Rob Loftis

Three Problems for the Aesthetic Foundations of Environmental Ethics


1.      Loftis is criticizing aesthetics as

         a.      The foundation of” or “the basis for” env ethics/nature preservation

         b.      He concludes “aesthetics should not play a significant role” in env protection

         c.      Note one might reject the idea that aes is “the foundation” and still think it plays a significant role

2.      How strong a role does/should aesthetics play in environmental protection/preservation/ethics?

         a.      The only reason to protect nature

                   i.       What are some alternative rationales?

         b.      The best reason to protect nature

                   i.       Loftis claims that Hargrove thinks aesthetics is the best reason we have now for embracing an env ethic

         c.      A sufficient reason: “I will argue that aesthetics are not sufficient to ground preservation ethic” p. 42.

         d.      An important (significant) reason for protecting nature

         e.      Limited role in protection of nature

                   i.       “If I am right, aesthetics could only play a limited role in env ethics”p. 42

         f.       No role; utterly trivial reason to protect nature

3.      Why one might think aesthetics important in justification of nature preservation

         a.      One it is a very strong motivator (doesn’t show it’s a justification...)

         b.      Anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric reasons don’t seem sufficient for places and other sorts of non-living entities; to protect these, might need aesthetic reasons



5.      Superficiality problem: Aes value of nature can provide at best a weak reason for action

         a.      Aes (in general–art, human beauty? as well as in nature) is a superficial value

6.      Range of habitat problem: Lots of nature environmentalists want to protect is ugly (negative aes value); positive aes fails

7.      Technology is beautiful: Development can be as aes positive as nature; if beauty is our goal, beauty of a magnificent skyscraper can suffice



9.      Aes considerations involving nature are too weak a value to justify substantial environmental protection

10.    Environmentalism requires intrusive regulations and asks people so sacrifice their jobs and economic well being

11.    Aesthetics not a strong enough value to justify such sacrifice

         a.      Jobs versus aesthetics: Aesthetics lose every time

         b.      “How can environmentalists ask thousands of loggers to give up their jobs and way of life on the basis of aesthetics?”

12.    Nature aes importance like human aes importance:

         a.      Aes value will have the same strength (require same level of duties) whether it’s the aesthetic value of nature or other kinds of aes value (art or human aesthetic value)

         b.      Compares the role of aes in env protection with the role of aes in human decision making

13.    Don’t make important decisions about humans based on aes

         a.      “Doctor cannot make a decision regarding who gets a heart based on aesthetics”

         b.      Why make important decisions about nature based on aes?

14.    Just as aes considerations are weak in deciding how to treat people, so they are weak in deciding how to treat nature.

15.    Question: Might aesthetics play a greater legitimate role in nature protection than it does in human protection/decision making?

         a.      With humans there are other considerations besides beauty (even besides inner beauty), such as moral virtue

         b.      With nature there are not to the same extent such other competing values


16.    Human beauty/aesthetics only leads to weak or trivial duties

         a.      Vanity

         b.      Showering rewards on movie stars waste of resources (when millions go starving)

         c.      “Env organizations like clubs to promote careers of models”


17.    Worries

         a.      Not clear human beauty is so trivial

         b.      Loftis ignores human inner beauty

                   i.       Good sense of humor, fun to be around, interesting,

         c.      Loftis has a shallow notion of aesthetics; ignores cognitive and emotional components and thinks it only has to do with isolated sensory qualities


18.    Aes value of art compared to aes value of nature:

         a.      “Positive aes qualities in art do demand sacrifices”

         b.      Environmentalists ask us to sacrifice much more for the sake of nature than art promoters as us to sacrifice for art’s sake

         c.      In comparing sacrifices we make for art to those we are asked to make for nature, the latter is way out of proportion

                   i.       $800 million give up for protecting Arctic refuge; $115 million for entire budget of National Endowment for Arts.

         d.      Aesthetics could never alone justify this difference


19.    Discussion of whether natural beauty is a stronger value that art beauty



21.    Some/many habitats that environmentalists want to protect are not beautiful (or otherwise positive aesthetically)

         a.      So aesthetics can protect all of nature

22.    Some reject this claim and embrace positive aesthetics (=PA) (all of nature is beautiful)

23.    Loftis’ rejection of PA

         a.      If based on science which shows all nature balanced and harmonious, the problem is ecologists reject balance

         b.      If claim that once we put things like deserts in their correct category, we will find them beautiful (because we won’t expect dense vegetation anymore)

                   i.       Reply: Like in art we might reject entire genres/types of landscapes as ugly

         c.      If claim all nature is beautiful, because it is natural and that gives it positive aesthetic value

                   i.       Reply: tapeworms, smallpox are natural but not possible or desirable to value them.

         d.      Is unattractive nature necessary instrumentally to sustain beautiful nature?

                   i.       Reply

                            (1)    Some is and some isn’t.

                            (2)    Some aesthetically impoverished species could die off and no beautiful thing would suffer.



25.    Technological alterations of the land can be beautiful

         a.      So can’t argue for preserving nature for aesthetics, as we will replace or increase the beauty by adding human created beauties

26.    Possible problem: Even if the substituted beauties are equal or greater, it is not clear that destroying a beauty can be justified by replacing it with some greater beautiful thing.

         a.      Perhaps beauty is not a replaceable value

27.    Environmentalists may object that they do not worry about replacing nature with human masterpieces like the Sistine Chapel, but rather with ugly things like sprawl development and strip mines

28.    Reply: PA for culture

         a.      But if we can advocate for positive aesthetics for (seemingly) ugly nature, why can’t we advocate for positive aesthetics for (seemingly) ugly culture?

         b.      Our conception of beauty of nature has changed over the years, why can’t our conception of beauty of cultural constructions also change?

         c.      Consider: It is quite possible (especially if ethics integrates into aesthetics) that positive aesthetics for nature can work in ways positive aesthetics for culture cannot.

29.    Environmentalists may object that with nature we might be losing whole types of natural beauties (like species or types of ecosystems)

         a.      Reply: There have been lots of art genres that we have let go and are not sad to have lost.