causation was made by Emst von Glasersfeld (1990). The self-referential fractal machine shows that the hyperincursive field dealing with the final cause could be also very important in physical and computational systems. The concepts of incursion and hyper-incursion deal with an extension of the recursive processes for which future states can determine present states of evolving systems. Incursion is defined as invariant functional relations from which several recursive models with interacting variables can be constructed in terms of diverse physical structures (Dubois & Resconi, 1992, 1993b). Anticipation, viewed as an Aristotelian final cause, is of great importance to explain the dynamics of systems and the semantic information (Dubois, 1996a-b). Information is related to the meaning of data. It is important to note that what is usually called Information Theory is only a communication theory dealing with the communication of coded data in channels between a sender and a receptor without any reference to the semantic aspect of the messages. The meaning of the message can only be understood by the receiver if he has the same cultural reference as the sender of the message and even in this case, nobody can be sure that the receiver understands the message exactly as the sender. Because the message is only a sequential explanation of a non-communicable meaning of an idea in the mind of the sender which can be communicated to the receiver so that a certain meaning emerges in his mind. The meaning is relative or subjective in the sense that it depends on the experiential life or imagination of each of us. It is well- known that the semantic information of signs (like the coding of the signals for traffic) are the same for everybody (like having to stop at the red light at a cross roads) due to a collective agreement of their meaning in relation to actions. But the semantic information of an idea, for example, is more difficult to codify. This is perhaps the origin of creativity for which a meaning of something new emerges from a trial to find a meaning for something which has no a priori meaning or a void meaning.

Mind dynamics seems to be a parallel process and the way we express ideas by language is sequential. Is the sequential information the same as the parallel information? Let us explain this by considering the atoms or molecules in a liquid. We can calculate the average velocity of the particles from in two ways. The first way is to consider one particular particle and to measure its velocity during a certain time. One obtains its mean velocity which corresponds to the mean velocity of any particle of the liquid. The sec- ond way is to consider a certain number of particles at a given time and to measure the velocity of each of them. This mean velocity is equal to the first mean velocity. So there are two ways to obtain the same information. One by looking at one particular element along the time dimension and the other by looking at many elements at the same time. For me, explanation corresponds to the sequential measure and understanding to the parallel measure. Notice that ergodicity is only available with simple physical systems, so in general we can say that there are distortions between the sequential and the parallel view of any phenomenon. Perhaps the brain processes are based on ergodicity: the left hemisphere works in a sequential mode while the right hemisphere works in a parallel mode. The left brain explains while the right brain understands. The two brains arecomplementary and necessary.

Today computer science deals with the “left computer”. Fortunately, the informaticians have invented parallel computers which are based on complex multiplication of Turing Machines. It is now the time to reconsider the problem of looking at the “right computer”. Perhaps it will be an extension of the Fractal Machine (Dubois & Resconi, 1993a).

I think that the sequential way deals with the causality principle while the parallel way deals with a finality principle. There is a paradox: causality is related to the successive events in time while finality is related to a collection of events at a simultaneous time, i.e. out of time.Causality is related to recursive computations which give rise to the local generation of patterns in a synchronic way. Finality is related to incursive or hyperincursive symmetry invariance which gives rise to an indivisible wholeness, a holistic property in a diachronic way. Recursion (and Hyper recursion) is defined in the Sets Theory and Incursion (and Hyperincursion) could be defined in the new framework of the Hypersets Theory (Aczel, 1987; Barwise, Moss, 1991).

If the causality principle is rather well acknowledged, a finality principle is still controversial. It would be interesting to re-define these principles. Causality is defined for sequential events. If x(t) represents a variable at time t, a causal rule x(t+l) = f(x(t)) gives the successive states of the variable x at the successive time steps t, t+l, t+2, … from the recursive functionf(x(t)), starting with an initial state x(0) at time t=0. Defined like this, the system has no degrees of freedom: it is completely determined by the function and the initial condition. No new things can happen for such a system: the whole future is completely determined by its past. It is not an evolutionary system but a developmental system. If the system tends to a stable point, x(t+l) = x(t) and it remains in this state for ever. The variable x can represent a vector of states as a generalisation.

In the same way, I think that determinism is confused with predictability, in modern physics. The recent fractal and deterministic chaos theory (Mandeibrot, 1982; Peitgen, Jurgens, Saupe, 1992) is a step beyond classical concepts in physics. If the function is non-linear, chaotic behaviour can appear, what is called (deterministic) chaos. In this case, determinism does not give an accurate prediction of the future of the system from its initial conditions, what is called sensitivity to initial conditions. A chaotic system loses the memory of its past by finite computation. But it is important to point out that an average value, or bounds within which the variable can take its values, can be known;

it is only the precise values at the successive steps which are not predictable. The local information is unpredictable while the global symmetry is predictable. Chaos can presents a fractai geometry which shows a self-similarity of patterns at any scale.

A well-known fractal is the Sierpinski napkin. The self-similarity of pattems at any scale can be viewed as a symmetry invariance at any scale. An interesting property of such fractals is the fact that the final global pattern symmetry can be completely independent of the local pattern symmetry given as the initial condition of the process from which the fractal is built. The symmetry of the fractal structure, a final cause, can be independent of the initial conditions, a material cause. The formal cause is the local symmetry of the generator of the fractal, independently of its material elements and the efficient cause can be related to the recursive process to generate the fractal. In this particular fractal geometry, the final cause is identical to the final cause. The efficient cause is the making of the fractal and the material cause is just a substrate from which the fractal emerges but this substrate doesn’t play a role in the making.

Finally, the concepts of incursion and hyperincursion can be related to the theory of hypersets which are defined as sets containing themselves. This theory of hypersets is an alternative theory to the classical set theory which presents some problems as the in- completeness of G6del: a formal system cannot explain all about itself and some propositions cannot be demonstrated as true or false (undecidability). Fundamental entities of systems which are considered as ontological could be explain in a non-ontological way by self-referential systems.

Please see my related posts

On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Key sources of Research


Computing Anticipatory Systems with Incursion and Hyperincursion

Daniel M. DUBOIS


Click to access cd554835f0ae367c3d3e3fa40f3e5e5f5f11.pdf




Anticipation in Social Systems:

the Incursion and Communication of Meaning

Loet Leydesdorff 

Daniel M. Dubois

Click to access casys03.pdf





Daniel M. Dubois


Click to access dubois.pdf




Non-wellfounded Set Theory


  • Jon Barwise &
  • Larry Moss

Non-well-founded set theory

Knot Theory and Recursion: Louis H. Kauffman

Knot Theory and Recursion: Louis H. Kauffman


Some knots are tied forever.


Key Terms

  • Louis H Kauffman
  • Heinz Von Foerster
  • George Spencer Brown
  • Francisco Varela
  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • Recursion
  • Reflexivity
  • Knots
  • Laws of Form
  • Shape of Process
  • Trefoil Knots
  • Triplicity
  • Nonduality
  • Self Reference
  • Eigen Form
  • Form Dynamics
  • Recursive Forms
  • Knot Logic
  • Bio Logic
  • Distinctions
  • Topology
  • Topological Recursion
  • Ganth
  • Granthi – Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra
  • Chakra
  • Braids
  • Bandhu
  • Mitra
  • Vishvamitra
  • Friend
  • Relation
  • Sambandh
  • Love
  • True Love
  • Its a Knotty problem.

In mathematics, a knot is defined as a closed, non-self-intersecting curve that is embedded in three dimensions and cannot be untangled to produce a simple loop (i.e., the unknot). While in common usage, knots can be tied in string and rope such that one or more strands are left open on either side of the knot, the mathematical theory of knots terms an object of this type a “braid” rather than a knot. To a mathematician, an object is a knot only if its free ends are attached in some way so that the resulting structure consists of a single looped strand.

A knot can be generalized to a link, which is simply a knotted collection of one or more closed strands.

The study of knots and their properties is known as knot theory. Knot theorywas given its first impetus when Lord Kelvin proposed a theory that atoms were vortex loops, with different chemical elements consisting of different knotted configurations (Thompson 1867). P. G. Tait then cataloged possible knots by trial and error. Much progress has been made in the intervening years.

Schubert (1949) showed that every knot can be uniquely decomposed (up to the order in which the decomposition is performed) as a knot sum of a class of knots known as prime knots, which cannot themselves be further decomposed (Livingston 1993, p. 5; Adams 1994, pp. 8-9). Knots that can be so decomposed are then known as composite knots. The total number (prime plus composite) of distinct knots (treating mirror images as equivalent) having k=0, 1, … crossings are 1, 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 5, 8, 25, … (OEIS A086825).

Klein proved that knots cannot exist in an even-dimensional space >=4. It has since been shown that a knot cannot exist in any dimension >=4. Two distinct knots cannot have the same knot complement (Gordon and Luecke 1989), but two links can! (Adams 1994, p. 261).

Knots are most commonly cataloged based on the minimum number of crossings present (the so-called link crossing number). Thistlethwaite has used Dowker notation to enumerate the number of prime knots of up to 13 crossings, and alternating knots up to 14 crossings. In this compilation, mirror images are counted as a single knot type. Hoste et al. (1998) subsequently tabulated all prime knots up to 16 crossings. Hoste and Weeks subsequently began compiling a list of 17-crossing prime knots (Hoste et al. 1998).

Another possible representation for knots uses the braid group. A knot with n+1 crossings is a member of the braid group n.

There is no general algorithm to determine if a tangled curve is a knot or if two given knots are interlocked. Haken (1961) and Hemion (1979) have given algorithms for rigorously determining if two knots are equivalent, but they are too complex to apply even in simple cases (Hoste et al. 1998).


LH Kauffman with Trefoil Knot in the back.

LH Kauffman


From Reflexivity

A Knot

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Trefoil Knot



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From Reflexivity

This slide show has been only an introduction to certain mathematical and conceptual points of view about reflexivity.

In the worlds of scientific, political and economic action these principles come into play in the way structures rise and fall in the play of realities that are created from (almost) nothing by the participants in their desire to profit, have power or even just to have clarity and understanding. Beneath the remarkable and unpredictable structures that arise from such interplay is a lambent simplicity to which we may return, as to the source of the world.


From Laws of Form and the Logic of Non-Duality

This talk will trace how a mathematics of distinction arises directly from the process of discrimination and how that language, understood rightly as an opportunity to join as well as to divide, can aid in the movement between duality and non-duality that is our heritage as human beings on this planet.The purpose of this talk is to express this language and invite your participation in it and to present the possiblity that all our resources physical, scientific, logical, intellectual, empathic are our allies in the journey to transcend separation.

From Laws of Form and the Logic of Non-Duality

True Love.  It is a knotty problem.

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Wikipedia on Knot Theory




Please see my related posts:

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

Jay W. Forrester and System Dynamics

Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Recursive Vision of Gregory Bateson

Second Order Cybernetics of Heinz Von Foerster

Cybernetics Group: A Brief History of American Cybernetics

Cybernetics, Autopoiesis, and Social Systems Theory

Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough

Ratio Club: A Brief History of British Cyberneticians

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Feedback Thought in Economics and Finance

Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in Economics

Boundaries and Distinctions

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Boundaries and Networks

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Semiotics, Bio-Semiotics and Cyber Semiotics

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Networks and Hierarchies


Key Sources of Research:


Home Page of Louis H. Kauffman

Recursive Distinctioning

By Joel Isaacson and Louis H. Kauffman


Click to access JSP-Spr-2016-8_Kauffman-Isaacson-Final-v2.pdf



Knot Logic – Logical Connection and Topological Connection

by Louis H. Kauffman

Click to access 1508.06028.pdf




by Louis H. Kauffman


Click to access KNOTS.pdf





Louis H. Kaufman, UIC

Click to access BioL.pdf

New Invariants in the Theory of Knots

Louis H. Kaufman, UIC




Eigenform – An Introduction

by Louis H. Kauffman

Click to access 2007_813_Kauffman.pdf



Knot Logic and Topological Quantum Computing with Majorana Fermions

Louis H. Kauffman


Click to access arXiv%3A1301.6214.pdf




by Louis H. Kauffman

Click to access videoLKss-slides.pdf




Eigenforms, Discrete Processes and Quantum Processes

Louis H Kauffman 2012 J. Phys.: Conf. Ser. 361 012034




Eigenforms — Objects as Tokens for Eigenbehaviors

by Louis H. Kauffman

Click to access 1817.pdf




Reflexivity and Eigenform The Shape of Process

Louis H. Kauffman A University of


Click to access ReflexPublished.pdf






Louis H. Kauffman


Click to access Eigen.pdf





Louis H. Kauffman UIC, Chicago


Click to access Eigenform.pdf



Form Dynamics

Click to access FormDynamics.pdf



Arithmetics in the Form

Click to access ArithForm.pdf




Self Reference and Recursive Forms

Click to access SelfRefRecurForm.pdf

Click to access Relativity.pdf




Laws of Form and the Logic of Non-Duality

Louis H. Kauffman, UIC


Click to access KauffSAND.pdf




Laws of Form – An Exploration in Mathematics and Foundations

by Louis H. Kauffman UIC


Click to access Laws.pdf




The Mathematics of Charles Sanders Peirce

Louis H. Kauffman1


Click to access Peirce.pdf




A Recursive Approach to the Kauffman Bracket

Abdul Rauf Nizami, Mobeen Munir, Umer Saleem, Ansa Ramzan

Division of Science and Technology, University of Education, Lahore, Pakistan


On Aesthetics

On Aesthetics


What is Aesthetics?

Is it taste? Is it values? Is it virtues ?

Our likes and dislikes.

  • Aesthetics and Taste
  • Aesthetics and Values/Ethics
  • Consciousness
  • Culture
  • Appropriateness
  • Justness
  • Boundaries
  • Classes
  • Hierarchy
  • Inclusion
  • Exclusion


Is there higher and lower in Aesthetics

What appeals to us?  What we may disagree with?

Does taste define class? Does it define culture?

We create symbolic boundaries with what we exclude.

What is appropriate ? Is there higher and lower culture?

Classes, Hierarchy, Exclusion, Boundaries

The Concept of the Aesthetic

First published Fri Sep 11, 2009; substantive revision Tue Oct 17, 2017


Introduced into the philosophical lexicon during the Eighteenth Century, the term ‘aesthetic’ has come to be used to designate, among other things, a kind of object, a kind of judgment, a kind of attitude, a kind of experience, and a kind of value. For the most part, aesthetic theories have divided over questions particular to one or another of these designations: whether artworks are necessarily aesthetic objects; how to square the allegedly perceptual basis of aesthetic judgments with the fact that we give reasons in support of them; how best to capture the elusive contrast between an aesthetic attitude and a practical one; whether to define aesthetic experience according to its phenomenological or representational content; how best to understand the relation between aesthetic value and aesthetic experience. But questions of more general nature have lately arisen, and these have tended to have a skeptical cast: whether any use of ‘aesthetic’ may be explicated without appeal to some other; whether agreement respecting any use is sufficient to ground meaningful theoretical agreement or disagreement; whether the term ultimately answers to any legitimate philosophical purpose that justifies its inclusion in the lexicon. The skepticism expressed by such general questions did not begin to take hold until the later part of the 20th century, and this fact prompts the question whether (a) the concept of the aesthetic is inherently problematic and it is only recently that we have managed to see that it is, or (b) the concept is fine and it is only recently that we have become muddled enough to imagine otherwise. Adjudicating between these possibilities requires a vantage from which to take in both early and late theorizing on aesthetic matters.

1. The Concept of Taste

The concept of the aesthetic descends from the concept of taste. Why the concept of taste commanded so much philosophical attention during the 18th century is a complicated matter, but this much is clear: the eighteenth-century theory of taste emerged, in part, as a corrective to the rise of rationalism, particularly as applied to beauty, and to the rise of egoism, particularly as applied to virtue. Against rationalism about beauty, the eighteenth-century theory of taste held the judgment of beauty to be immediate; against egoism about virtue, it held the pleasure of beauty to be disinterested.

1.1 Immediacy

Rationalism about beauty is the view that judgments of beauty are judgments of reason, i.e., that we judge things to be beautiful by reasoning it out, where reasoning it out typically involves inferring from principles or applying concepts. At the beginning of the 18th century, rationalism about beauty had achieved dominance on the continent, and was being pushed to new extremes by “les géomètres,” a group of literary theorists who aimed to bring to literary criticism the mathematical rigor that Descartes had brought to physics. As one such theorist put it:

The way to think about a literary problem is that pointed out by Descartes for problems of physical science. A critic who tries any other way is not worthy to be living in the present century. There is nothing better than mathematics as propaedeutic for literary criticism. (Terrasson 1715, Preface, 65; quoted in Wimsatt and Brooks 1957, 258)

It was against this, and against more moderate forms of rationalism about beauty, that mainly British philosophers working mainly within an empiricist framework began to develop theories of taste. The fundamental idea behind any such theory—which we may call the immediacy thesis—is that judgments of beauty are not (or at least not canonically) mediated by inferences from principles or applications of concepts, but rather have all the immediacy of straightforwardly sensory judgments. It is the idea, in other words, that we do not reason to the conclusion that things are beautiful, but rather “taste” that they are. Here is an early expression of the thesis, from Jean-Baptiste Dubos’s Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Music, which first appeared in 1719:

Do we ever reason, in order to know whether a ragoo be good or bad; and has it ever entered into any body’s head, after having settled the geometrical principles of taste, and defined the qualities of each ingredient that enters into the composition of those messes, to examine into the proportion observed in their mixture, in order to decide whether it be good or bad? No, this is never practiced. We have a sense given us by nature to distinguish whether the cook acted according to the rules of his art. People taste the ragoo, and tho’ unacquainted with those rules, they are able to tell whether it be good or no. The same may be said in some respect of the productions of the mind, and of pictures made to please and move us. (Dubos 1748, vol. II, 238–239)

And here is a late expression, from Kant’s 1790 Critique of the Power of Judgment:

If someone reads me his poem or takes me to a play that in the end fails to please my taste, then he can adduce Batteux or Lessing, or even older and more famous critics of taste, and adduce all the rules they established as proofs that his poem is beautiful… . I will stop my ears, listen to no reasons and arguments, and would rather believe that those rules of the critics are false … than allow that my judgment should be determined by means of a priorigrounds of proof, since it is supposed to be a judgment of taste and not of the understanding of reason. (Kant 1790, 165)

But the theory of taste would not have enjoyed its eighteenth-century run, nor would it continue now to exert its influence, had it been without resources to counter an obvious rationalist objection. There is a wide difference—so goes the objection—between judging the excellence of a ragout and judging the excellence of a poem or a play. More often than not, poems and plays are objects of great complication. But taking in all that complication requires a lot of cognitive work, including the application of concepts and the drawing of inferences. Judging the beauty of poems and plays, then, is evidently not immediate and so evidently not a matter of taste.

The chief way of meeting this objection was first to distinguish between the act of grasping the object preparatory to judging it and the act of judging the object once grasped, and then to allow the former, but not the latter, to be as concept- and inference-mediated as any rationalist might wish. Here is Hume, with characteristic clarity:

[I]n order to pave the way for [a judgment of taste], and give a proper discernment of its object, it is often necessary, we find, that much reasoning should precede, that nice distinctions be made, just conclusions drawn, distant comparisons formed, complicated relations examined, and general facts fixed and ascertained. Some species of beauty, especially the natural kinds, on their first appearance command our affection and approbation; and where they fail of this effect, it is impossible for any reasoning to redress their influence, or adapt them better to our taste and sentiment. But in many orders of beauty, particularly those of the fine arts, it is requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper sentiment. (Hume, 1751, Section I)

Hume—like Shaftesbury and Hutcheson before him, and Reid after him (Cooper 1711, 17, 231; Hutcheson 1725, 16–24; Reid 1785, 760–761)—regarded the faculty of taste as a kind of “internal sense.” Unlike the five “external” or “direct” senses, an “internal” (or “reflex” or “secondary”) sense is one that depends for its objects on the antecedent operation of some other mental faculty or faculties. Reid characterizes it as follows:

Beauty or deformity in an object, results from its nature or structure. To perceive the beauty therefore, we must perceive the nature or structure from which it results. In this the internal sense differs from the external. Our external senses may discover qualities which do not depend upon any antecedent perception… . But it is impossible to perceive the beauty of an object, without perceiving the object, or at least conceiving it. (Reid 1785, 760–761)

Because of the highly complex natures or structures of many beautiful objects, there will have to be a role for reason in their perception. But perceiving the nature or structure of an object is one thing. Perceiving its beauty is another.

1.2 Disinterest

Egoism about virtue is the view that to judge an action or trait virtuous is to take pleasure in it because you believe it to serve some interest of yours. Its central instance is the Hobbesian view—still very much on early eighteenth-century minds—that to judge an action or trait virtuous is to take pleasure in it because you believe it to promote your safety. Against Hobbesian egoism a number of British moralists—preeminently Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume—argued that, while a judgment of virtue is a matter of taking pleasure in response to an action or trait, the pleasure is disinterested, by which they meant that it is not self-interested (Cooper 1711, 220–223; Hutcheson 1725, 9, 25–26; Hume 1751, 218–232, 295–302). One argument went roughly as follows. That we judge virtue by means of an immediate sensation of pleasure means that judgments of virtue are judgments of taste, no less than judgments of beauty. But pleasure in the beautiful is not self-interested: we judge objects to be beautiful whether or not we believe them to serve our interests. But if pleasure in the beautiful is disinterested, there is no reason to think that pleasure in the virtuous cannot also be (Hutcheson 1725, 9–10).

The eighteenth-century view that judgments of virtue are judgments of taste highlights a difference between the eighteenth-century concept of taste and our concept of the aesthetic, since for us the concepts aesthetic and moral tend oppose one another such that a judgment’s falling under one typically precludes its falling under the other. Kant is chiefly responsible for introducing this difference. He brought the moral and the aesthetic into opposition by re-interpreting what we might call the disinterest thesis—the thesis that pleasure in the beautiful is disinterested (though see Cooper 1711, 222 and Home 2005, 36–38 for anticipations of Kant’s re-interpretation).

According to Kant, to say that a pleasure is interested is not to say that it is self-interested in the Hobbesian sense, but rather that it stands in a certain relation to the faculty of desire. The pleasure involved in judging an action to be morally good is interested because such a judgment issues in a desire to bring the action into existence, i.e., to perform it. To judge an action to be morally good is to become aware that one has a duty to perform the action, and to become so aware is to gain a desire to perform it. By contrast, the pleasure involved in judging an object to be beautiful is disinterested because such a judgment issues in no desire to do anything in particular. If we can be said to have a duty with regard to beautiful things, it appears to be exhausted in our judging them aesthetically to be beautiful. That is what Kant means when he says that the judgment of taste is not practical but rather “merely contemplative” (Kant 1790, 95).

By thus re-orienting the notion of disinterest, Kant brought the concept of taste into opposition with the concept of morality, and so into line, more or less, with the present concept of the aesthetic. But if the Kantian concept of taste is continuous, more or less, with the present-day concept of the aesthetic, why the terminological discontinuity? Why have we come to prefer the term ‘aesthetic’ to the term ‘taste’? The not very interesting answer appears to be that we have preferred an adjective to a noun. The term ‘aesthetic’ derives from the Greek term for sensory perception, and so preserves the implication of immediacy carried by the term ‘taste.’ Kant employed both terms, though not equivalently: according to his usage, ‘aesthetic’ is broader, picking out a class of judgments that includes both the normative judgment of taste and the non-normative, though equally immediate, judgment of the agreeable. Though Kant was not the first modern to use ‘aesthetic’ (Baumgarten had used it as early as 1735), the term became widespread only, though quickly, after his employment of it in the third Critique. Yet the employment that became widespread was not exactly Kant’s, but a narrower one according to which ‘aesthetic’ simply functions as an adjective corresponding to the noun “taste.” So for example we find Coleridge, in 1821, expressing the wish that he “could find a more familiar word than aesthetic for works of taste and criticism,” before going on to argue:

As our language … contains no other useable adjective, to express coincidence of form, feeling, and intellect, that something, which, confirming the inner and the outward senses, becomes a new sense in itself … there is reason to hope, that the term aesthetic, will be brought into common use. (Coleridge 1821, 254)

The availability of an adjective corresponding to “taste” has allowed for the retiring of a series of awkward expressions: the expressions “judgment of taste,” “emotion of taste” and “quality of taste” have given way to the arguably less offensive ‘aesthetic judgment,’ ‘aesthetic emotion,’ and ‘aesthetic quality.’ However, as the noun ‘taste’ phased out, we became saddled with other perhaps equally awkward expressions, including the one that names this entry.

2. The Concept of the Aesthetic

Much of the history of more recent thinking about the concept of the aesthetic can be seen as the history of the development of the immediacy and disinterest theses.

2.1 Aesthetic Objects

Artistic formalism is the view that the artistically relevant properties of an artwork—the properties in virtue of which it is an artwork and in virtue of which it is a good or bad one—are formal merely, where formal properties are typically regarded as properties graspable by sight or by hearing merely. Artistic formalism has been taken to follow from both the immediacy and the disinterest theses (Binkley 1970, 266–267; Carroll 2001, 20–40). If you take the immediacy thesis to imply the artistic irrelevance of all properties whose grasping requires the use of reason, and you include representational properties in that class, then you are apt to think that the immediacy thesis implies artistic formalism. If you take the disinterest thesis to imply the artistic irrelevance of all properties capable of practical import, and you include representational properties in that class, then you are apt to think that the disinterest thesis implies artistic formalism.

This is not to suggest that the popularity enjoyed by artistic formalism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries owed mainly to its inference from the immediacy or disinterest theses. The most influential advocates of formalism during this period were professional critics, and their formalism derived, at least in part, from the artistic developments with which they were concerned. As a critic Eduard Hanslick advocated for the pure music of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and later Brahms, and against the dramatically impure music of Wagner; as a theorist he urged that music has no content but “tonally moving forms” (Hanslick 1986, 29). As a critic Clive Bell was an early champion of the post-Impressionists, especially Cezanne; as a theorist he maintained that the formal properties of painting—“relations and combinations of lines and colours”—alone have artistic relevance (Bell 1958, 17–18). As a critic Clement Greenberg was abstract expressionism’s ablest defender; as a theorist he held painting’s “proper area of competence” to be exhausted by flatness, pigment, and shape (Greenberg 1986, 86–87).

Not every influential defender of formalism has also been a professional critic. Monroe Beardsley, who arguably gave formalism its most sophisticated articulation, was not (Beardsley 1958). Nor is Nick Zangwill, who recently has mounted a spirited and resourceful defense of a moderate version of formalism (Zangwill 2001). But formalism has always been sufficiently motivated by art-critical data that once Arthur Danto made the case that the data no longer supported it, and perhaps never really had, formalism’s heyday came to an end. Inspired in particular by Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, which are (more or less) perceptually indistinguishable from the brand-printed cartons in which boxes of Brillo were delivered to supermarkets, Danto observed that for most any artwork it is possible to imagine both (a) another object that is perceptually indiscernible from it but which is not an artwork, and (b) another artwork that is perceptually indiscernible from it but which differs in artistic value. From these observations he concluded that form alone neither makes an artwork nor gives it whatever value it has (Danto 1981, 94–95; Danto 1986, 30–31; Danto 1997, 91).

But Danto has taken the possibility of such perceptual indiscernibles to show the limitations not merely of form but also of aesthetics, and he has done so on the grounds, apparently, that the formal and the aesthetic are co-extensive. Regarding a urinal Duchamp once exhibited and a perceptual indiscernible ordinary urinal, Danto maintains that

aesthetics could not explain why one was a work of fine art and the other not, since for all practical purposes they were aesthetically indiscernible: if one was beautiful, the other one had to be beautiful, since they looked just alike. (Danto 2003, 7)

But the inference from the limits of the artistically formal to the limits of the artistically aesthetic is presumably only as strong as the inferences from the immediacy and disinterest theses to artistic formalism, and these are not beyond question. The inference from the disinterest thesis appears to go through only if you employ a stronger notion of disinterest than the one Kant understands himself to be employing: Kant, it is worth recalling, regards poetry as the highest of the fine arts precisely because of its capacity to employ representational content in the expression of what he calls ‘aesthetic ideas’ (Kant 1790, 191–194; see Costello 2008 and 2013 for extended treatment of the capacity of Kantian aesthetics to accommodate conceptual art). The inference from the immediacy thesis appears to go through only if you employ a notion of immediacy stronger than the one Hume, for example, takes himself to be defending when he claims (in a passage quoted in section1.1) that “in many orders of beauty, particularly those of the fine arts, it is requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper sentiment” (Hume 1751, 173). It may be that artistic formalism results if you push either of the tendencies embodied in the immediacy and disinterest theses to extremes. It may be that the history of aesthetics from the 18th century to the mid-Twentieth is largely the history of pushing those two tendencies to extremes. It does not follow that those tendencies must be so pushed.

Consider Warhol’s Brillo Boxes. Danto is right to maintain that the eighteenth-century theorist of taste would not know how to regard it as an artwork. But this is because the eighteenth-century theorist of taste lives in the 18th century, and so would be unable to situate that work in its twentieth-century art-historical context, and not because the kind of theory he holds forbids him from situating a work in its art-historical context. When Hume, for instance, observes that artists address their works to particular, historically-situated audiences, and that a critic therefore “must place himself in the same situation as the audience” to whom a work is addressed (Hume 1757, 239), he is allowing that artworks are cultural products, and that the properties that works have as the cultural products they are are among the “ingredients of the composition” that a critic must grasp if she is to feel the proper sentiment. Nor does there seem to be anything in the celebrated conceptuality of Brillo Boxes, nor of any other conceptual work, that ought to give the eighteenth-century theorist pause. Francis Hutcheson asserts that mathematical and scientific theorems are objects of taste (Hutcheson 1725, 36–41). Alexander Gerard asserts that scientific discoveries and philosophical theories are objects of taste (Gerard 1757, 6). Neither argues for his assertion. Both regard it as commonplace that objects of intellect may be objects of taste as readily as objects of sight and hearing may be. Why should the present-day aesthetic theorist think otherwise? If an object is conceptual in nature, grasping its nature will require intellectual work. If grasping an object’s conceptual nature requires situating it art-historically, then the intellectual work required to grasp its nature will include situating it art-historically. But—as Hume and Reid held (see section 1.1)—grasping the nature of an object preparatory to aesthetically judging it is one thing; aesthetically judging the object once grasped is another.

Though Danto has been the most influential and persistent critic of formalism, his criticisms are no more decisive than those advanced by Kendall Walton in his essay “Categories of Art.” Walton’s anti-formalist argument hinges on two main theses, one psychological and one philosophical. According to the psychological thesis, which aesthetic properties we perceive a work as having depends on which category we perceive the work as belonging to. Perceived as belonging to the category of painting, Picasso’s Guernica will be perceived as “violent, dynamic, vital, disturbing” (Walton 1970, 347). But perceived as belonging to the category of “guernicas”—where guernicas are works with “surfaces with the colors and shapes of Picasso’sGuernica, but the surfaces are molded to protrude from the wall like relief maps of different kinds of terrain”—Picasso’s Guernica will be perceived not as violent and dynamic, but as “cold, stark, lifeless, or serene and restful, or perhaps bland, dull, boring” (Walton 1970, 347). That Picasso’s Guernica can be perceived both as violent and dynamic and as not violent and not dynamic might be thought to imply that there is no fact of the matter whether it is violent and dynamic. But this implication holds only on the assumption that there is no fact of the matter which category Picasso’s Guernica actually belongs to, and this assumption appears to be false given that Picasso intended that Guernica be a painting and did not intend that it be a Guernica, and that the category of paintings was well-established in the society in which Picasso painted it while the category of guernicas was not. Hence the philosophical thesis, according to which the aesthetic properties a work actually has are those it is perceived as having when perceived as belonging to the category (or categories) it actually belongs to. Since the properties of having been intended to be a painting and having been created in a society in which painting is well-established category are artistically relevant though not graspable merely by seeing (or hearing) the work, it seems that artistic formalism cannot be true. “I do not deny,” Walton concludes, “that paintings and sonatas are to be judged solely on what can be seen or heard in them—when they are perceived correctly. But examining a work with the senses can by itself reveal neither how it is correct to perceive it, nor how to perceive it that way” (Walton 1970, 367).

But if we cannot judge which aesthetic properties paintings and sonatas have without consulting the intentions and the societies of the artists who created them, what of the aesthetic properties of natural items? With respect to them it may appear as if there is nothing to consult except the way they look and sound, so that an aesthetic formalism about nature must be true. Allen Carlson, a central figure in the burgeoning field of the aesthetics of nature, argues against this appearance. Carlson observes that Walton’s psychological thesis readily transfers from works of art to natural items: that we perceive Shetland ponies as cute and charming and Clydesdales as lumbering surely owes to our perceiving them as belonging to the category of horses (Carlson 1981, 19). He also maintains that the philosophical thesis transfers: whales actually have the aesthetic properties we perceive them as having when we perceive them as mammals, and do not actually have any contrasting aesthetic properties we might perceive them to have when we perceive them as fish. If we ask what determines which category or categories natural items actually belong to, the answer, according to Carlson, is their natural histories as discovered by natural science (Carlson 1981, 21–22). Inasmuch as a natural item’s natural history will tend not to be graspable by merely seeing or hearing it, formalism is no truer of natural items than it is of works of art.

The claim that Walton’s psychological thesis transfers to natural items has been widely accepted (and was in fact anticipated, as Carlson acknowledges, by Ronald Hepburn (Hepburn 1966 and 1968)). The claim that Walton’s philosophical thesis transfers to natural items has proven more controversial. Carlson is surely right that aesthetic judgments about natural items are prone to be mistaken insofar as they result from perceptions of those items as belonging to categories to which they do not belong, and, insofar as determining which categories natural items actually belong to requires scientific investigation, this point seems sufficient to undercut the plausibility of any very strong formalism about nature (see Carlson 1979 for independent objections against such formalism). Carlson, however, also wishes to establish that aesthetic judgments about natural items have whatever objectivity aesthetic judgments about works of art do, and it is controversial whether Walton’s philosophical claim transfers sufficiently to support such a claim. One difficulty, raised by Malcolm Budd (Budd 2002 and 2003) and Robert Stecker (Stecker1997c), is that since there are many categories in which a given natural item may correctly be perceived, it is unclear which correct category is the one in which the item is perceived as having the aesthetic properties it actually has. Perceived as belonging to the category of Shetland ponies, a large Shetland pony may be perceived as lumbering; perceived as belonging to the category of horses, the same pony may be perceived as cute and charming but certainly not lumbering. If the Shetland pony were a work of art, we might appeal to the intentions (or society) of its creator to determine which correct category is the one that fixes its aesthetic character. But as natural items are not human creations they can give us no basis for deciding between equally correct but aesthetically contrasting categorizations. It follows, according to Budd, “the aesthetic appreciation of nature is endowed with a freedom denied to the appreciation of art” (Budd 2003, 34), though this is perhaps merely another way of saying that the aesthetic appreciation of art is endowed with an objectivity denied to the appreciation of nature.

2.2 Aesthetic Judgment

The eighteenth-century debate between rationalists and theorists of taste (or sentimentalists) was primarily a debate over the immediacy thesis, i.e., over whether we judge objects to be beautiful by applying principles of beauty to them. It was not primarily a debate over the existence of principles of beauty, a matter over which theorists of taste might disagree. Kant denied that there are any such principles (Kant 1790, 101), but both Hutcheson and Hume affirmed their existence: they maintained that although judgments of beauty are judgments of taste and not of reason, taste nevertheless operates according to general principles, which might be discovered through empirical investigation (Hutcheson 1725, 28–35; Hume 1757, 231–233).

It is tempting to think of recent debate in aesthetics between particularists and generalists as a revival of the eighteenth-century debate between rationalists and theorists of taste. But the accuracy of this thought is difficult to gauge. One reason is that it is often unclear whether particularists and generalists take themselves merely to be debating the existence of aesthetic principles or to be debating their employment in aesthetic judgment. Another is that, to the degree particularists and generalists take themselves to be debating the employment of aesthetic principles in aesthetic judgment, it is hard to know what they can be meaning by ‘aesthetic judgment.’ If ‘aesthetic’ still carries its eighteenth-century implication of immediacy, then the question under debate is whether judgment that is immediate is immediate. If ‘aesthetic’ no longer carries that implication, then it is hard to know what question is under debate because it is hard to know what aesthetic judgment could be. It may be tempting to think that we can simply re-define ‘aesthetic judgment’ such that it refers to any judgment in which an aesthetic property is predicated of an object. But this requires being able to say what an aesthetic property is without reference to its being immediately graspable, something no one seems to have done. It may seem that we can simply re-define ‘aesthetic judgment’ such that it refers to any judgment in which any property of the class exemplified by beauty is predicated of an object. But which class is this? The classes exemplified by beauty are presumably endless, and the difficulty is to specify the relevant class without reference to the immediate graspability of its members, and that is what no one seems to have done.

However we are to sort out the particularist/generalist debate, important contributions to it include, on the side of particularism, Arnold Isenberg’s “Critical Communication” (1949) Frank Sibley’s “Aesthetic Concepts” (in Sibley 2001) and Mary Mothersill’s Beauty Restored (1984) and, on the side of generalism, Monroe Beardsley’s Aesthetics (1958) and “On the Generality of Critical Reasons” (1962), Sibley’s “General Reasons and Criteria in Aesthetics” (in Sibley 2001), George Dickie’s Evaluating Art (1987), Stephen Davies’s “Replies to Arguments Suggesting that Critics’ Strong Evaluations Could not be Soundly Deduced” (1995), and John Bender’s “General but Defeasible Reasons in Aesthetic Evaluation: The Generalist/Particularist Dispute” (1995). Of these, the papers by Isenberg and Sibley have arguably enjoyed the greatest influence.

Isenberg concedes that we often appeal to descriptive features of works in support of our judgments of their value, and he allows that this may make it seem as if we must be appealing to principles in making those judgments. If in support of a favorable judgment of some painting a critic appeals to the wavelike contour formed by the figures clustered in its foreground, it may seem as if his judgment must involve tacit appeal to the principle that any painting having such a contour is so much the better. But Isenberg argues that this cannot be, since no one agrees to any such principle:

There is not in all the world’s criticism a single purely descriptive statement concerning which one is prepared to say beforehand, ‘If it is true, I shall like that work so much the better’ (Isenberg 1949, 338).

But if in appealing to the descriptive features of a work we are not acknowledging tacit appeals to principles linking those features to aesthetic value, what are we doing? Isenberg believes we are offering “directions for perceiving” the work, i.e., by singling out certain its features, we are “narrow[ing] down the field of possible visual orientations” and thereby guiding others in “the discrimination of details, the organization of parts, the grouping of discrete objects into patterns” (Isenberg 1949, 336). In this way we get others to see what we have seen, rather than getting them to infer from principle what we have so inferred.

That Sibley advances a variety of particularism in one paper and a variety of generalism in another will give the appearance of inconsistency where there is none: Sibley is a particularist of one sort, and with respect to one distinction, and a generalist of another sort with respect to another distinction. Isenberg, as noted, is a particularist with respect to the distinction between descriptions and verdicts, i.e., he maintains that there are no principles by which we may infer from value-neutral descriptions of works to judgments of their overall value. Sibley’s particularism and generalism, by contrast, both have to do with judgments falling in between descriptions and verdicts. With respect to a distinction between descriptions and a set of judgments intermediate between descriptions and verdicts, Sibley is straightforwardly particularist. With respect to a distinction between a set of judgments intermediate between descriptions and verdicts and verdicts, Sibley is a kind of generalist and describes himself as such.

Sibley’s generalism, as set forth in “General Reasons and Criteria in Aesthetics,” begins with the observation that the properties to which we appeal in justification of favorable verdicts are not all descriptive or value-neutral. We also appeal to properties that are inherently positive, such as grace, balance, dramatic intensity, or comicality. To say that a property is inherently positive is not to say that any work having it is so much the better, but rather that its tout court attribution implies value. So although a work may be made worse on account of its comical elements, the simple claim that a work is good because comical is intelligible in a way that the simple claims that a work is good because yellow, or because it lasts twelve minutes, or because it contains many puns, are not. But if the simple claim that a work is good because comical is thus intelligible, comicality is a general criterion for aesthetic value, and the principle that articulates that generality is true. But none of this casts any doubt on the immediacy thesis, as Sibley himself observes:

I have argued elsewhere that there are no sure-fire rules by which, referring to the neutral and non-aesthetic qualities of things, one can infer that something is balanced, tragic, comic, joyous, and so on. One has to look and see. Here, equally, at a different level, I am saying that there are no sure-fire mechanical rules or procedures for deciding which qualities are actual defects in the work; one has to judge for oneself. (Sibley 2001, 107–108)

The “elsewhere” referred to in the first sentence is Sibley’s earlier paper, “Aesthetic Concepts,” which argues that the application of concepts such as ‘balanced,’ ‘tragic,’ ‘comic,’ or ‘joyous’ is not a matter of determining whether the descriptive (i.e., non-aesthetic) conditions for their application are met, but is rather a matter of taste. Hence aesthetic judgments are immediate in something like the way that judgments of color, or of flavor, are:

We see that a book is red by looking, just as we tell that the tea is sweet by tasting it. So too, it might be said, we just see (or fail to see) that things are delicate, balanced, and the like. This kind of comparison between the exercise of taste and the use of the five senses is indeed familiar; our use of the word ‘taste’ itself shows that the comparison is age-old and very natural (Sibley 2001, 13–14).

But Sibley recognizes—as his eighteenth-century forebears did and his formalist contemporaries did not—that important differences remain between the exercise of taste and the use of the five senses. Central among these is that we offer reasons, or something like them, in support of our aesthetic judgments: by talking—in particular, by appealing to the descriptive properties on which the aesthetic properties depend—we justify aesthetic judgments by bringing others to see what we have seen (Sibley 2001, 14–19).

It is unclear to what degree Sibley, beyond seeking to establish that the application of aesthetic concepts is not condition-governed, seeks also to define the term ‘aesthetic’ in terms of their not being so. It is clearer, perhaps, that he does not succeed in defining the term this way, whatever his intentions. Aesthetic concepts are not alone in being non-condition-governed, as Sibley himself recognizes in comparing them with color concepts. But there is also no reason to think them alone in being non-condition-governed while also being reason-supportable, since moral concepts, to give one example, at least arguably also have both these features. Isolating the aesthetic requires something more than immediacy, as Kant saw. It requires something like the Kantian notion of disinterest, or at least something to play the role played by that notion in Kant’s theory.

Given the degree to which Kant and Hume continue to influence thinking about aesthetic judgment (or critical judgment, more broadly), given the degree to which Sibley and Isenberg continue to abet that influence, it is not surprising that the immediacy thesis is now very widely received. The thesis, however, has come under attack, notably by Davies (1990) and Bender (1995). (See also Carroll (2009), who follows closely after Davies (1990), and Dorsch (2013) for further discussion.)

Isenberg, it will be recalled, maintains that if the critic is arguing for her verdict, her argumentation must go something as follows:

  1. Artworks having p are better for having p.
  2. W is an artwork having p.
  3. Therefore, W is so much the better for having p.

Since the critical principle expressed in premise 1 is open to counter-example, no matter what property we substitute for p, Isenberg concludes that we cannot plausibly interpret the critic as arguing for her verdict. Rather than defend the principle expressed in premise 1, Davies and Bender both posit alternative principles, consistent with the fact that no property is good-making in all artworks, which they ascribe to the critic. Davies proposes that we interpret the critic as arguing deductively from principles relativized to artistic type, that is, from principles holding that artworks of a specific types or categories—Italian Renaissance paintings, romantic symphonies, Hollywood Westerns, etc.—having p are better for having it (Davies 1990, 174). Bender proposes that we interpret the critic as arguing inductively from principles expressing mere tendencies that hold between certain properties and artworks—principles, in other words, holding that artworks having p tend to be better for having it (Bender 1995, 386).

Each proposal has its own weaknesses and strengths. A problem with Bender’s approach is that critics do not seem to couch their verdicts in probabilistic terms. Were a critic to say that a work is likely to be good, or almost certainly good, or even that she has the highest confidence that it must be good, her language would suggest that she had not herself experienced the work, perhaps that she had judged the work on the basis of someone else’s testimony, and that she was, therefore, no critic at all. We would therefore have good reason to prefer Davies’s deductive approach if only we had good reason for thinking that relativizing critical principles to artistic type removed the original threat of counterexample. Though it is clear that such relativizing reduces the relative number of counterexamples, we need good reason for thinking that it reduces that number to zero, and Davies provides no such reason. Bender’s inductive approach, by contrast, cannot be refuted by counterexample, but only by counter-tendency.

If the critic argues from the truth of a principle to the truth of a verdict—as Davies and Bender both contend—it must be possible for her to establish the truth of the principle before establishing the truth of the verdict. How might she do this? It seems unlikely that mere reflection on the nature of art, or on the natures of types of art, could yield up the relevant lists of good- and bad-making properties. At least the literature has yet to produce a promising account as to how this might be done. Observation therefore seems the most promising answer. To say that the critic establishes the truth of critical principles on the basis of observation, however, is to say that she establishes a correlation between certain artworks she has already established to be good and certain properties she has already established those works to have. But then any capacity to establish that works are good by inference from principles evidently depends on some capacity to establish that works are good without any such inference, and the question arises why the critic should prefer to do by inference what she can do perfectly well without. The answer cannot be that judging by inference from principle yields epistemically better results, since a principle based on observations can be no more epistemically sound than the observations on which it is based.

None of this shows that aesthetic or critical judgment could never be inferred from principles. It does however suggest that such judgment is first and foremost non-inferential, which is what the immediacy thesis holds.

2.3 The Aesthetic Attitude

The Kantian notion of disinterest has its most direct recent descendents in the aesthetic-attitude theories that flourished from the early to mid 20th century. Though Kant followed the British in applying the term ‘disinterested’ strictly to pleasures, its migration to attitudes is not difficult to explain. For Kant the pleasure involved in a judgment of taste is disinterested because such a judgment does not issue in a motive to do anything in particular. For this reason Kant refers to the judgment of taste as contemplative rather than practical (Kant 1790, 95). But if the judgment of taste is not practical, then the attitude we bear toward its object is presumably also not practical: when we judge an object aesthetically we are unconcerned with whether and how it may further our practical aims. Hence it is natural to speak of our attitude toward the object as disinterested.

To say, however, that the migration of disinterest from pleasures to attitudes is natural is not to say that it is inconsequential. Consider the difference between Kant’s aesthetic theory, the last great theory of taste, and Schopenhauer’s aesthetic theory, the first great aesthetic-attitude theory. Whereas for Kant disinterested pleasure is the means by which we discover things to bear aesthetic value, for Schopenhauer disinterested attention (or “will-less contemplation”) is itself the locus of aesthetic value. According to Schopenhauer, we lead our ordinary, practical lives in a kind of bondage to our own desires (Schopenhauer 1819, 196). This bondage is a source not merely of pain but also of cognitive distortion in that it restricts our attention to those aspects of things relevant to the fulfilling or thwarting of our desires. Aesthetic contemplation, being will-less, is therefore both epistemically and hedonically valuable, allowing us a desire-free glimpse into the essences of things as well as a respite from desire-induced pain:

When, however, an external cause or inward disposition suddenly raises us out of the endless stream of willing, and snatches knowledge from the thralldom of the will, the attention is now no longer directed to the motives of willing, but comprehends things free from their relation to the will … Then all at once the peace, always sought but always escaping us … comes to us of its own accord, and all is well with us. (Schopenhauer 1819, 196)

The two most influential aesthetic-attitude theories of the 20th century are those of Edward Bullough and Jerome Stolnitz. According to Stolnitz’s theory, which is the more straightforward of the two, bearing an aesthetic attitude toward an object is a matter of attending to it disinterestedly and sympathetically, where to attend to it disinterestedly is to attend to it with no purpose beyond that of attending to it, and to attend to it sympathetically is to “accept it on its own terms,” allowing it, and not one’s own preconceptions, to guide one’s attention of it (Stolnitz 1960, 32–36). The result of such attention is a comparatively richer experience of the object, i.e., an experience taking in comparatively many of the object’s features. Whereas a practical attitude limits and fragments the object of our experience, allowing us to “see only those of its features which are relevant to our purposes,…. By contrast, the aesthetic attitude ‘isolates’ the object and focuses upon it—the ‘look’ of the rocks, the sound of the ocean, the colors in the painting.” (Stolnitz 1960, 33, 35).

Bullough, who prefers to speak of “psychical distance” rather than disinterest, characterizes aesthetic appreciation as something achieved

by putting the phenomenon, so to speak, out of gear with our actual practical self; by allowing it to stand outside the context of our personal needs and ends—in short, by looking at it ‘objectively’ … by permitting only such reactions on our part as emphasise the ‘objective features of the experience, and by interpreting even our ‘subjective’ affections not as modes of our being but rather as characteristics of the phenomenon. (Bullough 1995, 298–299; emphasis in original).

Bullough has been criticized for claiming that aesthetic appreciation requires dispassionate detachment:

Bullough’s characterization of the aesthetic attitude is the easiest to attack. When we cry at a tragedy, jump in fear at a horror movie, or lose ourselves in the plot of a complex novel, we cannot be said to be detached, although we may be appreciating the aesthetic qualities of these works to the fullest… . And we can appreciate the aesthetic properties of the fog or storm while fearing the dangers they present. (Goldman 2005, 264)

But such a criticism seems to overlook a subtlety of Bullough’s view. While Bullough does hold that aesthetic appreciation requires distance “between our own self and its affections” (Bullough 1995, 298), he does not take this to require that we not undergo affections but quite the opposite: only if we undergo affections have we affections from which to be distanced. So, for example, the properly distanced spectator of a well-constructed tragedy is not the “over-distanced” spectator who feels no pity or fear, nor the “under-distanced” spectator who feels pity and fear as she would to an actual, present catastrophe, but the spectator who interprets the pity and fear she feels “not as modes of [her] being but rather as characteristics of the phenomenon” (Bullough 1995, 299). The properly distanced spectator of a tragedy, we might say, understands her fear and pity to be part of what tragedy is about.

The notion of the aesthetic attitude has been attacked from all corners and has very few remaining sympathizers. George Dickie is widely regarded as having delivered the decisive blow in his essay “The Myth of the Aesthetic Attitude” (Dickie 1964) by arguing that all purported examples of interested or distanced attention are really just examples of inattention. So consider the case of the spectator at a performance of Othello who becomes increasingly suspicious of his own wife as the action proceeds, or the case of the impresario who sits gauging the size of the audience, or the case of the father who sits taking pride in his daughter’s performance, or the case of the moralist who sits gauging the moral effects the play is apt to produce in its audience. These and all such cases will be regarded by the attitude theorist as cases of interested or distanced attention to the performance, when they are actually nothing but cases of inattention to the performance: the jealous husband is attending to his wife, the impresario to the till, the father to his daughter, the moralist to the effects of the play. But if none of them is attending to the performance, then none of them is attending to it disinterestedly or with distance (Dickie 1964, 57–59).

The attitude theorist, however, can plausibly resist Dickie’s interpretation of such examples. Clearly the impresario is not attending to the performance, but there is no reason to regard the attitude theorist as committed to thinking otherwise. As for the others, it might be argued that they are all attending. The jealous husband must be attending to the performance, since it is the action of the play, as presented by the performance, that is making him suspicious. The proud father must be attending to the performance, since he is attending to his daughter’s performance, which is an element of it. The moralist must be attending to the performance, since he otherwise would have no basis by which to gauge its moral effects on the audience. It may be that none of these spectators is giving the performance the attention it demands, but that is precisely the attitude theorist’s point.

But perhaps another of Dickie’s criticisms, one lesser known, ultimately poses a greater threat to the ambitions of the attitude theorist. Stolnitz, it will be recalled, distinguishes between disinterested and interested attention according to the purpose governing the attention: to attend disinterestedly is to attend with no purpose beyond that of attending; to attend interestedly is to attend with some purpose beyond that of attending. But Dickie objects that a difference in purpose does not imply a difference in attention:

Suppose Jones listens to a piece of music for the purpose of being able to analyze and describe it on an examination the next day and Smith listens to the same music with no such ulterior purpose. There is certainly a difference in the motives and intentions of the two men: Jones has an ulterior purpose and Smith does not, but this does not mean Jones’s listening differs from Smith’s … . There is only one way to listen to (to attend to) music, although there may be a variety of motives, intentions, and reasons for doing so and a variety of ways of being distracted from the music. (Dickie 1964, 58).

There is again much here that the attitude theorist can resist. The idea that listening is a species of attending can be resisted: the question at hand, strictly speaking, is not whether Jones and Smith listen to the music in the same way, but whether they attend in the same way to the music they are listening to. The contention that Jones and Smith are attending in the same way appears to be question-begging, as it evidently depends on a principle of individuation that the attitude theorist rejects: if Jones’s attention is governed by some ulterior purpose and Smith’s is not, and we individuate attention according to the purpose that governs it, their attention is not the same. Finally, even if we reject the attitude theorist’s principle of individuation, the claim that there is but one way to attend to music is doubtful: one can seemingly attend to music in myriad ways—as historical document, as cultural artifact, as aural wallpaper, as sonic disturbance—depending on which of the music’s features one attends to in listening to it. But Dickie is nevertheless onto something crucial to the degree he urges that a difference in purpose need not imply a relevantdifference in attention. Disinterest plausibly figures in the definition of the aesthetic attitude only to the degree that it, and it alone, focuses attention on the features of the object that matter aesthetically. The possibility that there are interests that focus attention on just those same features implies that disinterest has no place in such a definition, which in turn implies that neither it nor the notion of the aesthetic attitude is likely to be of any use in fixing the meaning of the term ‘aesthetic.’ If to take the aesthetic attitude toward an object simply is to attend to its aesthetically relevant properties, whether the attention is interested or disinterested, then determining whether an attitude is aesthetic apparently requires first determining which properties are the aesthetically relevant ones. And this task seems always to result either in claims about the immediate graspability of aesthetic properties, which are arguably insufficient to the task, or in claims about the essentially formal nature of aesthetic properties, which are arguably groundless.

But that the notions of disinterest and psychical distance prove unhelpful in fixing the meaning of the term ‘aesthetic’ does not imply that they are mythic. At times we seem unable to get by without them. Consider the case of The Fall of Miletus—a tragedy written by the Greek dramatist Phrynicus and staged in Athens barely two years after the violent Persian capture of the Greek city of Miletus in 494 BC. Herodotus records that

[the Athenians] found many ways to express their sorrow at the fall of Miletus, and in particular, when Phrynicus composed and produced a play called The Fall of Miletus, the audience burst into tears and fined him a thousand drachmas for reminding them of a disaster that was so close to home; future productions of the play were also banned. (Herodotus, The Histories, 359)

How are we to explain the Athenian reaction to this play without recourse to something like interest or lack of distance? How, in particular, are we to explain the difference between the sorrow elicited by a successful tragedy and the sorrow elicited in this case? The distinction between attention and inattention is of no use here. The difference is not that the Athenians could not attend to The Fall whereas they could attend to other plays. The difference is that they could not attend to The Fall as they could attend to other plays, and this because of their too intimate connection to what attending to The Fall required their attending to.

2.4 Aesthetic Experience

Theories of aesthetic experience may be divided into two kinds according to the kind of feature appealed to in explanation of what makes experience aesthetic. Internalist theories appeal to features internal to experience, typically to phenomenological features, whereas externalist theories appeal to features external to the experience, typically to features of the object experienced. (The distinction between internalist and externalist theories of aesthetic experience is similar, though not identical, to the distinction between phenomenal and epistemic conceptions of aesthetic experience drawn by Gary Iseminger (Iseminger 2003, 100, and Iseminger 2004, 27, 36)). Though internalist theories—particularly John Dewey’s (1934) and Monroe Beardsley’s (1958)—predominated during the early and middle parts of the 20th century, externalist theories—including Beardsley’s (1982) and George Dickie’s (1988)—have been in the ascendant since. Beardsley’s views on aesthetic experience make a strong claim on our attention, given that Beardsley might be said to have authored the culminating internalist theory as well as the founding externalist one. Dickie’s criticisms of Beardsley’s internalism make an equally strong claim, since they moved Beardsley—and with him most everyone else—from internalism toward externalism.

According to the version of internalism Beardsley advances in his Aesthetics (1958), all aesthetic experiences have in common three or four (depending on how you count) features, which “some writers have [discovered] through acute introspection, and which each of us can test in his own experience” (Beardsley 1958, 527). These are focus (“an aesthetic experience is one in which attention is firmly fixed upon [its object]”), intensity, and unity, where unity is a matter of coherence and of completeness (Beardsley 1958, 527). Coherence, in turn, is a matter of having elements that are properly connected one to another such that

[o]ne thing leads to another; continuity of development, without gaps or dead spaces, a sense of overall providential pattern of guidance, an orderly cumulation of energy toward a climax, are present to an unusual degree. (Beardsley 1958, 528)

Completeness, by contrast, is a matter having elements that “counterbalance” or “resolve” one another such that the whole stands apart from elements without it:

The impulses and expectations aroused by elements within the experience are felt to be counterbalanced or resolved by other elements within the experience, so that some degree of equilibrium or finality is achieved and enjoyed. The experience detaches itself, and even insulates itself, from the intrusion of alien elements. (Beardsley 1958, 528)

Dickie’s most consequential criticism of Beardsley’s theory is that Beardsley, in describing the phenomenology of aesthetic experience, has failed to distinguish between the features we experience aesthetic objects as having and the features aesthetic experiences themselves have. So while every feature mentioned in Beardsley’s description of the coherence of aesthetic experience—continuity of development, the absence of gaps, the mounting of energy toward a climax—surely is a feature we experience aesthetic objects as having, there is no reason to think of aesthetic experience itself as having any such features:

Note that everything referred to [in Beardsley’s description of coherence] is a perceptual characteristic … and not an effect of perceptual characteristics. Thus, no ground is furnished for concluding that experience can be unified in the sense of being coherent. What is actually argued for is that aesthetic objects are coherent, a conclusion which must be granted, but not the one which is relevant. (Dickie 1965, 131)

Dickie raises a similar worry about Beardsley’s description of the completeness of aesthetic experience:

One can speak of elements being counterbalanced in the painting and say that the painting is stable, balanced and so on, but what does it mean to say the experience of the spectator of the painting is stable or balanced? … Looking at a painting in some cases might aid some persons in coming to feel stable because it might distract them from whatever is unsettling them, but such cases are atypical of aesthetic appreciation and not relevant to aesthetic theory. Aren’t characteristics attributable to the painting simply being mistakenly shifted to the spectator? (Dickie 1965, 132)

Though these objections turned out to be only the beginning of the debate between Dickie and Beardsley on the nature of aesthetic experience (See Beardsley 1969, Dickie 1974, Beardsley 1982, and Dickie 1987; see also Iseminger 2003 for a helpful overview of the Beardsley-Dickie debate), they nevertheless went a long way toward shaping that debate, which taken as whole might be seen as the working out of an answer to the question “What can a theory of aesthetic experience be that takes seriously the distinction between the experience of features and the features of experience?” The answer turned out to be an externalist theory of the sort that Beardsley advances in the 1982 essay “The Aesthetic Point of View” and that many others have advanced since: a theory according to which an aesthetic experience just is an experience having aesthetic content, i.e., an experience of an object as having the aesthetic features that it has.

The shift from internalism to externalism has not been without costs. One central ambition of internalism—that of fixing the meaning of ‘aesthetic’ by tying it to features peculiar to aesthetic experience—has had to be given up. But a second, equally central, ambition—that of accounting for aesthetic value by tying it to the value of aesthetic experience—has been retained. Indeed most everything written on aesthetic experience since the Beardsley-Dickie debate has been written in service of the view that an object has aesthetic value insofar as it affords valuable experience when correctly perceived. This view—which has come to be called empiricism about aesthetic value, given that it reduces aesthetic value to the value of aesthetic experience—has attracted many advocates over the last several years (Beardsley 1982, Budd 1985 and 1995, Goldman 1995 and 2006, Walton 1993, Levinson 1996 and 2006, Miller 1998, Railton 1998, and Iseminger 2004), while provoking relatively little criticism (Zangwill 1999, Sharpe 2000, D. Davies 2004, and Kieran 2005). Yet it can be wondered whether empiricism about aesthetic value is susceptible to a version of the criticism that has done internalism in.

For there is something odd about the position that combines externalism about aesthetic experience with empiricism about aesthetic value. Externalism locates the features that determine aesthetic character in the object, whereas empiricism locates the features that determine aesthetic value in the experience, when one might have thought that the features that determine aesthetic character just are the features that determine aesthetic value. If externalism and empiricism are both true, there is nothing to stop two objects that have different, even wholly disparate, aesthetic characters from nevertheless having the very same aesthetic value—unless, that is, the value-determining features of an experience are bound logically to the character-determining features of the object that affords it such that only an object with those features could afford an experience having that value. But in that case the value-determining features of the experience are evidently not simply the phenomenological features that might have seemed best suited to determine the value of the experience, but perhaps rather the representational or epistemic features of the experience that it has only in relation to its object. And this is what some empiricists have been urging of late:

Aesthetic experience … aims first at understanding and appreciation, at taking in the aesthetic properties of the object. The object itself is valuable for providing experience that could only be an experience of that object… . Part of the value of aesthetic experience lies in experiencing the object in the right way, in a way true to its nonaesthetic properties, so that the aim of understanding and appreciation is fulfilled. (Goldman 2006, 339–341; see also Iseminger 2004, 36)

But there is an unaddressed difficulty with this line of thought. While the representational or epistemic features of an aesthetic experience might very plausibly contribute to its value, such features very implausibly contribute to the value of the object affording such an experience. If the value of the experience of a good poem consists, in part, in its being an experience in which the poem is properly understood or accurately represented, the value of a good poem cannot consist, even in part, in its capacity to afford an experience in which it is properly understood or accurately represented, because, all things being equal, a bad poem presumably has these capacities in equal measure. It is of course true that only a good poem rewards an understanding of it. But then a good poem’s capacity for rewarding understanding is evidently to be explained by the poem’s already being good; it is evidently in virtue of its already being good that a poem rewards us on condition that we understand it.

Other empiricists have taken a different tack. Instead of trying to isolate the general features of aesthetic experience in virtue of which it and its objects are valuable, they simply observe the impossibility, in any particular case, of saying much about the value of an aesthetic experience without also saying a lot about the aesthetic character of the object. So, for example, referring to the values of the experiences that works of art afford, Jerrold Levinson maintains that

if we examine more closely these goods … we see that their most adequate description invariably reveals them to involve ineliminably the artworks that provide them… . The cognitive expansion afforded us by Bartok’s Fourth String Quartet, similarly, is not so much a generalized effect of that sort as it is a specific state of stimulation undetachable from the particular turns and twists of Bartok’s carefully crafted essay… . even the pleasure we take in the Allegro of Mozart’s Symphony no. 29 is, as it were, the pleasure of discovering the individual nature and potential of its thematic material, and the precise way its aesthetic character emerges from its musical underpinnings… . there is a sense in which the pleasure of the Twenty-Ninth can be had only from that work. (Levinson 1996, 22–23; see also Budd 1985, 123–124)

There is no denying that when we attempt to describe, in any detail, the values of experiences afforded by particular works we quickly find ourselves describing the works themselves. The question is what to make of this fact. If one is antecedently committed to empiricism, it may seem a manifestation of the appropriately intimate connection between the aesthetic character of a work and the value of the experience that the work affords. But if one is not so committed, it may seem to manifest something else. If, when attempting to account for the aesthetic value of Bartok’s Fourth String Quartet in terms of the value of the experience it affords, we find ourselves unable to say much about the value of that experience without saying something about the quartet’s “particular turns and twists,” this may be because the value resides in those twists and turns and not in the experience of them. To affirm such a possibility, of course, is not to deny that the value the quartet has in virtue of its particular twists in turns is a value that we experience it as having. It is rather to insist on sharply distinguishing between the value of experience and the experience of value, in something like the way Dickie insisted on sharply distinguishing between the unity of experience and the experience of unity. When the empiricist maintains that that value of Bartok’s Fourth String Quartet, with its particular twists and turns, consists in the value of the experience that it affords, which experience is valuable, at least in part, because it is an experience of a quartet with those twists and turns, one may wonder whether a value originally belonging to the quartet has been transferred to the experience, before being reflected back, once again, onto the quartet.


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  • Sibley, F., 2001, Approach to Aesthetics: Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics, J. Benson, B. Redfern, and J. Cox (eds.), Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Stecker, R., 1997a, Artworks: Definition, Meaning, Value University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • –––, 1997b, “Two Conceptions of Artistic Value,” Iyyun, 46: 51–62.
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  • Wimsatt, W. and Brooks, C., 1957, Literary Criticism: A Short History, New York: Knopf.
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Please see my related posts:

On Beauty

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful

Boundaries and Distinctions

On Classical Virtues




Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance



From CIIS Catalog

“Drama Therapy, as one of the creative arts therapies [such as art, music, dance and poetry therapy] facilitates artistic expression-engendering clarity, mastery, meaning, and hope…. We choose from a wide array of adapted dramatic processes. Storytelling, improvisation, self-revelatory performance, life review, physical theatre, creative drama, puppetry, script pieces and more are tailored to the needs of a specific group or individual.”


California Institute of Integral Studies offers a graduate level degree in Drama therapy.

  • Therapy for the actors
  • Therapy for the audience

How does it work?  I am curious.  Are you?

How is it different from talk therapy? or group therapy?

  • Talking with a Psychiatrist
  • Talking in a group such as NA (Narcotics Anonymous), AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Why role playing helps in getting real and truthful?

  • Role Playing
  • Autobiographical
  • Self Revelatory

How is audience impacted?  How do they heal?


Self watching self.  Self experiencing self.

Witness Consciousness, Showing mirrors to each other.

Reflections of the self.  Self Illumination.

Sacred Mirrors.

If reality is holographic and recursive, it makes sense.

I admit I do not yet understand it all.  But I am trying and will continue to try and learn.

My artist friends.  Any suggestions?


Drama Therapy

Freedom and possibility are two key words that begin to describe the essence of drama therapy. Life is finite; there are only so many experiences we can have. But in drama, the opportunities and options are endless, enabling us to dive more deeply into the richness of life. And when the dramas are authentic and “real,” they have the power to affect, and even alter, our real lives profoundly. For the past thirty years, we have been investigating how therapeutically adapted dramatic processes work over time to heal wounds, facilitate lasting change, and help people reach their highest potential.

– Renée Emunah, Program Founder/Director

Please note: Please contact the Admissions Counselor, Skylar Hall, at 415-575-6122 or for more information.

For more than 30 years, the CIIS Drama Therapy program has been steeped in the exploration of how therapeutically adapted dramatic processes work over time to heal wounds, facilitate lasting change, and help people reach their highest potential. Our program integrates experiential, didactic, and clinical courses in a carefully paced and sequenced curriculum, to train students to become personally and culturally aware, attuned, and competent drama therapists and psychotherapists.

Our program is one of the only master’s programs in the United States both regionally accredited and approved by the North American Drama Therapy Association, and is one of only a handful of such programs in the world. Furthermore, we are the only program that offers a path to the LPCC license. CIIS is internationally recognized as housing one of the world’s most highly developed and rigorous training programs for drama therapists.

Our graduates work in a variety of leadership positions and settings, including community mental health centers, private practice, schools and educational centers, organizations for serving LGBTQ communities, and clinics offering services for trauma, eating disorders, loss, and self-care.

Renée Emunah, the Founder and Chair of the Drama Therapy Program, is the co-editor a recent book:

The Self in Performance:  Autobiographical, Self-Revelatory, and Autoethnographic Forms of Therapeutic Theatre

Edited by Susana Pendzik, Renée Emunah, and David Read Johnson. New York and London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.

This book is the first to examine the performance of autobiographical material as a theatrical form, a research subject, and a therapeutic method. Contextualizing personal performance within psychological and theatrical paradigms, the book identifies and explores core concepts, such as the function of the director/therapist throughout the creative process, the role of the audience, and the dramaturgy involved in constructing such performances. International contributors address issues of identity, memory, authenticity, self-reflection, self-indulgence, and embodied self-representation in Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, Self-Revelatory Performance, and Autoethnographic Performance.


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Key Terms

  • Identity
  • Memory
  • Authenticity
  • Self-reflection
  • Self-indulgence
  • Embodied self-representation
  • Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance
  • Self-Revelatory Performance
  • Autoethnographic Performance
  • Mirrors of the soul
  • Witness Consciousness

Books for further details

Acting for Real: Drama Therapy Process, Technique, and Performance

Renee Emunah

The Self in Performance

Autobiographical, Self-Revelatory, and Autoethnographic Forms of Therapeutic Theatre

Editors: Pendzik, Susana, Emunah, Renée, Read Johnson, David (Eds.)




Self-Revelatory Performance: The Intentional Use of Theatre’s Therapeutic Nature

Leah Shapiro
Connecticut College,



What is Drama Therapy?

North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA)



Tales of Transformation: Drama Therapy in Hospitals

Click to access webinar_WhippleDramaTherapy2012.pdf





Susana Pendzik


Click to access trps-20-88-01-081.pdf




“Working Through the Drama: The Art of Drama Therapy.”

A Theatre Bay Area article by Jean Shiffman about studying Drama Therapy at CIIS


Working Through the Drama: The Art of Drama Therapy

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

 By Jean Schiffman

  If you’re an actor who yearns to do more with your acquired skills than perform, if you’re inclined toward helping others, if you’re attracted to psychotherapy and counseling and if an eventual steady paycheck sounds inviting, you might want to consider a career in drama therapy (DT). If so, you won’t need to move—San Francisco boasts one of the best DT programs in the country, at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). In fact, this is one of only a few master’s programs in the field that are both regionally accredited (by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges) and approved by the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA), and one of only a handful of such programs in the world, according to the CIIS catalog. (Others in North America are at NYU, Concordia University in Montreal and Lesley University in Boston.) Completing the two-and-a-half- to three-year program meets academic requirements to become registered drama therapists and fulfills the academic requirements for a Marriage and Family Therapist license in California.

In Transit: Braking at the Intersections, a 2013 production of the California Institute of
Integral Studies Drama Therapy Program’s Theatre of Change project. Photo: Lonny Shavelson

  DT, according to NADTA, is “the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals.” It “can provide the context for participants to tell their stories, set goals and solve problems, express feelings, or achieve catharsis. Through drama, the depth and breadth of inner experience can be actively explored and interpersonal relationship skills can be enhanced. Participants can expand their repertoire of dramatic roles to find that their own life roles have been strengthened.”

 The CIIS program, which utilizes “theoretical, practical/clinical and experiential formats,” was founded and is directed by Renée Emunah, who first began the program in 1983 at Antioch University San Francisco before moving it to CIIS in 1989. With a PhD in clinical psychology and an MA combining theatre arts and clinical psychology (from San Francisco State), Emunah studied DT in England before it became a field in the US in 1979. She was one of the first four drama therapists to become officially registered in the United States.
In September I sat in one of her first-semester classes, Drama Therapy Process and Technique, to get a feeling for what kinds of students are attracted to the field. The group of about 18 skewed toward 20-something (with one in her mid-50s)—an articulate, intently focused group, mostly women, mostly but not entirely white, a few foreign accents and one hijab among them. They sat on the floor hunched over notebooks for a PowerPoint lecture (followed by a group discussion) on the topic of the day, which was the difference between psychodrama and DT. Basically, DT includes the fictional among its tools (Emunah paraphrases Oscar Wilde: “Give a person a mask, and they will tell the truth”) and is useful for groups; psychodrama is more individual-focused, deals more with straight autobiographical facts and leans less on dramatic skills.

 A typical first-year group, or “cohort,” like this one will stick together for the entire program, taking many of their classes together. They were admitted through a competitive process involving an interview and some group activities to gauge their potential skills in interrelating, intuition and such, after which only about a third are accepted. They are required to have at least some theatre background (the majority have a BFA in theatre) and to be in individual psychotherapy for at least 50 hours during their training (which is true for all psychology and counseling masters programs at CIIS). Despite a heavy weekly workload—perhaps four to five three-hour classes—most also work 15 to 20 hours. Financial aid and a few scholarships are available.

 The first year, while academically intense, might be more fun—if “fun” is an appropriate word to use for such rigorous training—than the extremely challenging second year, when students have a practicum, which is an internship in the field (on site 17 hours a week) along with their coursework.

 Although the day I was there was a traditional but informal lecture-style class, experiential classwork is a large part of the curriculum. As the catalog states, “Drama Therapy, as one of the creative arts therapies [such as art, music, dance and poetry therapy] facilitates artistic expression-engendering clarity, mastery, meaning, and hope…. We choose from a wide array of adapted dramatic processes. Storytelling, improvisation, self-revelatory performance, life review, physical theatre, creative drama, puppetry, script pieces and more are tailored to the needs of a specific group or individual.” Emunah teaches a five-phase integrative model in which drama therapists lead clients in a steadily progressive, carefully plotted journey of healing. Students practice these methods in the classroom, working together as though in a therapeutic environment.

 “There’s quite a bit of reading, of paper-writing, academic writing,” explains Emunah. “There are many publications in the field and lots of methods and approaches. Obviously their own material is evoked in the processes, but it’s a training program to become drama therapists, so we stress that meta-level and observational skill. That can be challenging. It’s not a drama therapy group; it’s class, [but] they can’t just be sitting and taking notes.” One class, for example, is geared to the application of DT in different facilities and age groups, and students practice being in the role of drama therapist while others simulate potential clients. The balance is between experiential classes and psychology classes. In lieu of a formal written thesis at the end, or making a documentary video, or directing a therapeutic “performance,” most students opt to create a “self-revelatory” piece: a scripted, deeply personal, 30- to 45-minute performance that differs from an autobiographical solo show (such as Brian Copeland’s revealing Not a Genuine Black Man) in that the student is not “telling a story” as such but rather is working through an emotional issue. “There’s a sense of suspense in terms of unraveling the multiple strands of healing,” explains Emunah, “but not a pat resolution or quick fix.” Some students have taken their “self-revs” into the mainstream theatre world, performing in festivals.


Renee Emunah’s Drama Therapy Process and Technique class at the California Institute of Integral Studies, October 2014.

Photo: Maya Grodman

 In the weeks before I attended the class, the students had—along with academic reading and other classes—played a variety of theatre games familiar to actors who have had basic acting and/or improv training: back-to-back nonverbal conversations; repetitive exchange of lines à la Sanford Meisner (“I want it”/”You can’t have it”) and the more objective-oriented “I want [fill in the blank with something you really want]”/”You can have it”; throwing an imaginary ball around a circle; blind walks (a trust exercise); a blind touch and smell sensory awareness-type exercise; a form of “emotional statues”; creating a scene for characters in conflict. Students keep a journal of the insights they’ve gained. Of the sensory exercise, one student wrote, “It was a different, new experience when miming in a group where the focus is not on the artistic side of it but on the playful, spontaneous, creative side.” One student wrote about a comedic improvisation involving three loud and rude Americans going into a strictly halal restaurant in Jordan and the cultural-political discussion that followed. “This scene really demonstrated just how powerful this work can be!” she wrote.

 There is a decidedly aesthetic component to the practice of DT; as a student wrote in her journal, “A drama therapist needs to identify as a drama/theatre artist.” Armand Volkas, a Marriage and Family Therapist and registered drama therapist with a private practice (the East Bay’s Living Arts Counseling Center, with a focus on “drama and expressive arts therapy”), emphasizes that point: “The more aesthetic you can make therapy, the more transformative it will be.” Volkas also teaches advanced improv and “Drama Therapy and Social Change” at CIIS. He started out by studying acting at UCLA, but when he codirected a theatre piece about children of Holocaust survivors (as he is himself) and realized how therapeutic it was, he knew he needed to apply theatre skills in a nontraditional way. He points out that DT emerged from several sources: ritual, shamanism, play therapy and—perhaps mostly importantly—the experimental theatre movement.
Volkas thinks DT is a field that more traditional therapists don’t take seriously. “I think they see the power of it, and it scares them,” he theorizes, “to get out of their chairs and into action.”

 Acting, he continues, requires a certain kind of narcissism. “It’s about you as an instrument—finding an agent, getting work. But when you’re a drama therapist, it’s not about you. It’s not the mommy-look-at-me impulse any more. You’re using your tools in the service of someone else. So you need to have the impulse to be a servant. To make the world a better place. [But] you don’t throw aesthetics out the window, although you have to adjust it because you’re working with people [your clients] who are not skilled. But when you think of the aha! moment of your life, it has an aesthetic quality. So that’s an important value in DT—to strive for an aesthetic even as a therapeutic goal. In a way you’re creating new memories and you’re rewiring the brain, so that when the person thinks of trauma, it can be rerouted to the new, reparative experience.”    

 Volkas has used his DT and theatre skills in a variety of innovative ways, including teaching a process he calls “Healing the Wounds of History,” an approach to intercultural conflict and collective trauma. He trains drama therapists in his method, then invites a group in historical conflict (say, Turks and Armenians) to engage in a therapeutic process in which they might look at things like “the art of apology.” “An apology is a performance,” he says. “The tools of Method acting apply: how do you make an apology real? These are existential and spiritual questions for groups in conflict, where there’s enormous trauma. How do you heal trauma? Theatre and DT are wonderful tools to research those kinds of questions.” He also works with clients to create the same type of self-revelatory theatre pieces that CIIS students perform as a thesis; the client then performs for an invited audience.

  Pamela Greenberg with auxiliary actors performing in her capstone self-revelatory performance for

California Institute of Integral Studies’ Drama Therapy Program. Photo: Courtesy of CIIS

 The drama therapists I talked to who’d completed the masters program at CIIS were enthusiastic—and employed. Aileen Cho, who had been a theatre major at UC San Diego with an interest in theatre for the oppressed and theatre for social change, working in commercials was unfulfilling. She’d been in traditional talk therapy herself, and when she started Googling around for ideas, she was surprised to discover DT. She’d always known theatre was a powerful tool for change, but thought, Wow, this can be applied in a clinical setting? The master’s program turned out to be the most intense thing she has ever done. She and her cohorts used to jokingly call it “trauma therapy.” Her practicums included working with veterans with PTSD, with teens in Oakland schools and in a residential program for eating disorders, which has turned out to be her niche. “The experiential stuff was the most challenging,” she reports. “They expect you to use your self and your life and personal stuff to experience the modality in DT. There’s always a fine line between therapy and not-therapy. It was very demanding academically and personally on all levels.” She became so close to her cohorts that they are now lifelong friends. “I’ve had close bonds with cast members, but this is a whole other level,” she says. Now Cho works in residential and partial hospitalization and intensive programs for eating disorders, specializing in DT; maintains a private practice; and works with Volkas’s performance programs as well as performing with a troupe of drama therapists at CIIS.

 Like Cho, Jennifer Stuckert—who has a BFA in acting from NYU and has performed on Bay Area stages—discovered DT via Google. She wanted more autonomy over her career, and a steadier income. And she’d always been interested in psychologically driven theatre about interpersonal and social issues. When she took an introductory class at the New School in New York, she fell in love with the field. So two years after receiving her BFA, she applied to CIIS. She was surprised, she says, at just how challenging the program was. “It was scary at times, too,” she says, “and surprising: learning how to not have compassion fatigue, learning how to have boundaries, even mental boundaries—be able to let go as you would let go of a role at the end of a show and return to yourself.” She says it takes ego strength and self-awareness to do this kind of work. “It’s not about you,” she adds. “You can bring your authenticity and your empathy and your love for narrative, but you have to want to help people. That’s not easy.” But she loved the program and finds this career path to be rich and rewarding. She now works as a drama therapist at Volkas’s Living Arts Counseling Center, has started moving toward sex therapy—and is heading to L.A. to pursue film work.

 And Emily Burleson, who is a drama therapist at a Jewish K-8 school in Oakland, says that she was drawn to the field by the same impulses that drew her to theatre. Theatre had been healing for her and she wanted to share that with others. But she also didn’t understand how the healing really happened, what that magic was—plus it depended on her being in a show. She needed “better access to whatever would provide me with that. Drama therapy training connected those dots for me.”

 Burleson attended the CIIS program from 2009 to 2012. She liked the emphasis on, “instead of diving directly into a client’s own story, placing it into a fairy tale or investigative frame, a heightened reality that makes it exciting rather than depressing or terrifying or upsetting.” She was thrilled to go to school with “psychology and theatre geeks.” The hard part was the practicum, which for her was at a psychiatric hospital and required “a lot of grit and compassion.” When she made it through to the end of that year, she felt fantastic. Now she realizes that the magic she was seeking happens when she helps another person to reach a deeper sense of peace and healing. Then she too receives the benefits.

 Finally, what kind of jobs do DT graduates get? Cho says that she and her colleagues are good at getting work, because DT is unique, and “there are not that many of us.” The majority of CIIS graduates work in community mental health, largely with groups, says Emunah: with emotionally disturbed children, at women’s shelters, in chemical dependency or eating disorders programs. A smaller percentage build a private practice, working with individuals. Many, like Aileen Cho, continue to find ways to satisfy their acting itch as they’re working as drama therapists.

 Visit or call (415) 575-6230. You can also read about the field in Renée Emunah’s book Acting for Real: Drama Therapy Process, Technique and Performance. And the Living Arts Counseling Center ( offers exploratory sessions; call (510) 595-5500, ext. 10.

   Jean Schiffman is an arts writer based in San Francisco.