Holmes Rolston, “Valuing Aesthetic Nature”, Env.
Is Beauty in the world or in the eye of the beholder?
Objectivity/subjectivity in nature beauty
Is all nature beautiful?
Objectivity/subjectivity of beauty
Two senses of
One: Beauty (aes value?) is in experiencer, not
Two: No better/worse, no appropriate or
inappropriate aes responses to nature
objectivity in aes responses to nature
Rolston’s is a Humean position?
Suggests human exp of beauty is accidental,
“By chance nature echoes our aes taste”
Ignores that natural selection might have helped shape
our aesthetic tastes
Gordon H. Orians
and Judith H. Heerwagen, "Evolved Responses to Landscapes," in Jerome
H. Barkow, Leda cosmides and John Tooby, eds., The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary
Psychology and the Generation of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press,
1992), pages 555‑ 579.
Heerwagen and Gordon H. Orians, "Humans, Habitats, and Aesthetics,"
in Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, eds., The Biophilia Hypothesis
(Washington, DC: Island Press, 1993), pages 138‑172.
Roger S. Ulrich,
"Biophilia, Biophobia, and Natural Landscapes," in Stephen R. Kellert
and Edward O. Wilson, eds., The Biophilia Hypothesis (Washington, DC: Island
Press, 1993), 73‑137.
What is in nature?
Sci processes (and values they carry!)
Predator/prey regulation, photosynthesis
Nutritional value of the potato
Some value in nature, beauty not
Beauty, like ethics, in human response to world and not
Beauty a subjective value, not model for all value, as
some value (biological value) is objective
Aes properties in nature “call for” certain
We are not projecting these properties; they are there
What is out there is aes worthy
World is beautiful like it is mathematical
Math experience comes from us, but mathematical
properties are there and we map on to them with our mathematics
So aes properties are in world and appro aes exp
responds to them
Aes value does not depend on humans;
nonhumans have aes exp
Aes exp comes in diverse forms
Higher aes exp (scenic beauty, sublime) only had by
If aes exp accompanies physical satisfaction
Eating a tasty meal
Enjoying warmth of sun
Surely some animals have these exp
Big-Horn Sheep Ram
If we admire
muscular strength and power of ram
Ewe who is
attracted to him and permits mating
nothing of this?
Consistent w/ Nat
Sel that it registers in her experience
attracted to peacock’s tail or it would be liability and nat selection would
have never preserved it
Unless deny an
have exp at all, hard to deny have nascent, precursor to aes exp
All Nature Beautiful?
John Muir’s Positive Aes
“None of nature’s
landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild”
“When you try to
pick out one thing in the universe you will find it hitched to everything else
in the universe”
Rolston’s Characterization of Positive Aes
supply beauty, never ugliness
generate favorable experience in the suitably perceptive
don’t like swamps, deserts, prairies
To say desert,
tundra, volcanic eruption is ugly is to make a false statement and behave
Like clouds are
never ugly, only more or less beautiful, so too, mountains rivers, forests,
seashores, grasslands, cliffs, canyons cascades
Never called for
to say such places bland, dull, boring, chaotic
Rolston’s Pos Aes
All equally beautiful (equal beauty thesis)
Nature perfectly beautiful-perfect beauty thesis
Artificial reefs can increase beauty
“Nature’s landscapes, almost w/o fail, have an
Area level judgment:
Not every small piece of nature beautiful; applies to landscapes
Contras with other + aes views
Carlson’s stronger view
thing, either with appropriate appreciation or at many, if not almost all,
levels and conditions of observation, has substantial positive aesthetic
value and little, if any negative aesthetic value.”
Not just natural kinds, not just “essential beauty,”
not just a little beauty.
Rolston grants some nature ugly
Allow that some items in nature ugly when viewed in isolation
“There is itemized individual ugliness in nature”
Not embracing “programmatic nature romanticism”
Consider possible counter-examples to + nature aes
“Failures in nature are omnipresent, all organisms and
ecosystems fare finally ruined”
Tourists take no pictures of these
They are not picturesque
Putrid rotting elk carcass, full of maggots is revolting
In nature, as much is ragged and marred as beautiful
Bear Scat Aesthetically negative?
Ugliness diminished/overcome when viewed in proper context
Move beyond a utilitarian perspective and see nature in
Seen from a landscape and ecosystem perspective these
are not ugly; ugliness transformed in ecosystem perspective
From a informed, systemic perspective only get positive
Each item must be seen in env. Context
Judgment of ugliness is like looking at piece of a jigsaw
puzzle and saying pieces are misshapen
Humans selected to find some things
repulsive (rotting carcasses, excrement)
But not ugly in the system of nutrient recycling
Systemic beauty of body decaying
Rotting Elk returns to humus and is recycled; maggots
become flies, food for birds; natural selection leads to better adapted elk
Cognitive dimension necessary
Such beauty is not so much viewed as experienced after
ecological understanding gained
Many of life’s riches aes exp not able to put on canvas
or take picture of
Natural history/science allows to aes app what might
otherwise be aes neg
Allows us to move beyond scenery cult
Lamb killed by Bobcat
Coyote Bloodthirsty killer?
“Fierce and cruel
they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God”
John Muir on Alligators
Local disvalue to
prey is value to predator and is systemic value
Ugliness here is
only a projection; like big bad wolf
from forest fire
nutrients, resets succession, helps regenerate shade intolerant trees.
Worrisome counterexamples to positive aesthetics
Three-Headed Frog Disfigured
Mt. Saint Helens
Nature can’t adapt and evolve in response to
Ugly events as anomalies challenging general paradigm
of nature’s landscapes w/o fail having essential beauty
Rolston general strategy
Reinterpret local intrinsic ugliness as systemic
Shifting reference frames on us?
No, insisting on context
Ecology makes these intelligible, but not beautiful?
get from instrumentally valuable/nec to aes positive?
Positive aesthetics thesis not plausible for
Implausible to say artworks never badly done
Yet does say this for virgin landscapes; more or less +
Can be no failures in nature (whereas there can be in
art), as no artistic intention
Nature, unlike artist, can never fail as never tried
+ Aes for art at category level?
• Just as Rolston limits his + aes to landscape level,
• What if we limit + aes claim for art to the category
• Each type of art is aes positive: Jazz music, folk, impressionism, ballet,
– Some instances of these are ugly
• But unlike Rol account for itemized ugliness in
nature, don’t want to say that bad artwork looses its ugliness when viewed in
That nature isn’t
picturesque, doesn’t mean it is not beautiful
of aes value
drive through a park and harvest scenic resources only
“As if nature
that can’t serve us must please us”
Scenery cult as a bad reason for rejecting
Are Lawns Beautiful? Deserve A
Positive Aes Response?
knowledge to know why not.
Relies on env.
unfriendly herbicides, pesticides
climate (water use)
“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