Ronald Hepburn, Trivial and Serious in Aes App of Nature (1993)


1.Aes appreciation of both art and nature can be more/less serious (deep, solemn, enriched)

         a.      Natural and art objects can be

                   i.       Hastily and unthinkingly perceived

                            (1)    Oh yeah that’s a painting, a van Gogh or a bird

                   ii.      Or perceived with full and thoughtful attention.

                            (1)    That’s Van Gogh’s wheat field he painted three weeks before he cut off his ear

                            (2)    That’s a wood stork, an endangered species, look at the black stripes on the wing


2.      Criteria for distinguishing trivial and serious more available for art than nature

         a.      Corpus of art criticism and philosophical study of arts give us criteria (despite internal disputes in art criticism)

         b.      With nature have less guidance, in part due to comparative neglect of natural beauty in recent aesthetics

                   i.       Suggests that if nature criticism was more fully developed and somewhat closer to development of art criticism, that this would increase our ability to distinguish the trivial from serious in nature appreciation


3.      For policy reasons (at least) it is important to distinguish trivial from serious aes appreciation of nature

         a.      If seek to prevent degradation of areas of “outstanding natural beauty” matters greatly what account we can give of the appreciation of that beauty

         b.      Important to be able to articulate “how nature’s aes value can be set alongside competing values involved in industry, commerce and urban expansion”

4.      If appreciation of natural beauty is to have high value, must be able to show that more is involved there than mere

         a.      Pleasant, unfocused enjoyment of a picnic place

         b.      Fleeting/distanced impression of countryside through a tourist-coach window

         c.      Or obligatory visits to standard viewpoints/snapshot-points

5.      Are a-c trivial aes appreciation (in comparison to high value appreciation of natural beauty which is serious)? Yes says Hepburn

6.      But a-c may be important for policy, even if somewhat trivial

7.      Worry that high value appreciation of natural beauty might be somewhat elitist and thus less useful for aes preservation

ROLE OF THOUGHT (notice he uses ‘thought’ not ‘knowledge’)

8.      Duality of sensuous and thought components in much aes app of nature

         a.      Sensuous immediacy (in pure cases one is taken aback by sky color or rolling away of mist from landscape)

         b.      Most often an element of thought is present

                   i.       Where implicitly compare/contrast here with elsewhere, actual with possible, present with past

                   ii.      Implicit as need be no verbalizing or self-conscious complexity in the experience

         c.      Thought element is undeniable

9.      Thought can’t reasonably be held (in general and as such) to fight with aes character of an experience

         a.      Examples

                   i.       Fall of a leaf: watch w/o thought, may or may not be moving/exciting aes object, but robbed of its poignancy, message of summer gone, symboling all falling including ourselves; this autumn linked to innumerable other autumns and to cycle of seasons

                   ii.      Flight of swifts, wheeling, screaming; thought added that they have just returned from Africa, a huge journey, seeming frailness, frantic, restless, frightening burning up of energy, in ceaseless motion

10.    Thought element brings analogies to bear on concrete particulars

11.    Thought is fused with perception (of tiny bird) and feeling

         a.      Union/fusion, overall modification of awareness

         b.      Feeling and thought and perception elements all interact

         c.      Example: Bring in metaphysical or religious background, nature as divinely created or as uncreated, enigmatically there

                   i.       Even this thought not externally juxtaposed to perception of natural object

12.    Experience of sublime requires thought element

         a.      “Without adequate thought-element, particularly self-image, counterbalancing daunting external powers, experience of sublime may shrivel or never esatblish itself in a subject”


13.    How to dist trivial from serious in both perception and reflection (thought)

14.    Perception serious/trivial:

         a.      attentive/inattentive

                   i.       Did you notice that vulture overhead?

         b.      discriminating or undiscriminating

                   i.       Red or black head?

         c.      lively/lazy

                   i.       We tend to think of perception as passive; he does not

         d.      Doors of perception can need cleansing

                   i.       Example?

         e.      Conventions and simplification of popular perception can need resisting

                   i.       Examples?

15.    Reflective component can be:

         a.      feeble or exploratory

         b.      stereotyped or individual/original

         c.      immature or confused, based on a metaphysically untenable thought

         d.      Examples

                   i.       Idyllic romanticized view of nature (ignore nature red in tooth and claw)

                   ii.      See deer as Bambi

                   iii.     This rainbow was placed here for me (self-indulgence)

16.    ***Trivializes when narrow aes response to a minimally reflective, passive perception


17.    1ST APPROXIMATION (he questions this at the end)

18.    Trivial to extent distorts, ignores, suppresses truth about objects

         a.      Feels or thinks about them in way falsify how nature really is

                   i.       How can one feel in a way that nature is not? Feelings involve beliefs that can be more or less accurate?

19.    Fear thought will destroy aesthetic delight

         a.      If have agreeable aes exp–perhaps trivial–don’t think too hard about thought component, for aes delight will dissipate and have to work hard to regain at a deeper more serious level what one possessed at a more superficial one

         b.      Not quite clear what Hepburn thinks about this fear–I think he thinks it trivializes aes appreciation of nature

         c.      Nature red in tooth and claw needs to be something we understand but it can weaken and overwhelm our positive response 72



21.    Trivial to see nature from ready-made standard views (pull-offs in National Parks)

22.    Trivial to see oneself as a detached viewer; deeper to see oneself as a part of nature

         a.      Seriousness deepens when realize I am one with, part of nature

         b.      Don’t simply look out upon nature for we are part of the nature and where we are looking from is nature too

23.    Serious aes app of nature is necessarily also self-exploration

         a.      For energies, principles, regularities, and contingencies of nature sustain our embodied life and awareness as well

         b.      Important to use nature as way to understand our internal states of mind73

                   i.       It can help mold who we are

24.    Trivial to believe that nature has univocal, invariable expressive qualities

         a.      Nature has messages; trivializing to dismiss it or to take it literally

                   i.       Clearing after a storm expresses optimism

         b.      For with less conventional thought or different contexts these qualities can be “endlessly modified”

         c.      Bland unawareness of that potential variability is trivializing

         d.      Background realization of this more serious



26.    **Seriousness/depth does not necessarily correlate with intensity/fullness of thought content

27.    Some thoughts might not enrich(e.g., causal explan of particle physics), but neutralize, or fight and fail to fuse with perceptual content or even might trivialize

         a.      Hepburn thinks thought needs to fuse with the perceptual content to be relevant/helpful

28.    No obligation to think in “perception-transcending” ideas/explanations

         a.      E.g., thinking of the rock the valley is made of at the molecular level

         b.      Thinking in that fragments or overwhelms or dissolves aes perception is not appropriate 71

         c.      To destroy it can’t be to deepen it



30.    Rejects idea that aes experience not properly concerned with how things actually are and concern only with immediate given perceptual qualities the “sensuous surface”

         a.      Such a limitation avoids many problems but is unacceptably thin version of aes app of nature 73

         b.      Falling autumn leaf becomes small fluttering reddish brown material object

31.    Best is a mean between these two extreme views of aes experience

         a.      About the perception-transcending substructure of objects

         b.      About sensuous immediacy only excluding all thought

32.    Favors thought up to point it takes away from perception

         a.      Acceptable ideal for serious aes perception found by encouraging ourselves to

         b.      Enhance the thought load almost to point, but not beyond, at which it begins to overwhelm the vivacity of the particular perception



34.    Aes exp of nature is founded on variety of illusions and can never be serious

35.    Aes exp of nature is unstable, wholly dependent on anthropomorphic factors such as scale, viewpoint perspective (Godlovitch’s scale objection)

         a.      Mountain we appreciate for majesty, stability is on different time scale as fluid as the ripples on a lake

         b.      Put the distinctive natural object in a wider context in environment and the aes quality you enjoy vanishes

         c.      You shudder in awe at base of cliff towering above you; look at cliff from aircraft at 30,000 feet, and awe strikes one as misplaced, theatrical, exaggerated, even childish

         d.      How can experience be serious if so readily undermined?

36.    This happens in art experience too (only app under certain conditions) and it doesn’t seem to undermine art’s worth when conditions for its proper app are fulfilled

         a.      Too remote view point or too distant listening point can ruin impact of picture or performance of music

         b.      W/o sympathetically preparing one’s mental state many works of art can strike one as grotesque, comical

         c.      There are conditions of satisfactory art exp that must be met

         d.      So too with satisfactory aes exp of nature

                   i.       Is this in conflict with Budd’s freedom/relativism claims?

         e.      That the conditions are sometimes not met, doesn’t undermine the worth of the appreciation when they are met

37.    Skeptical idea here assumes that one viewpoint has authority

         a.      View from aircraft allegedly shows what cliff is really like

                   i.       Shows that awe misplaced

         b.      To dissipate majesty of stable mountain, skeptical critic may appeal to universality of change and flux

38.    These are taken to annul/destroy our serious app of perceptual qualities of a self-selected fragment (artificially isolated from whole)

39.    Critic is saying I know/see something you are not aware of, from my distance/height your awe is shown misplaced

40.    But you at the foot of the cliff could say something similar

         a.      You in aircraft can see a great deal, but are unable to perceive and respond to the perceptual qualities that generate the awe I feel

         b.      Such a view has its limitations too

41.    This ironical, anti-romantic, belittling, leveling reaction is favored today as an authoritative reaction (you won’t put anything over on me)

         a.      Sociology of valuing is needed to see why is bought by so many people

         b.      Readiness to conform to such a social trend can be a factor on side of trivialization, not seriousness

42.    Our aes exp of nature is thoroughly dependent on scale and individual viewpoint

         a.      To fail to realize how deeply would trivialize

         b.      Mature aes exp of nature realizes ones aes exp is perspectival

43.    Rejects implicit claim that one perspective, one view, one set of resultant perceived qualities takes precedence over another and so can discredit or undermine it or even all others

         a.      Rejects that one has in aes context greater authority than another

44.    Response to skeptic: Your point of view has no more authority than mine

45.    Adequate response to skeptic?

         a.      Seems to mean that none of these perspectives are any better?

         b.      Is this a (satisfactory) reply to the (Godlovitch’s) scale objection and to idea Teton’s aren’t majestic because dinky compared to Himalayas?

         c.      Aren’t some perspectives more appropriate?

46.    Easier to deal with art examples

         a.      Painting is made to be viewed from the distance at which see its significant detail and overall unity; music made to be heard closely enough to occupy our auditory attention in all detail



         a.      Two elements that exert pressure in different directions and in stressful relation

48.    One: Seriousness obtained by respect for truth, more objective truth such as sciences pursue, so long as give us thought that does not carry us beyond what we can fuse into essentially perceptual experience

         a.      Thinking in to our perceptual experience what we know to be objectively true

         b.      Glaciation as shaping a valley

         c.      Anxiety coloring our response to seeing wild animal whose predator is seldom far off

         d.      A correcting/guiding of our experience is an objetivizing movement of mind

49.    Two: Radically anti-hierarchical, anti-objetivizing trend toward ontological parity

         a.      Perceptually corrected and veridical has no stronger or more serous claim to aes attention that illusory

                   i.       The reference to illusory is troubling

                            (1)    Thinking about how a river carved a U shaped valley (rather than a V shaped one) is not serious or appropriate aes appreciation of the valley?


50.    Ends paper with dilemma: Should we say:

51.    (1) All this is a game we play with nature for enjoyment and enriching our lives and so follow whichever option promises more reward? (Reward =enjoyment?)

         a.      We are free to respect, or ignore objetivizing, option

                   i.       True; but not free to make up stuff

         b.      To feel bound to always pursue it is not really to show commitment to so-called seriousness, but to show a profound misunderstanding of the aesthetic

                   i.       Fair criticism of Carlson?

52.    Or (2) is this simply and shockingly to capitulate to the trivializers?