Outline of Evaluating Positive Aesthetics, Ned Hettinger


1.      Trad def of PA: All nature is beautiful

2.      My def of PA: Nature is specially and predominantly beautiful

         a.      I’m a cautious supporter

3.      4 conditions for adequate PA: Not apply to rest of world/art; useful for conservation; empirical, not a priori; accounts for some ugliness in nature

4.      Knowledge as argument for PA: Moves us beyond appreciation of easy beauty to appreciation of more subtle and difficult beauty (for which there are scientifically interesting stories)

         a.      Takes care of boring nature

         b.      Unclear takes care of all cases of ugly nature


6.      No negative judgments as no design in nature and aes evaluation is of design

         a.      Problematic; (1) Can evaluate colors w/o design, (2) Would make nature appreciation not aes, (3) Undermines not supports PA

7.      Equal beauty thesis Falsely tied to a PA, defenders of PA accept degrees

         a.      Scientific knowledge lead to equal beauty? No, as more or less interesting sci stories (Earth, Pluto)

         b.      Degrees of beauty bad for env. policy as only save outstanding natural beauty?

                   i.        No, degrees required for aes to play role in conservation

8.      Individualism vs holism: each natural item has positive aes or the whole is in general positive, with some individual ugliness

9.      Hargrove’s no negative aesthetic qualities: Not plausible, open wounds, diseased organisms, bad smells, hot sticky buggy weather

10.    Parsons’ on-balance individualism and beauty making criterion

         a.      Are negative aes qualities of individuals but outweighed by positive ones

         b.      To avoid conflicting aes qualities and indeterminate aes value, argues that appropriate aes appreciation should choose categories of interpretation and perspectives that maximize aes appeal (venus fly trap viewed as a plant–grotesque, viewed as a carnivorous plant, not grotesque)

         c.      Problems:

                   i.       Beauty max more plausible for art than nature, but not plausible either place; Should not ignore negative aesthetics but integrate them into aes response (movie with great special effects but lousy acting, should not ignore that wolves are coyote killers)

                   ii.      Undermines aes role in conservation: County commissioners and anti-environmentalist will claim bias

11.    Carlson’s on-balance individualism and science is aes argument

         a.      Appropriate appreciation requires science, science intelligibility requires unity, order, harmony–these are aes positive, so nature appreciation will be positive aes                                            

         b.      Objection: Argument is a priori/conceptual; does not depend on actual empirical characteristics of our world; dull world objection (apply as well to a lifeless, colorless, geologically inert world)

         c.      PA should be an empirical thesis that depends on actual empirical characteristics of our world

12.    Parsons/Carlson functional beauty undermines PA for biotic nature and supports it for abiotic nature

         a.      Beauty is fitness for function, whether in selected functioning of living things or the “causal role” functions of inorganic nature

         b.      Ugliness comes when something malfunctions

         c.      Living things can be dysfunctional and hence ugly, but non-living things can only lose their functions (and hence can’t be ugly)–thus PA for inorganic nature

         d.      I think losing a function we expect of an abiotic object might be grounds for ugliness (a silt clogged creek, unable to support aquatic life) (also Eaton’s unattractive shells)

13.    Rolston’s aesthetic holism & systemic beauty

         a.      Nature as a whole as substantial aes value, but individual itemized ugliness exists, though ugliness weakens when appropriately contextualized

         b.      Nature has a tendency toward beauty, to turn ugliness into beauty

                   i.       Nature struggles against ugliness of damaged and diseased organisms

                   ii.      Predation culls the (ugly) sick and crippled

                   iii.     Natural selection edits out the malformed

                   iv.     Geology has beauty tendency; mountain building, water cycle

14.    Rolston’s PA best meets my 4 criteria

         a.      Based on a rich empirical description of natural world

         b.      Makes nature specially and thoroughly beautiful in way art and human environments are not

         c.      Allows for negative aesthetics in nature

         d.      Is useful for conservation

Questions on Hettinger, Evaluating Positive Aesthetics

1.         Define positive aesthetics (=PA), both traditionally and with the weakened definition I provide.

2.         State and explain the four conditions for an adequate positive aesthetic that Hettinger stipulates.

3.         Give examples of easy natural beauty and now examples of more difficult natural beauty. How does knowledge of nature support PA for more difficult beauty? Does Hettinger think knowledge will turn both boring and ugly nature into something aesthetically positive?

4.         Why might someone think that no negative aesthetic judgments of nature are possible? Is this a plausible view?

5.         What is the equal beauty thesis? Does PA entail equal beauty? Does scientific knowledge of nature insure equal beauty? Is the equal beauty thesis good or bad for using nature’s beauty for nature conservation?

6.         Explain the difference between individualistic and holistic versions of PA.

7.         Explain and evaluate Hargrove’s “no negative aesthetic qualities” in nature view.

8.         Explain the “on-balance individualism” version of PA . Is it plausible?

9.         Explain Parsons’ beauty making criterion and compare it with the “beauty-maximization” view of interpretation of art. Evaluate this attempt to defend PA.

10.       What is Carlson’s “science is aesthetic” argument for PA. Explain Hettinger’s objection that this argument is conceptual/a priori and that arguments for PA should be empirical. What is the “dull world objection” to Carlson’s argument?

11.       What does Rolston mean by the systemic beauty of nature? Does nature have systemic beauty?

12.       Explain how contextualization of ugly nature might mellow its negative aesthetic value.