Parsons, Ch 7: Aesthetic Preservationism


1.      Preservation vs conservation

         a.      Conservation: Saving nature as prudence in managing resources for human use

         b.      Preservation: Nature has value beyond its practical benefits for humanity and that’s why we should save it

                   i.       Or nature should be preserved for its own sake, and not four our sake/benefit (practical or non-practical benefits)

2.      Aes value is a kind of non-practical value and thus might give us reason for “preservation” rather than “conservation”

         a.      Is aesthetic valuing anthropocentric instrumental (a human centered use value) or non-anthropocentric (valuing nature for its own sake)? valuing nonetheless?

         b.      If we preserve nature for the aesthetic satisfaction we get, we are preserving it for a (non-practical) human benefit

3.      Aesthetic Preservationism (=AP): Preserve nature because of its aesthetic value

4.      How strong AP? How important is aesthetic value in preservation?

         a.      Aes is one consideration/reason for preservation

                   i.       Important?

                   ii.      Trivial?

                   iii.     Other rationales for protecting nature include.....

         b.      Aes value is sufficient (all one needs) for preserving nature

         c.      Necessary to appeal to aes value for an adequate case for preservationism

                   i.       If Parson’s is right that there are no clear candidates for reasons to preserve (as opposed to conserve) inanimate nature (lakes, rivers, Mountains) besides aesthetics, then aes preservation is necessary

         d.      Aes value is the best reason, or most defensible reason for preserving nature?

5.      How important is aes value in actual env policy debates?

         a.      Aes value the factor that most readily springs to mind

                   i.       Save Grand Canyon because it is so beautiful

6.      Beauty rationally justifiable reason for preservation or only rhetorically effective?

         a.      Motivation: Aes value rhetorically effective in pushing people’s buttons to protect nature

         b.      Reason (rational justification): Aes value being a good reason to protect nature from development

7.      Examples where preservation might be based on aesthetics (AP)

         a.      Harris island super-quarry: “A great white gouge out of the landscape, as if someone literally wounded landscape”

         b.      Yew Tree Tarn: Small lake that was draining due to underground fault and group intervened to prevent draining in order to preserve the beauty of the lake and surrounding areas:

                   i.       “The area has been landscaped to ensure its beauty is permanent”

                   ii.      Beauty vs Wildness: Conflict between preserving beauty and preserving wildness

         c.      Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (details)


8.      Three assumptions of AP

         a.      Rather than assumptions, these are desiderata (except the first which is necessary)

9.      One: There are better/worse aes assessments of nature

         a.      Must reject PM (post modernism approach)

         b.      For if no better or worse assessments, then those favoring exploitation can simply assert that a natural area has little aesthetic value (and those opposing development can assert the opposite, and neither or both are right....)

10.    Two: AP requires Positive Aesthetics (=PA)

         a.      Here Parsons defines PA = All natural things/areas have at least some significant amount of aes value

         b.      Many areas in need of preservation are thought to be unattractive (wetlands, prairies)

         c.      If AP to be a widely applicable strategy, a good deal if not most of nature must be aesthetically good

                   i.       PA would help strengthen preservationism

                   ii.      But AP could allow some ugly nature

                   iii.     AP should allow for more or less beauty in nature (should deny equal beauty) so that aesthetics can help in decisions where we can’t preserve everthing

11.    Three: When value aesthetically this is intrinsic, not instrumental valuing

         a.      Distinction instrumental/intrinsic valuing

                   i.       Valuing instrumentally, like valuing money, entails that we don’t care for the thing itself, but only what it gets us and so don’t care if the thing is replaced by something else that gets us the same result

                   ii.      With intrinsic value we do care for thing itself and not willing for it to be replaced with something that gets us the same result

         b.      If aesthetic value is instrumental valuing, then we are not valuing nature but the (aes) experience it is giving us

                   i.       “Preserve nature’s aesthetic treasures so that others can enjoy them” p. 103...

         c.      Dangerous because if there was some other source of that experience, we’d be just as happy with that, even if not nature, but an experience machine, virtual reality, plastic trees

         d.      If AP is going to be a reason to preserve nature itself, it needs to think of aes valuing as an intrinsic valuing

         e.      How aes valuing is intrinsic valuing of the aes object?

                   i.       The valuable aes experience we get is a way of valuing the aes object for its own sake

                   ii.      We are not (simply or mainly) intrinsically valuing the aes experience we get (and instrumentally valuing nature’s beauty as a way to get that experience)

                            (1)    Rather, the positive aesthetic experience is a way of intrinsically valuing the aesthetic object (the beauty of nature)


12.    Nature of environment’s aes value

         a.      Response dependent: Aes value inanimate object have comes ultimately from (or depends in part on) responses they cause in human beings 102

                   i.       If Parsons were claiming nature’s aes value reduces to aes experiences in us, then their value would be instrumental

         b.      This aes value is a “human value, but is not reducible to the practical or economic benefits that they bring us

                   i.       Does Parsons conceive it as “anthropocentric instrumental value” on a par with recreational value, or therapeutic value, or resource value, with the only difference being that it is non-practical?

                   ii.      Or does Parsons think it is anthropogenic (human-generated) intrinsic valuing, a human valuing for its own sake?

         c.      Their value arises not from our manipulating or using them in a certain way, but only from looking and listening

         d.      Aes value provides the kind of reasons preservationists want: A reason to preserve nature even though gain no practical benefit from so doing

         e.      Ned’s view is that AP argues to preserve nature for its aes value and this is not saying preserve it for its ability to give people positive aesthetic experiences

                   i.       Those experiences are a by-product of our intrinsically valuing nature’s beauty–not the aes value itself



14.    Why use nature’s aes value to preserve it rather than some other non-practical value (such as ethical value)

         a.      Reply: There are no other clear candidates for preservation of inanimate objects in nature besides their aesthetic value

                   i.       Inanimate objects in nature unlikely candidates for ethical value, at least traditionally understood, for they do not have interests (what traditional ethics says we should protect)

15.    Nature’s ethical value is non-practical value of nature, why not use it instead of aesthetics?

         a.      But the most plausible way to spell out nature’s ethical value is to base it on the interests/needs of other living organisms in nature

                   i.       This gives us a reason to preserve them and the habitats on which they depend

         b.      But much of what we want to preserve in nature goes beyond preserving living organisms

         c.      We want to preserve islands, lakes, stretch of tundra (inorganic nature)

         d.      **Would not be satisfied if oil companies could prove that drilling for oil in Arctic Refuge (roads, oil platforms and drilling equipment) would not hurt wildlife (flora or fauna)

                   i.       We want to preserve that place itself

         e.      But inorganic nature does not have interests/needs (goods of their own as do living things) and so doesn’t have ethical value in that sense

         f.       So need to appeal to the aesthetic value of these places

         g.      Appeal to aesthetic value of inorganic nature easier to defend than arguing they have interests/needs we ethically ought to respect

                   i.       Claiming these places have aes value is neither implausible nor mysterious (as claims that mountains have needs is)

                   ii.      Claiming that lakes or islands have aesthetic value does not commit us to implausible claims about their having interests and needs of their own

                   iii.     Nothing weird/mysterious about inanimate objects having aesthetic value (art objects inanimate)

16.    The view of moral standing known as “ecocentrism” claims the land itself (and other abiota) are morally important in own right



         a.      One: Strong vs weak AP?

         b.      Two: AP weak value

18.    One: Should we preserve natural beauty threatened by nature?

         a.      Strong AP says yes

                   i.       Yew tree tarn example

                   ii.      Beautiful bird species going extinct due to natural cycle of disease or decline in food supply

                            (1)    Could provide food or innoculate it

                   iii.     Spectacular natural arch about to crumble

                   iv.     Soap in plumbing of Old Faithful to keep it regular

         b.      Weak AP says no

                   i.       Only save natural beauty when threatened by human activity

19.    Argument for strong AP: We protect beautiful human artefacts from natural threats, why not beautiful nature?

         a.      We preserve other cases of aes value (art object or beautiful sports car) from both natural (hail storm) and human (sledge hammer) caused damage

20.    Argument against Strong AP: No longer preserving natural beauty, but artefactual beauty

         a.      “Protecting” Yew Tree Tarn turns it into something come about through intentional human agency–an artefact

         b.      Thus not preserving nature but destroying it

         c.      Only weak AP is a form of nature preservation!

                   i.       Only weak AP preserves natural beauty

                   ii.      Strong AP preserves beauty, but only artifactual beauty

21.    Main point: Preserving aesthetic value and preserving nature may be in tension

         a.      Beauty versus wildness value of nature


22.    Two: Worry that aes value of nature is a weak value easily outweighed by practical values of developing nature

         a.      Jobs, convenient travel, profits, cheaper foods/goods all outweigh aes value

23.    Is aes value always outranked by other values?

         a.      So at most it’s an “all other things being equal” consideration?

24.    Loftis argument that aes value is a trivial value: It is trivial in human decisions, why isn’t it also trivial in nature decisions?

         a.      Heart transplant example: Wrong to give it to beautiful person instead of the ugly one

                   i.       For this decision, beauty is superficial and unimportant value

                   ii.      Compared to other considerations like life expectancy

         b.      Aes value weak and can’t justify env protection that costs jobs, income, etc

                   i.       Loftis: “How can environmentalists ask thousands of loggers to give up their jobs and way of life on basis of aesthetics”

25.    Parsons response: Okay, aesthetics can’t trump “considerations of basic human viability” like jobs, income, life

         a.      Not clear to me (see Churchill example below)

26.    But we do make significant practical sacrifices for aes value

         a.      Monies spent on artworks, art institutions

                   i.       Money that could be used for income/jobs for others

         b.      We spend lots of $ on aes value and think it justified and these all have opportunity costs

                   i.       Beatification programs run by cities

                   ii.      Maintaining local gardens

                   iii.     Architectural repair and restoration

                   iv.     Money spent on furniture, clothes, houses, cars–some of this for aes value

         c.      Sometimes even willing to sacrifice life for aes value

                   i.       Churchill spending $ to move art out of London in WWII during German bombing instead of using those resources for protecting civilians

27.    False that aes value is too weak to ever outweigh pragmatic benefits of development

         a.      Remember aes value is added to other considerations for env preservation–e.g., the pragmatic benefits of preservation for people and animals

         b.      A weakness in Parson’s characterization of AP is he assumes it is suppose to do all the work in preservation, rather than addition to other considerations



29.    AP must assume that preserved nature is more aes valuable than the development that would replace it

         a.      This is not always the case

30.    Sometimes human development has greater aes value

         a.      Building Venice in the marsh and Sistine Chapel in woods

31.    But much of human development of nature is ugly

         a.      Vulgar, programmatic and uninspired

         b.      Urban sprawl (meaningless repetition, incongruous mishmash of architectural elements), strip mines, industrial farms, massive dams

         c.      Not aes gains

32.    Is it generally true that human development is less aes valuable than the nature that was destroyed?

33.    Unclear if human developments are typically ugly or if ones we think of as ugly, really lack aes value

         a.      Major dam project “one of the worlds great scenic wonders”

         b.      Strip mine in Montana, aesthetically more interesting than surrounding landscape

         c.      Saito idea of incongruity enhancing aes value:

                   i.       Industrial site in wilderness

                   ii.      Jarring dissonance in the elements is valuable in art why not in nature?

         d.      Ugly development can have positive expressive value

                   i.       Billowing smoke, loud noise, roaring fire rather than being obtrusive and marring, might be indicative of power and vitality

                   ii.      Expressive of hard work, determination and vision of developers (or miners)

         e.      Beautiful photographs of industrial developments that scar the earth–e.g., Edward Burtynsky

         f.       Camp sensibility: the vulgar, programmatic and uninspired can be viewed with sense of irony and playfulness to have aes value


34.    Nature more aes valuable than development because it is nature and/or ethically better?

         a.      Begs the question (assumes what it is trying to prove)?

         b.      Gives up on aes preservationism by arguing that nature is aes more valuable than developments because of ethical considerations

                   i.       Invoking ethics, not aesthetics

         c.      Natural area aes better because it is nature?

                   i.       But this assumes that nature better than development and skeptics disagree

                   ii.      In any case, not an appeal to aesthetics

         d.      This is the second horn of the AP dilemma below


35.    Aes Preservationists dilemma’s two horns

         a.      One: Make case on purely aes grounds for thinking nature aes superior to human development


         b.      Two: Nature has greater aes value than development because ethics infects aes judgment

                   i.       E.g., More beautiful because more natural

                   ii.      More beautiful because more sustainable

                            (1)    Industrial agriculture, despite its formal beauty, is ugly because it is unsustainable and thus has negative expressive qualities

36.    Parson’s critique of letting ethics infect aesthetic judgment (2nd horn)

         a.      Not really an aesthetic defense anymore

         b.      Calling it aesthetic is just a rhetorical ploy

         c.      Begs question against those who have a different ethical view about the value of nature versus the value of development

         d.      Ned’s suggestion:

                   i.       Language of aesthetics can help focus what is ethically important

                   ii.      Plays a useful heuristic role


37.    Jana Thompson’s 4 reasons for why nature is typically more aes valuable than development (development of first horn)

         a.      Undomesticated nature, like great art, and more so than typical development

                   i.       Magnificent and rich in detail

                            (1)    Grand canyon is an inexhaustible feast for the senses, intellect and imagination

                   ii.      Changes or enhances our way of seeing the world

                   iii.     Cultural significance for those who experience it

                            (1)    American west and its cowboy history

                   iv.     Capacity to put things in perspective

                            (1)    Nature poses a challenge to our ways of thinking

38.    Parsons’ worries about Thompson’s approach

         a.      Conflicts with science approach which will not like taking cultural history (iii) as central to aes value of nature

         b.      Unduly stretching concept of aesthetics

                   i.       Not clear that capacity to put things in perspective is aesthetics as not clear tied to perceptual appearance of things

                   ii.      Slap in face does this but not aes

                   iii.     But literature’s ability to get us to put things in perspective is not tied to perceptual appearance but we all think of this as aes (or at least I do)

         c.      Only protects nature’s masterpieces

                   i.       Since the 4 above are in analogy with great art and apply to great nature/landscapes, many more humdrum natural areas won’t be protected this way

                   ii.      “Unremarkable bluff on Mississippi”swill not posses enough of these qualities to make it any aes better than a “decent oil refinery”

                   iii.     Makes utility of aes preservation rather limited

Questions on Parsons, Ch 7: Aesthetic Preservationism


1.      What is the difference between preservation and conservation?

2.      Define aesthetic preservationism (=AP). Distinguish between various ways of viewing the importance of aesthetics in environmental preservation.

3.      Explain the difference between aesthetics as a motive to preserve nature and as a reason to preserve it.

4.      Give an example were there is a conflict between preserving beauty in nature and preserving nature’s wildness (degree of lack of human influence on it).

5.      Are AP and post modern approach compatible?

6.      Is aesthetic valuing of nature intrinsic or instrumental? What is the difference? Describe both sides of this dispute.

7.      ? Is aesthetic value response dependent? Is it a human value? Is aesthetic value of nature anthropocentric? In what sense yes/no

8.      What advantage does a preservationism based on aesthetics have over preservationism based on ethics (according to Parsons?). What might aesthetics include that ethical consideration might leave out? Do glaciers have interests (a good of their own) that we ethically must consider?

9.      Explain the difference between strong and weak AP. What are arguments for and against each version?

10.    Is aesthetic value a trivial value? Is aesthetics a weak defense of nature protection? Is it weak compared to reasons for nature destruction such as jobs, profits, etc?

11.    Is nature (always, often, sometimes only) more aesthetically valuable than the human developments that replace it? Why does this matter for AP?