Marcia Eaton, Fact and Fiction in Aes Appreciation of Nature

(JAAC, Spring 1998, Response to Emily Brady’s

“Imagination and the Aes Appreciation of Nature” in the same issue)



2.      On connection nature aes and environmental protection

         a.      If people see how beautiful ecosystems are, will tend to act in ways that better protect them and other environments

         b.      If true that positive aes response leads to care, important to learn how to generate such positive aes response

         c.      But also important to learn how to produce right care

         d.      Many actions that people see as caring for a landscape are not sustainable

3.      Green lawn not env friendly example:

         a.      “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.      Gasoline engine mowers very polluting, chemicals used are polluting, having a “lush green lawn” in many climates requires huge amounts of water

4.      Eaton wants to generate aes responses to nature that will lead to sustainable care



6.      What is purpose of generating such responses? Two possible

         a.      Improve quality of the aesthetic response (considered as separate from its env effects)

         b.      Insure that aes responses to nature have better environmental consequences

7.      Goal to produce aesthetically better aesthetic responses or only environmentally better ones?

         a.      Would Eaton deny these are significantly different because she integrates aesthetics and ethics?

8.      If the rationale is improving env behavior, then isn’t this an instrumental view of proper/appropriate aes appreciation of nature?

         a.      Making nature aesthetics subservient to environmental protection

9.      Rejecting the autonomy of the aesthetic (an ideal some think very important–Brady, for example)

         a.      Eaton is one of the main aestheticians who integrate aesthetics with other types of value, so she is not interested in “autonomy of the aesthetic

10.    Eaton appears to be claiming that appropriate aes responses to nature must lead to the protection of nature

         a.      That an aes response to nature that led to destruction of nature was an inappropriate one

         b.      Example: That a positive aes response to green lawns is aes inappropriate, because it is env. harmful?

11.    On the other hand, perhaps Eaton is only claiming that it is good environmentally (and thus good overall) to try to inculcate in people an aesthetic of nature that is environmentally friendly rather than environmentally harmful.

         a.      And that this says nothing about whether such aesthetic responses are better or more appropriate aesthetically



13.    Contrasts the Carlson’s cognitive model with Brady’s imaginative model of nature appreciation

         a.      Of course these aren’t the only alternative models

14.    Carlson’s cognitive model

         a.      Since appreciation of nature must be directed at nature, aes appreciation of nature must be directed by knowledge about it, knowledge from the different environmental sciences

                   i.       W/o scientific knowledge, one can’t be certain that one’s response is to nature and not something else

                   ii.      Why isn’t common sense knowledge of the object enough to insure it is directed at nature?

15.    Many feel Carlson’s model is over intellectualized

16.    Brady thinks Carlson doesn’t account for significance of imagination in experience of nature

         a.      Imagination has been given short shrift in western thought and Brady wants to rehabilitate it for aes appreciation of nature

         b.      Brady worries that cognitive restrictions precludes access to richness of imagination’s insight

17.    Eaton wants to connect Carlson’s cognitive model with Brady’s imagination model

         a.      Robert Fudge also does this in Fudge, Robert, 2001. “Imagination and the Science-based Aesthetic Appreciation of Unscenic Nature,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59: 275-285.



19.    Brady, like Kant, stresses imagination

         a.      Like Kant, Brady thinks “free play of imagination” is central to human aes pleasure

         b.      Kant thought aes disinterest let to free play of imagination

                   i.       Put aside ordinary scientific, ethical, or personal interests and respond to objects as we please

                   ii.      Allow imagination full rein

                   iii.     Can think of tree as a person, animal, tower, or mountain

                   iv.     This freedom gives us tremendous pleasure

         c.      Eaton is aware that Brady rejects unrestricted use of imagination as not proper use but thinks Brady’s attempt to “clip the wings of imagination fail” (as need science to do this)


20.    Sustainability requires attention to artistic culture uses of imagination

21.    Eaton thinks that in order to create/preserve sustainable landscapes, must pay attention to how fiction (and artistic culture in general) shape human attitudes toward environment

         a.      Fiction (objects created by appeal to the imagination) plays a huge role in shaping a culture’s response to nature

22.    Eaton believes that imagination is very important for aesthetics and for env. protection

         a.      Imagination can intensify experience

         b.      Thinking about destruction of remaining old growth surely requires imagination

         c.      Need rich imagination to develop new metaphors for designing sustainable lands

23.    But the type of imagination that is required is informed imagination

24.    Uniformed imagination is dangerous:

         a.      Imagination in the aesthetic appreciation of nature that is not constrained or informed by scientific knowledge is dangerous and likely or possibly lead to env. destruction                                



         a.      If goal is environmental protection or also for aesthetic appreciation?

26.    Knowledge about how natural objects function in particular contexts plays a major role in appreciation of nature

         a.      Eaton thinks Brady rejects this

27.    Blackened forest are ugly example:

         a.      Preventing forests fires because burned areas are considered ugly meant that plants that need burning become rarer (e.g., long-leaf pine ecosystems)

         b.      Ignorance of the function of fires on the trees or soils of certain ecosystems has led to mismanagement of forests

                   i.       Even when providing aes value was a goal

         c.      Here imagination can be useful if guided by knowledge:

                   i.       Imagine what forest looked like before fire and what it will look like through various stages of succession

28.    Worries

         a.      Teaching people to aes appreciation blackened forests (which presumably involves teaching them the useful functions of fire in some ecosystems) is important for env. protection

         b.      But not clear this shows that such information is aes relevant

         c.      That lack of functional knowledge of nature leads to aesthetic responses that promote bad environmental management does not show these functional concerns are relevant to the proper aes appreciation of nature

                   i.       Unless one ties aesthetic appropriateness to ethical appropriateness (which Eaton does)



30.    Examples of potential troubling imaginings

         a.      Small thicket (as a child) was a jungle where kids fought off variety of foreign enemies

         b.      Any harm in thinking that poisonous snakes lurked under blackberry bushes?

                   i.       Env. harm of people fearing, hating, demonizing and killing off snakes

         c.      Any harm in thinking that not only an enemy soldier but tiger might spring from behind elm tree?

         d.      Who really cares that tigers and elms don’t share same biotic patches?

                   i.       More informed (better?) imagination would be that a cougar might spring from elm tree

31.    Brady’s own imaginative flights Eaton sees as probably “harmless, even charming”

         a.      Tree: Tree clefts as mountains/valleys; Tree as seasoned old man, deep wrinkles; Tree as stalwart; So she respects it like wise old sage

         b.      Lamb: Truth about innocence; Contemplating fresh whiteness small fragile stature; Images of purity and naivete


32.    Examples of imaginings directed by fiction that have led to very harmful environmental attitudes

33.    Bambi (1923, Felix Salten’s book and the Disney’s classic movie)

         a.      We can’t look at deer and see them truthfully

                   i.       In certain contexts, deer are an overpopulated, dominating species that destroy habitat for themselves and for other species which are in decline

         b.      All we see is Bambi

                   i.       Sweet innocent gentle deer

                   ii.      That never kills anything (which is false)

                   iii.     A sentimental image that is hard to shake

         c.      Makes it hard for forest managers to convince public we need to reduce numbers of deer

34.    Swamps home of monsters

         a.      Stories about swamps as places inhabited by monsters, so hard to get people to appreciate wetlands

35.    Big bad wolf stories

         a.      In part responsible for eradication of wolves in the beginning of the 20th century



37.    Proper use of imagination and Brady’s attempt to limit imagination requires guidance by a cognitive dimension

38.    Questions about proper/improper uses of imagination:

         a.      Respond to little white lamb by reflecting on innocence?

         b.      To imagine a tree as stalwart man (or haggard witch)?

         c.      Do they avoid being shallow or naive?

         d.      Is this “imagining well” or poorly?

39.    Eaton claims that one can’t answer these questions w/o relying on type of cognitive model Carlson insists on

         a.      Brady’s “imagining well” presupposes knowledge

                   i.       It makes no sense unless know what the object is one is talking about, and as much as possible about it and its context

40.    Questions

         a.      Brady provides a number of criteria for distinguishing better and worse uses of imagination that don’t rely explicitly on such knowledge

         b.      Do they all fail?

         c.      How does scientific knowledge allow us to distinguish between better and worse uses of imagination?


41.    Imagination must be based upon, tempered by, directed and enriched by solid ecological knowledge

42.    Or should be based on ecological knowledge, if we hope to preserve/design sustainable landscapes

         a.      So is Eaton’s claim that imagination must be directed by knowledge only valid if we accept this instrumental environmental role for aes appreciation of nature?

                   i.       Or is it valid even for aes appreciation not aimed at this purpose?

43.    If sustainable environments are goal, then fiction/imagination must be at the service of fact


44.    Objection: Ecological ignorance (scientific falsity) can be environmentally beneficial and so imagination based on falsehoods might be environmentally useful....

         a.      Sometimes ignorance of scientific knowledge is bad for aesthetically based environmental protection (as Eaton’s examples show)

         b.      But false beliefs about nature can be environmentally beneficial

                   i.       Belief in “delicate balance of nature” is good environmentally, though disputed in ecology

                   ii.      Belief that driving one species extinct will lead to ecological collapse is good for species preservation, but ecologically dubious

                   iii.     Seeing nature as filled with conscious souls, spirits like ours (Native American belief that rocks are “alive”), might have good env. consequences and thus on Eaton’s view generate good aes response

                            (1)    But they are clearly mistaken, scientifically speaking


45.    Grants existence of societies with sustainable relations to nature where scientific knowledge plays no role

         a.      Example of native Congo person dancing in forest “alone” at night, but claims he is really dancing with the trees and the moon

                   i.       This is an imaginative interaction with nature not based on science but it is ecologically beneficial

         b.      So importance of knowledge-based aesthetic response to nature not universal for an adequate nature aes

                   i.       Aes planning is site specific

                   ii.      Non technological societies work quite well w/o our science

         c.      Eaton is not worried about imagination in such cultural aes responses to nature

         d.      But for us, where stewardship is viewed almost exclusively as developing adequate technology, we must insist that imagination is based on solid knowledge



47.    Doesn’t insisting upon scientific basis for appreciation of nature take all the fun out of it?

         a.      “I just want to read Jane Austen’s work; I don’t want to learn about her life or the techniques she employs in her writing”

         b.      “I just want to enjoy nature; I don’t want to have to learn all about it and how it works”

48.    No; Eaton claims scientific knowledge typically enhances aes appreciation

         a.      She does not believe that knowledge kills aes pleasure

         b.      Looking closely does not decrease but increase aes experience

         c.      Knowledge of a variety of species likely to draw one’s attention to a variety of colors, not ignore from them

         d.      Sometimes a sense of wonder, mystery, comes only when have knowledge

         e.      Example: Minnesota trout lily grows only in two counties and nowhere else on earth

         f.       Even knowing the names of flowers can lead one to see them

                   i.       Seeing is essential to aes appreciation

                   ii.      Seeing is more likely if we look for it and we look for it only if we know where and what to look for

49.    Even if it were true that knowledge takes some of fun out if it, it’s worth price

         a.      Only with knowledge will sustainable practices develop

         b.      Must be aware of possible harm of imagination



51.    Does the cognitive model deprive aes of something distinctive?

         a.      Brady: Over reliance on knowledge will not provide a clearly aes frame and makes aes value hard to distinguish from other environmental values (ecological, historical, cultural)

         b.      Eaton does not think cognitive approach gives away the store to these other values

52.    Aes interest not separate from our other interests as humans

         a.      This is her response to Brady’s attempt to distinguish and separate aes response from other responses

         b.      We go back and forth between contemplating aes object and thinking about other things

53.    No need to carve out unique niche for aes

         a.      Human valuings are holistic

         b.      Rarely experience something purely aesthetically or ethically, religiously or scientifically

54.    So less worried than Brady that knowledge will get in way of aes experience



56.    Give aes response to nature the knowledge that guides imagination so as to insure environmentally sound behavior

         a.      Develop ways of using delight humans take in flights of imagination,

         b.      Connect with solid cognitive understanding of what makes for sustainable environments

         c.      Produce kind of attitudes preferences that will generate the kind of care we want



58.    Eaton’s account of aes: Attention to intrinsic properties of objects/events

         a.      Knowledge that directs perception and reflection upon intrinsic properties will be aes relevant

         b.      Does this make makes aes far too broad, by including ethics for example?