Outline of

Ned Hettinger’s “Evaluating Positive Aesthetics”



2.      Trad def of PA: All nature is beautiful

3.      My def of PA: Nature is specially and predominantly beautiful

         a.      I’m a cautious supporter

4.      4 conditions for adequate PA:

         a.      Not apply to rest of world/art

         b.      Useful for conservation

         c.      Empirical, not a priori claim and defense

         d.      Accounts for some ugliness in nature

5.      Knowledge as argument for PA

         a.      Knowledge moves us beyond appreciation of easy beauty to appreciation of more subtle and difficult beauty

                   i.       For scientifically interesting stories can be integrated into perception, emotion, imagination and engagement involved in aesthetic response to nature

         b.      Takes care of boring nature (makes it aesthetically positive)

         c.      Unclear takes care of all cases of ugly nature

                   i.       Adding a aesthetically positive knowledge story may not outweigh ongoing negative aesthetics


7.      No negative judgments of nature

         a.      Because there is no design in nature and aes evaluation is of design

         b.      Problems

                   i.       (1) Can evaluate colors w/o design,

                   ii.      (2) Would make nature appreciation not aes

                                      (a)     If all aesthetic appreciation was of design

                   iii.     (3) Undermines, not supports PA

8.      Equal beauty thesis

         a.      Falsely tied to a PA, defenders of PA accept degrees

                   i.       Some items in nature are more or less beautiful than others

         b.      Scientific knowledge lead to equal beauty?

                   i.       No, as there are more or less interesting scientific stories (Earth, Pluto)

         c.      Degrees of beauty bad for env. policy as only save outstanding natural beauty?

                   i.        No, degrees of beauty important if aes is to play role in conservation

9.      Individualism vs holism versions of PA

         a.      Individualism: Each natural item has positive aes

         b.      Holism: The whole is in general positive, with some individual ugliness

10.    Hargrove’s no negative aesthetic qualities in nature

         a.      Not plausible: Open wounds, diseased organisms, bad smells, hot sticky buggy weather

11.    Parson’s on-balance individualism and beauty making criterion

         a.      On balance individualism

                   i.       There are negative aes qualities of individuals but they are outweighed by the positive ones

         b.      Beauty making criterion

                   i.       To avoid conflicting aes qualities and indeterminate aes value

                            (1)    Venus fly trap as a plant grotesque, as a carnivorous plant, not grotesque

                   ii.      Appropriate aes appreciation should choose categories of interpretation and perspectives that maximize aes appeal

         c.      Problems with beauty making argument

                   i.       Beauty maximization more plausible for art than nature (for we can assume artist was trying to maximize aesthetic value)

                   ii.      But beauty maximization is not really plausible in either place;

                   iii.     Should not ignore neg aesthetics but integrate them into aes response

                            (1)    Movie with great special effects but lousy acting

                            (2)    Should not ignore that wolves are coyote killers

                   iv.     Beauty max undermines aes role in conservation: County commissioners and anti-environmentalist will claim bias–why not choose beauty minimization interpretation?

12.    Carlson’s on-balance individualism and science is aes argument

         a.      Science is aesthetic argument

                   i.       Appropriate appreciation requires science, science intelligibility requires unity, order, harmony–these are aes positive, so nature appreciation will be positive aes                                                          

         b.      Objections:

                   i.       Argument is a priori/conceptual

                            (1)    Does not depend on actual empirical characteristics of our world

                            (2)    Dull world objection (apply as well to a lifeless, colorless, geologically inert world)

                   ii.      PA should be an empirical thesis that depends on actual empirical characteristics of our world

13.    Parsons/Carlson functional beauty idea undermines PA for biotic nature and supports it for abiotic nature

         a.      Beauty is fitness for function,

                   i.       Whether in selected functioning of living things

                   ii.      Or the “causal role” functions of inorganic nature

         b.      Ugliness comes when something malfunctions

         c.      Living things can be dysfunctional (can malfunction) and hence can be ugly,

         d.      But non-living things can only lose their functions (and hence can’t be ugly)–thus PA is true for inorganic nature

         e.      Objections:

                   i.       Why can’t losing a function we expect of an abiotic object be grounds for judgment of ugliness (a once swift moving stream becomes a silt clogged creek, unable to support aquatic life)

                   ii.      Also Eaton’s example of unattractive shells left behind on the beach might be an example of ugly abiotic nature

14.    Rolston’s aesthetic holism & systemic beauty

         a.      Aesthetic holism

                   i.       Nature as a whole has substantial aes value,

                   ii.      Individual itemized ugliness exists,

                   iii.     Though the ugliness weakens when appropriately contextualized

         b.      Systemic beauty

                   i.       Nature has a tendency toward beauty, to turn ugliness into beauty

                   ii.      Illustrations of systemic beauty in nature (nature’s tendency to cause beauty)

                            (1)    Nature (living organisms) struggles against ugliness of damaged and diseased organisms by repairing themselves

                            (2)    Predation culls the (ugly) sick and crippled

                            (3)    Natural selection edits out the malformed

                            (4)    Earth’s geology has beauty tendency: mountain building, water cycle

15.    Rolston’s PA best meets my 4 criteria

         a.      Based on a rich empirical description of natural world

         b.      Makes nature specially and thoroughly beautiful in way art and human environments are not

         c.      Allows for negative aesthetics in nature

         d.      Is useful for conservation