Date of Award


Degree Type



Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs

First Advisor

Stivers, Camilla

Subject Headings

Public administration -- Decision making -- Psychological aspects, Aesthetics -- Psychological aspects, Judgment (Aesthetics), Administrative discretion, Phenomenology, Phenomenology, aesthetic experience, administrative discretion, public administration, role of the expert, art of administration, art, artful, aesthetic judgment, Hannah Arendt, Camilla Stivers, Merleau-Ponty, Ralph Hummel, philosophy of aesthetics


As Maurice Merleau-Ponty pointed out, a work of art allows us to explore our sense for meaning in the world. It not only allows us to translate our perceptions, but it allows our perceptions to speak to us through what he called a "respiration in being" (Merleau-Ponty, 1964). In this process of respiration, artists and artful public administrators alike are inspired by what they see, and expire that which is seen (Merleau-Ponty, 1964). This research suggests that what Merleau-Ponty described is an element of the aesthetic experience that enables a person to explore the world and what it means to be in it. After Dwight Waldo argued that all ways of knowing are value laden in the field of public administration, he left the field without a prescribed way to know, and this is a problem, given that public administrators are often required to act while in a crisis. If public administrators lack a form of inquiry to understand the world, then how are they to act? This dissertation asks whether administrators, in fact, base their administrative discretion on aesthetic judgment and what they find pleasing or displeasing, their taste (Kant, 2001), to discern what to do and which type of understanding to employ (Arendt, 1992 Hummel, 2006 Stivers, 2011). Through a set of phenomenological interviews the dissertation attempts to access, or pull on the understanding(s) of artists, artful administrators, and hybrids, to better understand administrative discretion by examining the aesthetic experience more deeply and hopefully contribute to how we think about the role of the expert in public administration