Holmes Rolston, “Valuing Aesthetic Nature”, Env. Ethics 1988

      Two issues

      Is Beauty in the world or in the eye of the beholder?

   Objectivity/subjectivity in nature beauty

      Positive Aesthetics

   Is all nature beautiful?

Objectivity/subjectivity of beauty

      Two senses of subjectivity/objectivity

      One:  Beauty (aes value?) is in experiencer, not world

    Rolston yes

      Two:  No better/worse, no appropriate or inappropriate aes responses to nature

    Rolston no

    Believes in objectivity in aes responses to nature


      Rolston’s is a Humean position?

      Suggests human exp of beauty is accidental, epiphenomenal

      “By chance nature echoes our aes taste”

      Ignores that natural selection might have helped shape our aesthetic tastes

   Carroll’s idea


Biophilia hypothesis

       Gordon H. Orians and Judith H. Heerwagen, "Evolved Responses to Landscapes," in Jerome H. Barkow, Leda cosmides and John Tooby, eds., The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), pages 555‑ 579.

       Judith H. Heerwagen and Gordon H. Orians, "Humans, Habitats, and Aesthetics," in Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, eds., The Biophilia Hypothesis (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1993), pages 138‑172.

       Roger S. Ulrich, "Biophilia, Biophobia, and Natural Landscapes," in Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, eds., The Biophilia Hypothesis (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1993), 73‑137.

What is in nature?

      Sci processes (and values they carry!)

      Predator/prey regulation, photosynthesis

      Nutritional value of the potato


Some value in nature, beauty not

      Beauty, like ethics, in human response to world and not in world

      Beauty a subjective value, not model for all value, as some value (biological value) is objective


Aes properties in nature “call for” certain responses (objectivity)

   We are not projecting these properties; they are there

   What is out there is aes worthy

   World is beautiful like it is mathematical

   Math experience comes from us, but mathematical properties are there and we map on to them with our mathematics

   So aes properties are in world and appro aes exp responds to them

Aes value does not depend on humans; nonhumans have aes exp

      Aes exp comes in diverse forms

      Higher aes exp (scenic beauty, sublime) only had by humans

      If aes exp accompanies physical satisfaction

   Eating a tasty meal

   Enjoying warmth of sun

      Surely some animals have these exp

Big-Horn Sheep Ram

      If we admire muscular strength and power of ram

      Ewe who is attracted to him and permits mating

      Experiences nothing of this?

      Consistent w/ Nat Sel that it registers in her experience



      Peahen is attracted to peacock’s tail or it would be liability and nat selection would have never preserved it

      Unless deny an have exp at all, hard to deny have nascent, precursor to aes exp


All Nature Beautiful?

Elk bottom


John Muir’s Positive Aes

      “None of nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild”


      “When you try to pick out one thing in the universe you will find it hitched to everything else in the universe”

Rolston’s Characterization of Positive Aes

      Landscapes always supply beauty, never ugliness

      Unfailingly generate favorable experience in the suitably perceptive

    Obviously, some don’t like swamps, deserts,  prairies

      To say desert, tundra, volcanic eruption is ugly is to make a false statement and behave inappropriately

      Like clouds are never ugly, only more or less beautiful, so too, mountains rivers, forests, seashores, grasslands, cliffs, canyons cascades

    Never called for to say such places bland, dull, boring, chaotic

Rolston’s Pos Aes

      Not claiming

   All equally beautiful (equal beauty thesis)

   Nature perfectly beautiful-perfect beauty thesis

   Artificial reefs can increase beauty

      “Nature’s landscapes, almost w/o fail, have an essential beauty.”

      Area level judgment:  Not every small piece of nature beautiful; applies to landscapes

Contras with other + aes views

      Carlson’s stronger view

    “Each natural thing, either with appropriate appreciation or at many, if not almost all, levels and conditions of observation, has substantial positive aesthetic value and little, if any negative aesthetic value.”

   Not just natural kinds, not just “essential beauty,” not just a little beauty.

Rolston grants some nature ugly

      Allow that some items in nature ugly when viewed  in isolation

      “There is itemized individual ugliness in nature”

      Not embracing “programmatic nature romanticism”

Consider possible counter-examples to + nature aes

      “Failures in nature are omnipresent, all organisms and ecosystems fare finally ruined”

      Tourists take no pictures of these

      They are not picturesque

Putrid rotting elk carcass, full of maggots is revolting

In nature, as much is ragged and marred as beautiful

Bear Scat Aesthetically negative?

Ugliness diminished/overcome when viewed in proper context

   Move beyond a utilitarian perspective and see nature in own terms

   Seen from a landscape and ecosystem perspective these are not ugly; ugliness transformed in ecosystem perspective

   From a informed, systemic perspective only get positive aes response

   Each item must be seen in env. Context

   Judgment of ugliness is like looking at piece of a jigsaw puzzle and saying pieces are misshapen

Humans selected to find some things repulsive (rotting carcasses, excrement)

      But not ugly in the system of nutrient recycling

      Systemic beauty of body decaying

      Rotting Elk returns to humus and is recycled; maggots become flies, food for birds; natural selection leads to better adapted elk

Cognitive dimension necessary

      Such beauty is not so much viewed as experienced after ecological understanding gained

      Many of life’s riches aes exp not able to put on canvas or take picture of

      Natural history/science allows to aes app what might otherwise be aes neg

      Allows us to move beyond scenery cult

Lamb killed by Bobcat

Coyote Bloodthirsty killer?



      “Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God”

John Muir on Alligators





      Local disvalue to prey is value to predator and is systemic value

      Ugliness here is only a projection; like big bad wolf

Forest fire


from  forest fire

      Releases nutrients, resets succession, helps regenerate shade intolerant trees.

Worrisome counterexamples to positive aesthetics

Three-Headed Frog       Disfigured monstrous animals

Mt. Saint  Helens 

Infrequent catastrophes

      Nature can’t adapt and evolve in response to

      Ugly events as anomalies challenging general paradigm of nature’s landscapes w/o fail having essential beauty


      Helens recovery

Rolston general strategy

      Reinterpret local intrinsic ugliness as systemic instrumental beauty

      Shifting reference frames on us?

      No, insisting on context

      Ecology makes these intelligible, but not beautiful?

      How get from instrumentally valuable/nec to aes positive?

Positive aesthetics thesis not plausible for art

      Implausible to say artworks never badly done

   Yet does say this for virgin landscapes; more or less + formed

      Can be no failures in nature (whereas there can be in art), as no artistic intention

   Nature, unlike artist, can never fail as never tried

+ Aes for art at category level?

      Just as Rolston limits his + aes to landscape level, systemic perspective

      What if we limit + aes claim for art to the category level

      Each type of art is aes positive:  Jazz music, folk, impressionism, ballet, surrealism

    Some instances of these are ugly

      But unlike Rol account for itemized ugliness in nature, don’t want to say that bad artwork looses its ugliness when viewed in broader context

      That nature isn’t picturesque, doesn’t mean it is not beautiful

      Biological sense of aes value

      Inappropriate to drive through a park and harvest scenic resources only

      “As if nature that can’t serve us must please us”


Scenery cult as a bad reason for rejecting positive aes

Fall Color

Are Lawns Beautiful?  Deserve A Positive Aes Response?

      Need ecological knowledge to know why not.

      Relies on env. unfriendly herbicides, pesticides

      Insensitive to indigenous plants

      Ignores local climate (water use)


      “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.”  Marcia Eaton