Objectivity in Environmental Aesthetics

& Protection of the Environment

Ned Hettinger

The Need for Objectivity and What Kind

1.      Importance of environmental beauty for environmental protection

2.      Need some objectivity in environmental aesthetics for natural beauty to play a role in environmental protection (“aesthetic protectionism”)

         a.      Must reject anything-goes subjectivism and to constrain relativity

3.      Not “monistic scientific objectivism”

         a.      Not science-only objectivism

         b.      Not objectivism limited to correct/incorrect, true/false, appropriate/inappropriate

4.      But “constrained pluralism”

         a.      There are a plurality of better and worse aesthetic responses (and types of aesthetic responses)

         b.      E.g., deep/shallow, multi-sensuous and active/ocular-centric and passive, unbiased/biased, thoughtful and knowledgeable/unthinking and distorted

Doubts about Objectivity in Environmental Appreciation

5.      Art more objective than nature

         a.      Art has design and conventional constraints that nature lacks

         b.      Nature appreciation (unlike art appreciation) involves full framing freedom

6.      Reply: There are constraints on framing nature appreciation

7.      Pluralism exists in the aesthetic appreciation of nature

         a.      Some of it is not a problem (and may even help) aesthetic protectionism

8.      Some pluralism is a problem for aesthetic protectionism

         a.      Idea that it is permissible to frame out human intrusions

9.      In an overall environmental aesthetic assessment not appropriate to frame out human intrusions

10.    Some framing choices are more natural, fitting and appropriate; others are awkward, forced and myopic

         a.      E.g., Some scales are more appropriate than others

11.    Some relativity in aes. value judgments exist: Coo of doves soothing or obtrusive? Tetons puny or majestic?

Resources for Objectivity in Environmental Aesthetic Appreciation

12.    (1) Cognitive factors

13.    Correct and incorrect categories for aesthetic objects

14.    Information about environment can improve aesthetic responses to it

15.    False beliefs make an aesthetic response unacceptable only when they affect the response

16.    Knowledge of environmental problems should inform environmental aesthetic appreciation

17.    No apartheid between aesthetics and the rest of life: Interpenetration aesthetics, ethics, and cognition

18.    Are cognitive approaches to natural beauty best for aesthetic protectionism?

         a.      Many bad environmental policies due to ecologically-ignorant aesthetic responses

19.    Cognitive approaches are a double-edged sword:

         a.      Many popular but false ecological ideas helpful for environmental protection

         b.      Insisting that aesthetic responses be informed by knowledge can undermine aesthetic protectionism

20.    (2) Objectivity in emotional responses to nature

         a.      Positive emotional responses to environmental degradation manifest ignorance, a skewed emotional constitution, or blinding self-interest

21.    (3) Disinterestedness and environmental aesthetic response

         a.      Positive aesthetic responses to environmental degradation are often self-interested and not aesthetic


22.    Environmental aesthetics should play an important role in environmental protection

23.    Aesthetic relativity and subjectivity do not cripple such a project

24.    Legitimate pluralism and relativity in responses to environmental beauty do not prevent distinguishing between better and worse aesthetic responses

25.    Environmental aesthetics contains numerous resources for objectivity that allow it to play a useful role in environmental protection