Eaton, Ch 12: Aesthetics and Ethics in the Environment



2.      Inseparability: Aes experiences are not and cannot be separated from other human experiences

         a.      How aes views can shape ethical views:

         b.      Carlson quote: He argues that to aesthetically appreciate a Playboy centerfold model involves perceiving the model not as what she is, a human being, but as a sex object, and that doing so is to “endorse and promote” a sexist attitude toward women in ourselves and others. “It is clear that we do not aesthetically appreciate simply with our five senses, but rather with an important part of our whole emotional and psychological selves . . . what and how we aesthetically appreciate cannot but play a role in shaping our emotional and psychological being. This . . . helps determine what we think and do and what we think is correct for others to think and do. In short, our aesthetic appreciation is a significant factor in shaping and forming our ethical views”

3.      Aes experience: Involves perception and reflection on intrinsic properties of objects that community considers worthy of attention

4.      Aes relevance information

         a.      Anything that draws attention to aes properties (intrinsic properties of objects considered worthy of attention) is aes relevant

                   i.       And these can be extrinsic, non-internal properties

                   ii.      At one point she says that anything aes relevant can be called an aes property (“roughly speaking”)

         b.      Anything that helps sustain perception and reflection on these (intrinsic) properties

         c.      Eaton’s examples: that a painting is located in a particular museum can be aes relevant if it causes you to attend to the intrinsic properties of the painting

                   i.       Counter example? Fact painting costs 1 million dollars is not aesthetically relevant information but might sustain attention

5.      Aesthetic value: That which sustains attention (great works of art and beautiful landscapes do this)

6.      Aesthetic properties

         a.      Intrinsic properties of landscapes (or art) that a community considers worthy of attention (perception/reflection)

7.      Intrinsic property

         a.      A property that must be verified by “direct inspection”



9.      Importance of aesthetic appreciation of nature

         a.      Aes experiences of nature are as important as art in making lives worth living

         b.      Something morally lacking in people who do not cherish aes experiences of nature

                   i.       Kant: “We regard as coarse and ignoble habits of thought of those who have no feeling for beautiful nature”

                   ii.      Note idea that there are moral obligations to aesthetically appreciate nature

         c.      Worry: I might say instead that there is an aesthetic lack in people who don’t aes appreciate nature.

                            (1)    The lack in their character is an aesthetic failure not a moral failure

                            (2)    If they cut down trees or shot animals for fun, then it’s a moral failure


10.    Is ranking nature aesthetically a mistake?

         a.      Argument for yes response

                   i.       Evaluating nature is inappropriate

                   ii.      All biosystems valuable intrinsically

                   iii.     Ranking them aesthetically a mistake

                   iv.     For there is nothing ugly in nature

                            (1)    (This last claim is called “positive aesthetics”: All of nature is beautiful)

                            (2)    Note false assumption that positive aesthetics entails equal beauty: it does not. One might think all of nature beautiful and think some is more beautiful.

         b.      Problems:

                   i.       Only apply to pristine nature and this is decreasing rapidly

                   ii.      People do in fact rank natural sites and these preferences to affects ecological processes

                            (1)    E.g., forest fires ugly, so policy of fire containment and this leads to loss of fire adapted species

                   iii.     Such a view makes rational decision making with regard to managing and preserving natural environments impossible

                            (1)    No: one might make these decision on other grounds such as the instrumental and ecological value of ecosystems

                            (2)    It does undermine the possibility of using aesthetics in env policy



         a.      Idea that aesthetics of nature is important to env protection


12.    Sustainability is key environmental issue: “How to create and maintain biosystems that are sustainable”

13.    Aes is important to sustainability (as integrated with all other values involved in this question)

         a.      For ethical values (and political, scientific, religious, economic values) are essentially integrated with a community’s aesthetic values

14.    Need aesthetic oughts (if aes is to be useful in env protection)

         a.      Need to ask what people should find beautiful (and not just accept what in fact they do find beautiful)

                   i.       Need normative judgments about the aes values people in fact hold



         a.      Eaton accepts Allen Carlson’s cognitive approach to nature appreciation and worries about Emily Brady’s imagination approach

16.    Appropriate aes appreciation of nature must be guided by (scientific) knowledge of nature

         a.      Especially if our goal is sustainable ecosystems

                   i.       Carlson-type cognitive view is necessary if environmental aesthetics is to “contribute to preserving sustainable landscapes”

         b.      Eaton: “I’ve never myself experienced knowledge getting in the way of aes experience”


17.    Three reasons:

18.    (1) Because knowledge of ecosystems can help us locate its aes properties and sustain our attention to them

         a.      No intention, so context/categories important: Unlike art where artistic intention can help us locate aes properties, appreciating nature can’t use artistic intention and so contextual information provided by scientific knowledge about how nature functions can do the job.

                   i.       E.g., Knowing the names of a flowers can make it more likely one will see them

         b.      And this knowledge can help us sharpen and sustain our attention to these properties

                   i.       Works the same way with art

                   ii.      Both nature and art must be read with extrinsic information about them

         c.      Ecological knowledge will also help us see what is necessary for the aes experience of these ecosystems to exist in the future

         d.      “What is ecologically bad begins to be seen as aesthetically bad”

                   i.       Because it will undermine “aesthetic sustainability” (ability to keep aesthetically appreciating these biosystems)

19.    (2) Because if you appreciate something (art/nature) under the wrong category, you may make “appreciative mistakes”

         a.      Examples:

         b.      “Someone who mistakes a satire for a serious political essay will misinterpret many important intrinsic properties”

         c.      If you think that two people doing the tango are trying to waltz, you will (falsely) believe they are incompetent dancers

         d.      Cute woodchuck or massive awe-inspiring rat?



         e.      Category/context relativity of judgments

         f.       Context matters: What is beautiful one place may not be beautiful in another place

                   i.       What counts as “natural” depends on the category under which one is operating: what counts as nature/natural in a city--a planted tree, will not count as natural in a wilderness area.

                   ii.      A windmill on a farm field may be “lovely” but on top of a pristine mountain it may not be

                            (1)    Example of how aesthetics and ethics interact?

                   iii.     A rat in a city is “vermin” but is accepted and even enjoyed in the woods

                   iv.     People treasure human-built structures along the Rhine River but not along the Colorado River (for one is urban and the other relatively pristine

                   v.      Topiary in a city garden versus in a wilderness area

                   vi.     Abandoned shacks in a city eyesore, in forested area may add charm

                   vii.    Pizza hut admired in a city, but not in woods

20.    (3) Because aes response to nature (e.g., imaginative responses, ignorant responses) not guided by knowledge frequently contribute to bad environmental policies

         a.       “Ecologists internationally recognize that in the absence of a change in aesthetic preferences, sound environmental practices have little chance of being widely adopted.

21.    Examples of aes responses not based on knowledge (or based on fiction) that have deleterious environmental results

         a.      Green lawns beautiful? "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.”

         b.      Forest fires ugly?: Partly because blackened forests strike people as ugly that we have had a policy to protect forests from fires, and this has lead to a decrease in fire-adapted species and a tinder box in our national forests.

         c.      Bambi syndrome: Disney classic Bambi encourages a sentimental image of all deer as sweet, innocent and gentle, and argues that this image ignores the ecological devastation they can cause and has made it hard for forest managers to convince the public of the need to reduce deer populations.

         d.      Swamp monsters: Stories about monsters in swamps have contributed to our negative aesthetic response to them and consequently to the massive loss of wetlands in this country

         e.      Beautiful only on the surface invasive exotics: Crowd out natives that are important food sources for many species

                   i.       Should I feel aes repulsion on sight of nonnative species?


         f.       Forest edges with deer/grouse harm interior rarer species

                   i.       “Knowing this when see deer at forest edge should you have a negative aes experience or try to restrain yourself until you know the status of the interior species?”


22.    Our aesthetic responses need to be informed by ecological knowledge to avoid aesthetics having a negative impact on env policy

         a.      “As we have seen, fiction can sentimentalize and demonize, with serious harm resulting. If sustainable environments are our goal, then fiction must be at the service of fact.” “For only with knowledge will sustainable practices develop.”

         b.      “Only someone whose aes response is based on knowledge will act in ways that are sustainable ecological and ultimately aesthetically"

         c.      There should be interdependence of aesthetic and ecological values if we are to have sustainable landscapes and hence sustainable landscape aesthetics

         d.      “Our attitudes toward nature are largely determined by the metaphors with which we conceptualize it...But if sustainable environments are the goal, then fiction must be at the service of fact”


23.    Worries

24.    Note the instrumental treatment of aes value:

         a.      Correct/appropriate aes response to nature is one that serves the goal of appreciating nature in a way that protects it

                   i.       Aesthetics becomes subservient to ethics

25.    False that aes responses based on facts are always best for the environment

         a.      Some popular--but fallacious--ecological ideas are environmentally beneficial. Many believe in

         b.      a delicate balance of nature,

         c.      tight integration of natural systems,

         d.      the dependence of stability on biodiversity.

         e.      These ideas have been seriously challenged in contemporary ecological research and are at best significantly overstated.

         f.       Such mistaken scientific beliefs seem beneficial for environmental protection and policy.

                   i.       If one believes that driving a species extinct will lead to ecological collapse, then one will preserve species.

                   ii.      If nature is seen to be a delicate balance easily upset by human intrusion, then human will be inclined to keep their disruptions out of nature.

         g.      Aesthetic responses based on ecological ignorance and myth may sometimes be the best for aesthetic protectionism.


26.    Environmentalist can (should!) use aesthetic values to protect nature

         a.      Those who protect, restore and create sustainable landscapes should take advantage of aesthetic preferences by making accessible aes properties that people delight in

         b.      Ways to design ecologically sustainable landscapes that succeed culturally

                   i.       Putting up signs as technique:

                            (1)    A wetland originally read as a dirty swamp may be read as a park if there are boardwalks or species markers

                            (2)    Signs that say an area is being cared for via conservation practices enhance aes value for most

                            (3)    Signs that simply let us know where we are provide frames that enrich our aes experience

                                      (a)     You are crossing the continental divide

                                      (b)    You are entering the Cooper river water basin

         c.      Sometimes given aes values work against the env

                   i.       Drain swamps, protect only grand nature, save only the cute animals and let the creepy-crawlies go extinct


27.    Concluding remarks

         a.      Want landscapes that show which aes valuable properties and which ecologically sound properties come together

                   i.       And want a human population that recognizes a meaningful life demands this

         b.      Want a public that does not mistake a well-kept prairie park for a weed patch

         c.      Hedgerows that maintain diversity can come to be perceived as creating beautiful contoured patterns

         d.      Too rapid runoff of rainwater will result in one seeing concrete curbs as ugly rather than neat.


         e.      Ecological notions can no more be separated from the aesthetic than are ethical ones

         f.       For a healthly environment, we need to integrate these three values perceptually, conceptually, and imaginatively