Objectivity in Environmental
Protection of the Environment
Ned Hettinger
College of Charleston
July 2006
The Worry:
Natural beauty’s subjectivity & relativity make it unsuitable
for justifying environmental protection
Contrast John Muir’s description of a sunset:
– “The sunset [was] glorious. To the east the water was a rose
lavender, the sky at the horizon blue, eight or ten degrees
above a red purple. In the west gold and purple on horizontal
bars of cloud, shading off into lilac. Islands dark purple.”
John Muir, Journal (1899)
With his contemporary Oscar Wilde’s:
– "Nobody of any real culture . . . ever talks nowadays about the
beauty of a sunset. Sunsets are quite old-fashioned. They
belong to the time when Turner was the last note in art. To
admire them is a distinct sign of provincialism of temperament.
Upon the other hand they go on. Yesterday evening Mrs.
Arundel insisted on my going to the window, and looking at the
glorious sky, as she called it. Of course I had to look at it. . .
And what was it? It was simply a very second-rate Turner, a
Turner of a bad period, with all the painter's worst faults
exaggerated and over- emphasized."
Oscar Wilde The Decay of Lying: An Observation (1889)
The Response
• Along with a pluralism of acceptable
judgments about natural beauty come
constraints that specify better and worse
aesthetic responses to nature
• Such constraints provide sufficient
objectivity for the aesthetics of nature to
play an important role in environmental
protection (i.e., aesthetic protectionism)
Beauty of the environment motivates
environmental protection
Env. beauty matters to people
Sprawl’s vulgarity
Magnificence of Live Oaks draped
in Spanish Moss sprouting
Resurrection Fern
How aesthetically valuable is the
Arctic Refuge?
• “Godforsaken mosquito-infested swamp shrouded in
frozen darkness half the year”
Former Interior Secretary Gail Norton
• A place of “solitude, unmatched beauty, and
Jimmy Carter
Aesthetic Protectionism
• Environmental beauty not only motivates
but also provide significant justification
for environmental protection
Worries about Aesthetic
• Natural beauty is weak and trivial compared to
utilitarian values used to protect the environment (such
as health, recreation) or to exploit it (jobs, growth)
• Natural beauty counts for little in assessing how we
should treat humans; why think it amounts to much in
determining how we should treat the environment?
• Aesthetic value is anthropocentric and instrumental
(it’s simply pleasurable experiences for humans) and the
best defenses of nature should be intrinsic
Environmental aesthetics too
subjective to help with
environmental protection?
• “If aesthetic value judgments are merely personal
and subjective, there will be no way to argue that
everyone ought to learn to appreciate or regard
natural beauty as worthy of preservation.”
Janna Thompson, "Aesthetics and the Value of Nature" Environmental Ethics
Environmental aesthetic
• Great aesthetic value lost
– Tranquil, tree-lined roads
punctuated by farmhouses,
small fields, and ponds
– Symbolic of human harmony
with nature
• Are replaced with
– Aggressive, strip-highway
sprawl of auto dealers, gas
stations, and parking lots
– Symbolic of our society’s
careless exploitation and
disregard of the natural world
• Better slide for MT
Development aesthetic
• Great aesthetic value is
gained when
– When monotonous and
boring, weed-infested dirt
• Are replaced with
– Useful and well-built stores
– That express and reward
hard work, determination,
and entrepreneurial
If beauty in the eye of the beholder
• How can aesthetics help us adjudicate
between developers who like strip malls
and environmentalists who don’t?
• W/o some objectivity, aesthetic responses
to environment would be a poor basis for
environmental protection.
Carlson’s Science-Based
• The leading model for environmental
aesthetic objectivity is Allen Carlson’s
– He provides for objectivity by arguing
Aesthetic appreciation of nature must respond to
what nature is (rather than what it is not)
Because science tell us what nature is
Aesthetic appreciation of nature must be
informed by science (or more broadly natural
o Just as aesthetic response to art must be
informed by art history
Because science is objective, an env. aesthetics
informed by science will also be objective
Carlson’s monism
• Carlson frequently characterizes his view
– The “appropriate” or “correct” or “true”
aesthetic appreciation of nature must be
guided by science
– Aesthetic responses to nature uninformed by
science or natural history are therefore
“inappropriate,” “incorrect,” or even “false”
Resistance to Carlson’s scientific
• Not plausible that acceptable nature
appreciation must be guided by science
– Rather than by other sorts of cognitive, emotional or
imaginative responses
• Nor is it helpful to limit our assessment of
aesthetic judgments about nature to the
language of
– “Correct or incorrect”
– “True or false”
– “Appropriate or inappropriate”
A scientifically uniformed
aesthetic response need not be
– A child or a uneducated adult may not know that a
glacier is a river of ice, but there is nothing incorrect,
false, or even inappropriate about their being
wowed by the sight of a calving glacier
Yet informed responses are often
better responses
• Knowledge about the nature of glaciers can
deepen our response to them
• For example, we might begin to listen and hear
the groaning of the ice as it scrapes down the
I propose a
Constrained Pluralism
In Env. Aesthetics
• There are a plurality of better and worse aesthetic
responses to environment
• Better and worse should be understood in a variety of
• Not just correct/incorrect, true/false, appropriate/inappropriate
• Most plausible type of objectivity
• Hopefully, it provides sufficient objectivity to make
aesthetic protectionism viable
Constrained pluralism falls between
extremes about objectivity/subjectivity
• Naïve monism:
– There are uniquely
correct and
appropriate aesthetic
responses to
• Anything-goes
– Any aesthetic
response to
environment is as
good as any other
Virtually everybody in env. aesthetics
distinguishes between better and worse
• True of thinkers with drastically divergent approaches to
– Science-based (cognitive) theories like Allen Carlson’s
– Emotional-arousal theorists like Noel Carroll
– Imagination-based theorists like Emily Brady
– A good source: Ronald Hepburn’s "Trivial and Serious in Aesthetic
Appreciation of Nature” (1993)
Varieties of better and worse
aesthetic responses
Lively, active
Patient, careful
Thoughtful, reflective
Superficial, Shallow
Feeble, lazy, passive
– Including perceptually passive
Inattentive, inappropriately attentive
Ignorant, distorted
Doubts about the objectivity of
environmental appreciation
• Nature appreciation lacks the objectivity of art
• Art appreciation is much more objective than nature appreciation
• An initially plausible and relatively popular idea in the
philosophy of art
– Held by—among others:
• Malcolm Budd
• John Fisher
• Kendall Walton
• I have my doubts about this claim
Fisher’s relativism about
environmental aesthetics
“A great mountain, Mt. Fuji or
the Grand Teton, would
probably strike us as noble and
strong . . . , but it is perfectly
conceivable that it might strike
an observer from an alien
culture as comical or agonized.
In the case of a natural object,
such as a mountain, such
relativity of perception is no
real problem, because the
mountain itself isn’t really noble
or comical. We can only say
that there are different ways to
regard the mountain. . . . There
is no real fact of the matter
about whether Mount Fuji is
noble or comical. . . .”
Fisher on art’s objectivity
“It is harder to swallow such
relativism when it comes to the
expressive properties of art. . . .
What I am suggesting is that the
emotional qualities that artworks
express are not dispensable facts
about them, although the
emotional qualities are
dispensable facts about natural
Edvard Munch’s The Scream is
truly frightening . . . The fact that
The Scream might strike a viewer
from another culture as cheerful
should not make us think that The
Scream is a cheerful painting. . . .
John Fisher, Reflecting on Art (1993)
The typical argument:
The constraints on art appreciation provided by artistic design and social
convention are absent in nature appreciation
– Natural beauty lacks an artist whose design and intentions put limits on
appropriate appreciation
• E.g., Cubist paintings are not intended to be judged in terms of their
representational accuracy
• In contrast, nature does not intend you to appreciate it one way or another
– Additionally, there are no social conventions for the appreciation of
nature as there are for art appreciation
• E.g., One should ignore the coughing during a concert, but one can choose
whether or not to make the sound of a distant train part of environmental
• E.g., Words in literature have a meaning dictated by convention, but
whatever meaning nature has (if any) is created by the individual
• Further, there are no nature critics in the mold of art critics
Fisher on sounds of nature:
"What The Hills Are Alive With--In Defense of the Sounds of Nature“ (1998)
“The person who listens to nature is simply free of the criteria that govern
appreciation of music and that function to rule out many possible ways of
“Suppose you are sitting in a hot tub in a city in the Arizona desert listening
to the sounds around you. Do you just listen to the Western Warblers and
the wind in the fruit and palm trees or do you (should you) also notice the
sounds of hot tub jets and popping bubbles making a pleasant hissing on
the water? Do you add or ignore the sounds of ventilator fans spinning hot
air from the attics and occasional jet planes overhead? . . . In the Tuscan
countryside do I ignore the high pitched whining of mosquitoes? Shall I just
focus on the loons from across the lake in Minnesota or shall I strain to hear
others from more distant parts, and do they go together with the chattering
of squirrels and the buzzing of flies?”
“Nature does not dictate an intrinsically correct way to frame its sounds in
the way that a composer does . . . There are a large multiplicity of structures
and relations that we might hear and all seem equally legitimate.”
Budd generalizes this point
– “The aesthetic appreciation of nature is . . .
endowed with a freedom denied to artistic
Malcolm Budd, “The Aesthetics of Nature” (2000)
Freedom and relativity in framing
nature appreciation
• Fisher and Budd suggest that nature
appreciation—unlike art appreciation--involves
full framing freedom
• Unlike art, where the artist (or art category)
frames the aesthetic object, how to frame the
aesthetic experience of nature is up to us
• E.g., One doesn’t look at the backside of a painting or knock
it to see how it sounds
• But these are perfectly permissible approaches to
appreciating a tree
Budd argues that
• No proper level of observation for nature
• One can look at nature though a telescope or a microscope, or with
one’s unaided eye
• No proper or optimum conditions for observation
• One can observe nature when it is foggy or clear, bright or dark,
from near or far
• Permissible to use any sense modality or mode of
• Can choose to look, hear, touch, taste, or smell nature
• In general, we are free to frame and appreciate natural
objects as we please
Full framing freedom?
• Budd overstates the freedom involved
• There are constraints on framing nature
• Once one has settled on a particular
natural object as the object of aesthetic
• Many other framing choices are ruled out
Constraints on framing of nature
– One should not appreciate trout in a mountain stream
with a telescope or microscope
• So there are better and worse levels of observation in
particular cases
– Aesthetically appreciating a cliff is not best done from
an airplane six miles high or in one’s Winnebago on a
pitch black night
• Thus there are better and worse conditions of observation
– Are we really free to use any sense modality in
appreciating a mountain?
• Taste? Touch?
Framing pluralism exists
Environmental appreciation does have greater framing freedom than art
Artists and art forms direct our attention to properties of the aesthetic object in a way
nature does not
But some pluralism need not be a problem
for aesthetic protectionism
The aesthetic freedom to
– Focuses on one loon or forty, or to listen to wind in the trees alone or along with
Seems irrelevant to the possibility of using environmental beauty for environmental
Whether I look at mountain
– Through the fog in the early morning light
– During the middle of the afternoon on a perfectly clear day
– Or instead focus on the smell of the mountain’s spruce trees after the rain or
savor the taste of its wild huckleberries
Does not seem a threat to aesthetic protectionism
Some pluralism might even support
aesthetic protectionism
• When the multiplicity of acceptable ways to
appreciation nature are virtually all aesthetically
• And when such responses are of greater
aesthetic value than the aesthetic responses to
degraded environments
But other framing pluralism creates
trouble for aesthetic protectionism
• Consider whether or not human intrusions
should be included in environmental
appreciative judgments
Snowmobiles in Yellowstone?
An appropriate and compatible
winter use?
Race track next to Cypress Swamp
Nature Preserve?
Helicopter/airplane flights over
National Parks
Houses on ridge tops
Environmental vs. anti-env. framing
• Environmentalists: Engine noise degrades natural tranquility
• But if framing choice is arbitrary
• Anti-environmentalists can argue that such sounds can be framed
out of the experience:
– The Yellowstone skier can be asked to frame out the stench and whine
of snowmobiles
– The developer can ask those on the Beidler Forest owl walk to ignore
the sounds of the nearby Friday night races
– Hikers in the National Parks can tune out the aircraft noise
– The developer can ask those hiking in the forest to ignore the trophy
homes on the ridge tops
• And if there are no better or worse ways to frame these aesthetic
experiences, why shouldn’t they?
An overall aesthetic assessment must
include these sounds, smells, and
Fitting and natural to include--and even to focus on--these sensual
To ignore them would be like standing in the Snake River Valley of
Wyoming and refusing to look up to the West:
– Not a serious attempt to aesthetically appreciate Grand Teton National Park
Aesthetic judgments about environments that frame out human intrusions
similarly distort
– A developer who insists that putting a sky scraper in the Snake River Valley will
not detract from the aesthetic beauty of the valley and neighboring Teton Park
because it can be easily framed out
– Relies on a mistaken conception of how free framing choices in environmental
appreciation can legitimately be
– Like a symphony companion saying: “Don’t worry about that foul smell or
machine-gun fire outside, just listen to the music”
Some framing decision are more
natural, fitting and appropriate
(given circumstances)
• “Certain natural expanses have natural frames or what I
prefer to call nature closure: caves, copses, grottoes,
clearings, arbors, valleys, etc. And other natural
expanses, though lacking frames have features that are
naturally salient for human organisms -- i.e., they have
features such as moving water, bright illumination, etc.,
that draw our attention instinctually toward them”
– Noel Carroll, “On Being Moved by Nature” (1993)
Consider scale-dependence of
aesthetic response
• “The mountain that we appreciate for its majesty and stability is, on
a different time-scale, as fluid as the ripples on the lake at its foot”
Ronald Hepburn, “Trivial and the Serious in Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature” (1993)
– But this should not make us think that the aesthetic qualities we enjoy in
the mountain are not appropriately appreciable.
• Clear-cuts are a paradigm of environmental-aesthetic disvalue, but if
one scales up, they are temporary blips in an ongoing and
aesthetically-exciting process of forest recovery
– But this should not lead us to agree with the forest-industry executive
that they are not ugly because we should adopt the 200 year scale
• Aesthetic qualities can be made to vanish and
aesthetic judgments can be undermined by
taking a different perspective
• But this does not show that—from a particular
perspective—any aesthetic responses is as
good as any other
• Nor should we accept the idea that any
perspective is as appropriate as any other
Some framing of env. appreciation
is awkward, forced, and myopic
• Given the kind of beings we are
• Scales on which we operate
• Legitimate purposes of aesthetic appreciation
• Some ways of framing environmental
appreciation are not acceptable
– Including the anti-environmentalists demand
• To frame out human intrusions
• To appreciate nature form irrelevant or distorted scales
Not denying some relativity in
aesthetic value judgments
“One person finds the “coo coo” sounds of a flock of doves to be
extremely harmonious and to express a soothing calm; a friend may
find the same sound to be insistently obtrusive” (Fisher)
• Perhaps the Grand Tetons will appear puny rather than majestic to
someone who grew up in the Himalayas or comical to one
contemplating the meaning of the French word ‘teton’
• The sound of an approaching snow mobile may well be soothing-rather than obnoxious--if one is lying hypothermic in the snow
waiting for help, or if one is the owner of a snowmobile rental
business threatened by a proposed ban on snowmobiles in national
Clear cuts may not appear to be eyesores to
those who hunt the deer feeding off the new
growth or to the logger who cut the trees
Resources to constrain aesthetic
appreciation of environment
I now turn from doubts about objectivity in env. appreciation to factors that
help with such objectivity and with aesthetic protectionism
• (1) Cognitive factors
• (2) Objectivity in emotional responses to nature
• (3) Disinterestedness of aesthetic responses
(1) Cognitive factors as constraints on
environmental aesthetic response
• For example:
– Sometimes there are correct and incorrect categories
with which to appreciate natural objects and they help
distinguish appropriate from inappropriate aesthetic
Cute woodchuck
or massive, awe
inspiring rat?
• Which aesthetic
qualities are
appropriate –is it
massive and aweinspiring or is it
cute?--depends on
categorizing the
Spectacular full moon or obnoxious satellite dish?
Amazing lime green creek
or revolting mine runoff?
Information about environment can
improve our aesthetic responses
• For example, knowing that
one has encountered an
ivory billed woodpecker
thought to be extinct until
recently, enhances and
deepens one’s aesthetic
• Lacking information about
the env. can impoverish our
aesthetic response to it
Are Swamps Yucky?
• A negative aesthetic response to swamps based
on a stereotyped and ignorant belief that they
are bug-infested wastelands
• Unacceptable because the aesthetic attitude
rests on false beliefs about swamps
False beliefs don’t necessarily
disqualify an aesthetic response
– “I may be excited by the grandeur of a blue whale. I may be
moved by its size, its force, and the amount of water it displaces,
etc., but I may think that it is a fish. Nevertheless my being
moved by the grandeur of the blue whale is not inappropriate.”
– Noel Carroll, “On Being Moved By Nature” (1993)
• But this aesthetic response remains appropriate only
because the false beliefs have no bearing on the
aesthetic response
• When false beliefs affect an aesthetic response, as in
some of the above cases, they do undermine that
Judgment about whether the trans-Alaska pipeline
enhances or detracts from Alaska’s beauty needs to be
informed by knowledge of the environmental and social
impacts of our society’s oil addiction
More generally, knowledge of environmental problems
should inform environmental aesthetic appreciation
• In a world where human dominance over nature was not so
extensive, perhaps the sight of an 800 mile-long pipeline through
wild lands need not be appalling
• But in today’s world--at least for those informed and properly
appreciative of the massive human impact on the planet--the
appropriate response to these types of human intrusions in nature
should not be positive
No apartheid for aesthetics
• These points depend on rejecting
formalistic and other narrow conceptions
of aesthetic experience
• Aesthetics is not separate from the rest of
life, and this means that there is no strict
separation of aesthetics, ethics, and
Are cognitive approaches best for
aesthetic protectionism?
• Marcia Eaton thinks they are
• She identifies numerous flawed environmental
policies that are based on ecologically-ignorant
appreciative responses
– For example:
• The sentimental Bambi-image of deer as sweet and innocent
ignores the ecological devastation they can cause and this
makes it hard for forest managers to convince the public of
the need to reduce deer populations
Forest fires have been prevented in
part because blackened forests strike
people as ugly, with the result that
fire-adapted species are dying out
and many forests are tinder boxes
• “As long as people want large, green, closely mowed yards no
matter what the climate or soil or water conditions, they will continue
to use polluting gasoline mowers and a toxic cocktail of fertilizers,
herbicides and pesticides.”
Marcia Eaton, “Professional Aesthetics and Environmental Reform”
• Presumably they would not find these lawns so appealing once they
consider their ecological consequences.
Cognitive approach to
environmental aesthetics is a
double-edged sword
• Insisting that aesthetic responses to
nature be informed by correct
environmental knowledge can also lead to
environmentally harmful behavior
• Some popular--but fallacious--ecological ideas
are often environmentally beneficial
• Claims about
– Deep interconnections in nature
– Nature’s delicate balance
– Are significantly overstated but quite useful for environmental
• Thus insuring that one’s aesthetic responses to nature
are informed by scientific facts will not necessarily
contribute to aesthetic protectionism.
(2) Objectivity in emotional
responses to nature
• Noel Carroll argues that objectivity is possible
not only in a knowledge-based environmental
aesthetic, but also for one based on emotional
• Just as it is inappropriate
– To be amused when a dog is hit by a car
– To dance gaily to somber music
• So it is inappropriate
– To be bored by a thundering waterfall crashing down
on one’s head
– To be soothed by the hum of snowmobiles
Better and worse emotional
responses to environment
• Emotions are underpinned by beliefs and have
more or less appropriate objects
• For those properly sensitive to the massive,
harmful human impacts on the planet
– Sounds of chainsaws will alarm
– Belching smokestacks will disgust
– Pollution sunsets will not strike them as appealing
Positive emotional responses to
environmental degradation
– Glee at the sight of a polluted river and the
smell of its dead fish
– Satisfaction from seeing trophy homes on
top of mountain ridges
• Manifests ignorance about the human impact on the planet, a
skewed emotional constitution, or blinding self-interest
(3) Disinterestedness and positive
aesthetic responses to environmental
• Many argue that aesthetic appreciation requires
– A freeing of the mind from self-interested and
instrumental attention toward the aesthetic object
• E.g.: If we react favorably to a play because we
stand to make a lot of money from it, this is not
an aesthetic response to the play
– Because it is not properly disinterested
Positive responses to env. degradation are often
self-interest and thus not properly aesthetic
• Clear-cuts may appear attractive to loggers or forestry
• Snowmobiles in the wilderness may sound harmonious
to someone for whom it means more business or
perhaps soothing to a person lying hurt and in need of
• But such responses are so infused with self-interest as
to be disqualified from disinterested aesthetic response
• The “developer’s aesthetic” mentioned at the beginning
may not be an aesthetic at all
• Environmental aesthetics should play an
important role in environmental protection
• Aesthetic relativity and subjectivity do not cripple
such a project
• Legitimate pluralism and relativity in responses
to environmental beauty do not prevent
distinguishing between better and worse
aesthetic responses
• Env. aesthetics contains numerous resources for
objectivity that allow it to play a useful role in
environmental protection
Follow are hyperlink slides
Natural Beauty only a tie-breaker?
“An attempt to justify a ban on logging in the
Pacific Northwest’s remaining old-growth forests
solely in terms of these forests’ special beauty
would be on very shaky ground if the ban would
cause economic dislocation of thousands of
loggers and mill workers….Only in this context
(i.e., other things being equal) [do] aesthetic
considerations seem compelling.”
Gary Varner, In Nature’s Interests (1998)
“If a doctor had to choose between giving one of
two patients a heart, she could not justify her
decision by saying that one of the patients was
more beautiful than the other . . . But if a doctor
cannot make a decision regarding who gets a
heart based on aesthetics, how can
environmentalists ask thousands of loggers to
give up their jobs and way of life on the basis of
Rob Loftis, “Three Problems for the Aesthetic Foundations of Environmental
Ethics” (2003)
• A guide in Lewis and Clark Caverns kept introducing the
stalagmites as Disney characters:
“Look there’s Pinocchio’s nose”
• Such responses are superficial, irrelevant and distracting
“Scenery Cult” as Shallow Nature
Well-developed literature
criticizing the inability of many to
appreciate unscenic nature
– An aesthetic vice
Scenery cult: Appreciating only
nature’s dramatic landscapes
– A trip to the national park involves
driving though the park, stopping
at scenic viewpoints for snap
shots and the gift shop for
postcards of the scenery
A lazy appreciation interested only
in “easy beauty,” the
“picturesque,” and in visual
appreciation rather than deeper,
multi-sensuous engagement
Stereotyped responses are worse
“Ah, look, it’s Bambi!
Isn’t she cute?”
Multisensuous and active
• Contrast appreciating
a mountain lake by:
– Gazing from the shore
– Going for a swim
• Consider watching a
storm through a
window or
appreciating the
storm while outside
Self-indulgent responses are worse
• “Look at the rainbow placed here for me!”
Responses that distort, ignore or suppress
important truths about the objects of
Consider the romanticized view of wolves that ignores their predatory
John Donne on mountains
• God originally
made the world a
smooth sphere but
then warped it in
punishment for
human sins
• His aesthetic
– “Warts, and pockholes in the face of
the earth”
• Following are slides that are extra and cut
from earlier versions of the presentation
Carlson’s view that aesthetic
appreciation of humanized
environments should focus on their
• If environmentalists are right that many
human env. are unsustainable hence
• Then on Carlson’s account of aesthetic
appreciation of human envs, such
environments are aesthetically negative
Carlson 2
• Thus sustainable developed human
environments or undeveloped nature (assuming
one holds some version of positive aesthetics)
• Are to be preferred aesthetically to typical
human environments that are not sustainable
• Note that the issue of the functionality of human
environments has significant dimensions of
Slides to insert
– Westvaco pollution slide
– Beach rip rap slides
– I of p house in marsh
• If items in nature (trees, countryside, wilderness)
were of low or negative aesthetic value, both
practice of and justification for of environmental
protection would be far weaker
– Show pict of trash
• Clear cuts, strip mines, toxic waste dumps,
spewing sewage pipes, fish belly-up in the
creeks, belching smokestacks, urban blight,
junkyards, billboards, tacky neon stripdevelopments, and suburban sprawl.
Objections to Carlson
• One might object to a number of features of this
– Carlson’s cognitivism (the idea that aesthetic
appreciation involves thought, knowledge, and
understanding) is controversial
• Carroll argues that uniformed emotional arousal is an
appropriate type of aesthetic app
– Carlson’s idea that only science can provide the
understanding of nature needed for aesthetic
appreciation of it is also open to challenge
• ?To use an example from the literature
• ?If I do not know that a whale is a mammal rather than a giant fish,
my awe at its size need not be an “incorrect” or “false” aesthetic
Scenery cult
– There is a well developed literature criticizing the idea
that the aesthetic appreciation of nature is
appropriately limited to the, as if seeing nature from
ready-made viewpoints (i.e., getting out of one’s car
only at highway pullovers) was a serious way of
appreciating the Natural Parks or nature in general.
– Ignoring (or worse) being unable to appreciate
“unscenic” nature is an aesthetic vice
– A lazy response interested only in “easy beauty”
– Pict of scenic versus unscenic nature?
Paul Bunyon example? Here or
• “Suppose you are sitting in a hot tub in a
city in the Arizona desert listening to the
sounds around you. Do you just listen to
the Western Warblers and the wind in the
fruit and palm trees or do you (should you)
also notice the sounds of hot tub jets and
popping bubbles making a pleasant
hissing on the water? Do you add or
ignore the sounds of ventilator fans
Drop slide: Permissible to frame out
human intrusions?
• For above: Brady's multi-sensuous engagement
– Add
• Sound of snowmobile (sound too?)
• Teton valley with building superimposed on it?
• Scale up to see clear-cuts from a 200 year time
• Carroll’s Teton large scale example; not large
scale when compared with the universe
The idea that certain framing decision in
environmental aesthetic appreciation are more
natural and fitting given the human constitution
and our legitimate purposes also allows for a
response to Stan Godlovitch’s idea that
traditional human aesthetic response to nature is
sensually parochial and that the temporal and
spacial scale dependence of our aesthetic
response to nature are arbitrary
Godlovitch’s relativity
• Smashing ice blocks heaved up by a river
should be seen as no less aesthetically offensive
than bulldozing the Navaho Sandstone Castles
of Monument Valley, Arizona
• “If we were giants, crushing a rock monument . .
. would be no more aesthetically offensive than
is flattening the odd sand castle is to us now. If
our lives were measured in seconds, then
shattering ice blocks would count as
momentously coarse as using Bryce Canyon as
a landfill” (p. 18)
• Delete next two bullets?
• Much as it is inappropriate to find it humorous
when a dog is hit by a car, so to it is
inappropriate to positively respond to human
intrusions into wild nature.
• Such a response is likely to manifest ignorance
about the human impact on the planet, a skewed
emotional constitution, or such strong selfinterest as to blind one’s aesthetic responses (or
to disqualify them)
Resistance to Carlson’s scientific
• Not plausible that there is only one
appropriate, correct, or true way to
appreciate nature or natural objects
• Nor is it plausible that if knowledge of
natural history fails to inform an env.
aesthetic response, it becomes
inappropriate, incorrect or false
Avoid the false dilemma
• One true or correct or
appropriate way to
appreciate nature
• Any appreciation of
nature is as good as any
• There are a plurality of better and worse ways to appreciate nature
• Is such a pluralistic objectivity sufficient for aesthetic protectionism?
• Seems repetitive?
• Yes so I removed to end.
Intentional design adds complexity
that may increase pluralism
• Removed slide:
• Design can constrain appreciative responses but also:
– Open avenues for interpretation
– And enable additional types of appreciative responses
• Consider a sand sculpture produced by an artist and the same
pattern produced by nature
– May be a greater diversity in appropriate responses to the former than
to the latter
– The sand sculpture has multiple meanings that the natural pattern of
sand would not have
– Debates about what the artist was communicating and the relations of
this sand sculpture to other sculptures are examples of complicating
• Art appreciation can be more complex and thus allow for a greater
plurality and flexibility in the appropriate types of aesthetic response
Glenn Parsons thinks not:
“Freedom and Objectivity in the Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature” (2006) f
“Smell, touch and taste require close proximity and
mountains are generally not the sort of things we ca
feel or taste”
So far I have argued:
• It is not clear that aesthetic of nature is less
objective than aesthetic of art
• There are a plurality of better and worse
aesthetic response to nature, even though there
is not one best or appropriate type of response
– Some relativity in aesthetic value judgments must be
• That framing freedom in nature appreciation has
limits and that there are more or less appropriate
ways to frame environmental appreciation
Types of objectivity
• What objectivity is and is not
• Brady: Not true, but reasonable, justifiable, communicable
• Parson: Correct, true
• Add Parson paper quotes?
– Carlson: true also?
• Objectivity: Letting object be the guide rather than the subject
– Berleant: Subject's emotions, beliefs, and memories determine aes
response/judgment as much as does the env. appreciated.
• Subject could be guide if we all agreed and this allow for aes
– Saito’s appreciating nature on its own terms
• Letting nature speak for itself; tell its own story
– Carlson: guided by the object
– Kind of objectivity I want is kind where we get judgments that
these aes responses are more rational and appropriate than
• Epistemic determinism or at least constraint
– is constrained by While there are a plurality of acceptable
aesthetic responses
– Develop a position in between monistic objectivism and
anything-goes subjectivism that allows for a plurality of better
and worse aesthetic responses
• Arguments for subjectivity (and responses)
• Lack of artistic design constraints
– Or audience conventions?
• Framing freedom
• Constraints on the plurality of aesthetic appreciations of
• Cognitive
– Limitations for env. protectionism
• Objectivity of affective response
• Disinterestedness
• “Given the centrality of the duties of beneficence and
nonmaleficence to our shared conceptions of morality, it
is difficult to see how these prima facie duties [to protect
natural beauty] could override duties generated by the
existence of interests.”
• For example, an attempt to justify a ban on logging in the
Pacific Northwest’s remaining old-growth forests solely in
terms of these forests’ special beauty would be on very
shaky ground if the ban would cause economic
dislocation of thousands of loggers and mill
workers….Only in this context (i.e., other things being
equal) that aesthetic considerations seem compelling.”
Gary Varner, In Nature’s Interests
Lots of agreement
• Like in ethics, in aes disagreement is often
• Would we take seriously the assertion that
grand canyon or Sistine chapel was ugly
– Eukletna lake slide
• But for the disa that exists, see below (why
argue if like taste?)
• Also, Brady’s reasons to explain this
disagreement and how it could be resolved
Brady: Why argue about aes
judgments if mere taste, personal
• Contrast with mere personal pref
examples, like taste of coffee or favorite
Donne mountain pock marks;
• Use with cubists works in 1913 judged to
be crude and aes worthless grounded on
standards for representational paintings.
• Incoherent, incomplete, crude, messy
Relativism undermine worth/value
of nature appreciation (compared
to art)
• Superficiality problem
And this matters for aes protectionism, because if this is not serious nor
worthy, it can’t provide much value for protecting the env.
– Dif from point that it can’t guide env. Decisions because all is relative and no
better/worse answer
But I’m now wondering what lack of worth/seriousness has to do with
relativism? Need to make this case
Is nature app “possess a seriousness and worth approaching art app?”
Parsons 28
Donne: Second rate Turner quote: Nature’s aes value is weak/trivial
Going to a art gallery or the concert is a more serious, deeper, more
valuable aes experience than is going for a walk in the woods.
Nature app is just not as worthwhile as art appreciation
What to make critical discourse possible
Need to have “responsible criticism and discourse” fisher
But Fisher and Budd turn lack of objectivity in nature app into a virtue; gives
us more freedom and responsibility, creativity, richer

Objectivity in Environmental Aesthetics and Protection of