Robert Stecker, Chapter Two: Env. Aesthetics
from Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art


         a.      Which units in nature are appropriate objects of appreciation?

         b.      There are a number of models for answering this question.


2.      Impressionist model of nature appreciation

         a.      Don't appreciate objects in nature, but properties or appearances that nature presents (which are constantly changing)

         b.      Focus on impressions at the moment

                   i.       Ignore that one is seeing a particular object (for this will give us a preconception for what it should look like)

         c.      Based on Impressionism in painting

         d.      For example: Cezanne's 60 plus paintings of Mount St. Victoire

3.      Object model

         a.      Focus on particular objects (a stone, a butterfly) in isolation

         b.      Whether or not we appreciate natural objects in or out of their natural setting does not matter as focusing only on the object (in isolation)

         c.      Could put stone on mantel or pin butterfly on the wall

4.      Landscape model

         a.      Focus on a "view" or vista rather than a discrete object

         b.      Something seen from a fixed point (outside of what is viewed)

         c.      Sometimes (but not necessarily) focus on spectacular scenes (such as views from scenic turnouts on highways)

                   i.       Model does not require this focus on the scenic (here Stecker's account differs from Carlson's account of landscape model)

5.      Artwork model:

         a.      Should appreciate nature as an artwork (either literally as God's art or "as if" it were an artwork)

         b.      Why appreciate nature as if art?

                   i.       Because art appreciation is our only real model of aes appreciation, so if we want to aes appreciate nature, better treat it as art

                   ii.      Stecker would reject this and so should we: People appreciated natural beauty before they appreciated art; appreciation of natural beauty is a paradigm for aesthetic appreciation

6.      "Is nature an artwork?" (Namely, God's artwork?)

         a.      Two assumptions

                   i.       (1) There is an intelligent designer of the nature

                   ii.      (2) This intelligent designer created nature as an artwork (in way similar to how artists create artworks, only much better)

         b.      (1) does not imply (2).

                   i.       Lots of things are created but are not artworks

                   ii.      God could have created nature but not as an artwork (but as a home for humans and other creatures)

         c.      Reason for thinking (2) is false

                   i.       When artists create artworks, they create the particular art object

                   ii.      But when God created nature, God created it to operate according to general laws

                   iii.     God did not directly create specific parts of nature that we might appreciate, such as beech trees on a ridge

                   iv.     What explains the origin of the beech trees on the ridge is forest ecology, nature of beech trees, laws of biology

                   v.      Not that God produced the forest directly, though God may well have produced general laws and the original material from which they were made



         a.      Severe and modest versions

8.      Severe: All above models distort/misrepresent proper appreciation and should be rejected

         a.      As if artwork model appreciates nature as if it was an artifact, but it isn't and when we see a sunset we aren't appreciating it as if someone painted it

         b.      Object model treats natural object like a stone in isolation from the env. in which it has an organic unity and thus is likely to hide aes relevant properties and distort others (in isolation, it might appear solid and represent permanence, but on the scree slope where it was found, it would not)

         c.      Landscape model falsely treats nature as if two dimensional, cuts us off from multi-sensual engagement with nature, and ignores that we move around in nature by requiring a fixed point of view outside nature

         d.      Impressionist model falsely treats nature as mere patterns of light and sound or color and shape


10.    Stecker's general response

         a.      Though these models are partial, selective, aesthetic responses to nature, they do not distort; in particular, that they are partial, does not mean they distort

11.    Object model does not distort; it merely selects certain features of nature to pay attention to

         a.      Not clear such selective attention is improper

         b.      To appreciate some but not other properties of an object is not to distort it but to appreciate it selectively

12.    E.g., Consider admiring a pink trillium

         a.      Not distorting to admire pale pink color and three petal/three leaf pattern

         b.      Those with knowledge of the trillium and its connection to the environment might appreciate it differently or have enhanced appreciation

                   i.       Know that pink flowers are near the end of their bloom compared with white flowers

                   ii.      Realize lucky to see it because its blooming season is so short

                   iii.     See the flowers as evidence of fruit to come

                            (1)    Stecker calls this “natural meanings” (causal)

                   iv.     See the flowers and think of the morels that are likely to be around at same time

         c.      But those who appreciate only the flower in isolation--though they may miss these appreciation enhancing properties--don't attribute to it properties that it doesn't have

13.    Worry that selective partial appreciation can lead to distortion

         a.      As was the case with the isolated rock thought to express permanence and solidity of nature which it does not express when it is appreciated in its context on the scree slope

         b.      Without appreciation being informed by knowledge one can't know if one's appreciative response is inappropriate (will be reversed with more knowledge)

                   i.       Patricia Matthews' point about the importance of knowledge


14.    Landscape model and impressionist model also promote selective appreciations that need not distort

         a.      Merely promote a selective appreciation of limited properties of nature and are not distortions

15.    Winter snow field example:

         a.      Ignoring that it is a winter field covered with snow reflecting the sunset that is responsible for the pinks, golds, and grays that I'm attending too (impressionist model) does not distort anything: These colors really are presented.

16.    Worries

         a.      Stecker himself notes that pinks and golds are normally considered to be warm colors; knowing that they are colors of a snowfield would make them appear/feel colder

         b.      Only listen to french horn example: Is this like going to a symphony and listening only to the French Horns instead of the entire ensemble? Nothing wrong with doing that for a while, but if this is all one did and ignored the relations of those horns with the other instruments and ignored the sound of the music as a whole, such a selective appreciation would be impoverished (if not distorted)

17.    Stecker thinks it implausible to treat these models as saying they individually are the only way to correctly appreciate nature

         a.      Each provides a legitimate way to partially appreciate nature; none is the only way

         b.      Are they too incomplete to be legitimate?

18.    THE ENVIRONMENTAL MODEL (Carlson's model)

         a.      Offered as a more complete and comprehensive account of nature appreciation and thus superior to the others

19.    Two features:

20.    (1) Holism: Object of appreciation not confined to discrete objects, views, or impressions, but to an object-in-an-environment (or a collection objects that form a part of env.).

21.    (2) Knowledge: Properties of these objects to be appreciated should be picked out by science or commonsense knowledge of env, and if not so selected, the appreciative response is malformed or inappropriate

         a.      Carlson: "To aes app nature we must have knowledge of the different environments and systems and elements in those environments"

         b.      Technical scientific knowledge required? Or ordinary common sense knowledge enough?

22.    Versions of env. model

         a.      (1) Immersion approach: Immerse oneself in nature with all one senses alive and take in as much of a given env. as possible (Berleant's Aesthetics of Engagement)

         b.      (2) & (3) Ecological & order approach: Appreciate the relations of dependence in the env and the causes that produce and sustain the objects in nature

23.    Stecker thinks all these models have value and denies env. model is comprehensive and superior

         a.      Argues that we should take these three versions of env model as legitimate but also all the earlier ones to get an even more comprehensive env aesthetics

         b.      Sees env model as adding some important options for appreciation (immersion, order app) not available in earlier models, instead of finding a way of unifying all of these models under a single idea and showing the inappropriateness of alternatives



25.    Overview of questions Stecker addresses about the role of knowledge in aes appreciation of nature (and his answers)

         a.      When and how does knowledge enhance aes appreciation of nature?

                   i.       (Can’t be sure knowledge will enhance the same way for everyone)

         b.      Is there some minimum of required knowledge for such appreciation to be proper or appropriate?

                   i.       (Yes, but it is minor)

         c.      Should appreciation based on false belief be regarded as essentially flawed?

                   i.       (Only when we should be expected to have that knowledge and it affects our perception)

         d.      Are there norms of nature appreciation so we can say some attempts at appreciation are malfounded, improper, or inappropriate?

                   i.       (Yes, but they are weak)

         e.      Is the appreciation of nature really aes appreciation?

                   i.       (It can be, but it might also involve a different kind of appreciation than aesthetic.)


26.    Knowledge can both enhance and sometimes irrevocably alter our appreciation of nature

27.    Knowledge can allows us to perceive nature in more complex ways

         a.      Examples:

                   i.       If understand how tidal pools work, see little interconnected world

                            (1)    Lack this knowledge, may see merely a collection of objects

                   ii.      Naturalists (or people who hunt/fish) look at environments as habitats for animals and see these areas in more fine grained ways than someone who merely looks at them for a view


28.    Knowledge can thicken one's enjoyment

         a.      Examples:

                   i.       Flower in spring indicates certain state of spring when other natural objects appear; can indicate things to come (blossoms indicate fruit)

                   ii.      Knowledge that the pink trillium is a later (and end) stage of a white one makes one more appreciative of seeing it


29.    Knowledge can irrevocably alter ones perception

         a.      Example? When one becomes familiar with a species and knows which is deformed or diseased and which is unusually fine

                   i.       Certainly alters the experience, does it alter the perception?

30.    Some knowledge that has bearing on appreciation clearly changes one's very perception of nature

         a.      Some claims this is the unique requirement on knowledge that is relevant to app nature-- Matthews 2002

                   i.       (That is, if knowledge does not alter perception, it is not relevant)

                   ii.      Stecker rejects this: some knowledge enhances appreciation but does not alter perception (e.g., knowledge that blooming of trillium foreshadows appearance of morels instead it enhances one's immersion in a complex natural environment)

31.    Some knowledge does not enhance appreciation

         a.      Doubts that knowing chemical basis of change in trillium color enhances appreciation

         b.      But doesn't think we can predict that it never will

32.    Value of knowledge of nature is relative

         a.      That knowledge can enhance and alter appreciation of nature for individuals doesn't imply must do so uniformly across all individuals

         b.      He doubts that new information given to similarly knowledgeable individuals will have uniform affect on their appreciative experience

         c.      People disposed to respond in different ways (have different “tastes” or sensibilities)

         d.      Ignores that there are two questions here

                   i.       How in fact people will respond

                   ii.      How they should respond (assuming there are better and worse ways to aes respond to nature given new information)

         e.      Perhaps certain knowledge should enhance and alter aes response in certain ways, even if for some/many it does not

33.    Stecker rejects (for the most part) the idea that there is a minimum of required knowledge for nature appreciation to be proper or appropriate

         a.      Just appreciating the surface features of a clump of flowers or a snowfield (as in impressionist model) is not to appreciate nature in an inappropriate way

34.    Improper or impoverished? But if we change the language from "improper" or "inappropriate" appreciation to "partial" rather than full, "shallow" rather than deep, or "impoverished" rather than enriched or enhanced, then perhaps some knowledge (sometimes?) will be required for these better sorts of appreciation

         a.      Stecker himself says such knowledge can enhance aes appreciation of nature

35.    Should appreciation based on false belief be regarded as essentially flawed?

         a.      If so, then some knowledge is required

36.    Stecker argues that certain sorts of false belief permit genuine appreciation if one is faultless in holding them (or does so for good reasons)

         a.      Examples:

         b.      Appreciating a liquid substance on another planet even though you falsely believe it is water; one can aes app beauty of water breaking on the beach even if not water

         c.      People of earlier times had all sorts of false beliefs about the human body, but it is ridiculous to think this prevented them from appreciating the beauty of the human body

         d.      In earlier times people faultless in their false belief that whales were fish, and so they could still appreciate the beauty of these creature

37.    Stecker unsure if true but finds plausible the idea that where false belief is easily avoidable and where such knowledge changes our perception then proper appreciation requires such knowledge

         a.      Common knowledge that whales are not fish and if this alters our perception of whales, we can require this for proper appreciation of them

                   i.       Large sea animal (whale) might look clumsy (oafish) if thought to be a fish, but graceful if a mammal (suggests Carlson)

                            (1)    Thus aesthetic properties perceived can change depending on categorization.


38.    More technical and recondite knowledge (even if it alters perception?) is not required for proper ("non bogus") appreciation

         a.      But might it be required for the best sort of appreciation?


         a.      Norms tell us what we should do

         b.      Stecker thinks norms of nature appreciation are weak though not nonexistence

40.    Some knowledge needed for proper nature appreciation, but this is mostly observational rather than theoretical scientific knowledge, with exception of scientific concepts that have become part of common knowledge

         a.      "There is enormous leeway in the knowledge we must bring to nature in order to properly appreciate nature"

         b.      Additional knowledge can enhance or alter our appreciation but it is usually optional whether we employ such knowledge

         c.      If knowledge can enhance app, and if our norm is "better, enhanced app" then we need to use that knowledge (but not if the norm in question is "proper app")

         d.      Again, consider Matthews claim that until we have the additional knowledge we can't be sure that our aesthetic responses are appropriate, for such knowledge may lead us to revise them.

         e.      Should not assume that knowledge is the only factor that constrains how we should aes appreciate

                   i.       For example, Emily Brady claims we need multi sensuous engagement and to use imagination.


42.    Does knowledge about env harmful affects of an env object affect its aesthetic value? 

         a.      Stecker's answer: No.


43.    Purple Loosestrife and Pollution Sunset cases

         a.      For a philosophical discussion of these cases see Foster, "Aesthetic Disillusionment: Environment, Ethics, Art"

44.    Purple Loosestrife in bloom seems obviously beautiful w/o knowledge that it is an invasive exotic

                   i.        It is an introduced garden plant that escaped and takes over and dries up wetlands and provides poor habitat and food for wildlife compared to the natives it out competes

         b.      Some people report that when they learn what purple loosestrife does to the environment their aes experience changes (no longer think it beautiful)

         c.      Has this knowledge corrected their judgment of the scene's beauty by changing their experience?

45.    Sunsets we find most beautiful caused by refractions of light due to higher than normal particles in the air

         a.      A typical cause of increase in particles is air pollution

         b.      "So sunsets we typically appreciate most are caused by air pollution"

         c.      Does this change our experience of sunsets and should it alter our judgment of their beauty?

46.    Two typical responses to apparent env beauty that involves env harm

         a.      Cease to find them beautiful

         b.      Continue to find them beautiful, but deplore them on ethical grounds

47.    No uniform change in expereince across observers sensitive to env issues

         a.      This is an empirical claim, but what is really at stake is the normative one of which of these is a better or the proper response (if either)?

         b.      The empirical observation does not settle the normative issue

48.    Stecker takes the side that they are still beautiful, but ethically bad

         a.      Should (morally) get rid of the loosestrife and those sunsets, but we are sacrificing something, namely beautiful sights

                   i.       One could grant this sacrifice and still say that the objects are not beautiful (thought "the sights" are)

         b.      Our tendency to believe only ugly things cause env harm misleads us here

49.    But if ethics can sometimes be integrated into aesthetic responses and judgments, then one might judge pollution sunsets and purple loosestrife as not aesthetically positive (beautiful)

         a.      Consider Matthews' case of a multi-colored patch on a child's face: Do we really want to say that something beautiful is lost when we prevent the child abuse that leads to this?


         a.      Three considerations/answers

51.    (1) When it is the appreciation of aesthetic properties

52.    Aes properties include

         a.      General value properties (beauty and ugliness)

         b.      Formal features (balance/diversity)

         c.      Expressive properties (sadness), e.g., Van Gogh's Sorrow

         d.      Evocative features (power of being awe inspiring)

         e.      Behavioral features (stillness, fragility, or grace)

         f.       Second-order perceptual features (vivid or gaudy)

         g.      Some of these (being graceful) are more specific, descriptive value properties than general value properties like beauty

         h.      Some purely descriptive (sad)

         i.       No negative value here?

53.    Appreciation of nature is aesthetic when it is the appreciation of aesthetic properties,

54.    Recognizing the more general value properties (beauty) depends on perceiving other properties on the list above (all of which are aesthetic)

55.    These properties are in turn taken in by perceiving non-aes perceptual (base) properties (such as color and shape)

56.    Aesthetic properties do not include color and shape

         a.      Perceptual ("lower level," "first order," "base") properties like color and shape

57.    Stecker thinks aes properties not that (or always) important to aes appreciation:

         a.      Much of our aes exp of nature does not seem to involve less general aes properties but judgments of beauty based directly on first order perceptual properties (or second order non aes properties)

         b.      My appreciation of trillium bound up with delight in color and shape closely observed

                   i.       Neither color nor shape are aesthetic properties (but non-aes base properties)


         c.      Looking on windless morning at lake surface perfectly still as reflects sky with mirror like quality

                   i.       Appreciate the lake's stillness

                   ii.      But not clear referring to aes property of stillness but to a first order perception of lack of movement on surface of lake

                            (1)    Since no taste or sensitivity is required (and this is needed if taking in aes properties according to some), one is not experiencing an aesthetic property

58.    Sometimes our appreciation of nature involves aes properties:

         a.      Enjoy vivid colors of fall, the graceful movement of deer, andgrotesque appearance of bare apple trees

59.    But recognition of aes properties is optional, as many exp of nature involve aes appreciation w/o noting the descriptively thicker aes properties

60.    Thus Stecker rejects idea aes appreciation is defined by appreciation of aes properties

61.    (2) Nature appreciation is aesthetic when it involves aes experience

62.    Aes exp is attention to formal (arrangements of parts, repetitions of shapes), sensuous, meaning properties of objects valued for their own sake

         a.      Env. objects have natural meanings (like causal connections of human significance --blossoms indicating fruit--or cultural meanings),

         b.      Stecker adds to the above three properties structural or etiological properties (involved in "order appreciation")


         c.      Importance of close observation and knowledge of observable properties

         d.      Possibility of appreciation being enhanced by additional knowledge

         e.      Optional or variable importance of aes properties

63.    (3) If appreciation of nature modeled on art app, then some appreciation of nature need not be aes (as some appreciation of art is not aesthetic) (and it involves more than aes app)

         a.      Which means there can be non-aes appreciation of nature just like non aes appreciation of art (artistic app?)


64.    For art

         a.      Have to bring certain categories to art appreciation (intention, convention, style, genre, context) to property identify aes features of artworks

         b.      Artistic value not limited to aesthetic value (value proper to good art includes aes value but also cognitive value, art-historical value, ethical value, etc)

65.    For appreciation of nature must find analogues of these

         a.      More complex set of criteria of proper nature appreciation (than merely aesthetic)

         b.      Result might be more constrained conception of appropriate aes exp of nature

66.    Perhaps appreciation of nature is more complex than simply deriving aes value from observing and interacting with nature

67.    As with art, ethical, cognitive and other considerations might be relevant to proper conception of nature appreciation and not just aesthetic considerations

68.    Might justify ideas that env model is the correct model of nature appreciation or that ethical considerations are important for such app

69.    He doubts that could successfully argue that for proper appreciation of nature we have to bring in the specific mix of considerations mentioned above

         a.      He thinks that a hybrid, several factor type of appreciation is another option we have for appreciating nature


71.    Most models of appreciation nature are legitimate

72.    No one correct model of nature app, for nature is so diverse and unlike art no guiding intentions or conventions to narrow our focus



74.    What is wrong with the idea that "something is art if it is a beautiful thing"

         a.      Plenty of non beautiful art (art that aims at something other than the beautiful, e.g., to be shocking, or bad art)

         b.      Human artifacts that are beautiful, but not art: cars, utensils, math proofs

         c.      Beautiful nature is not art, unless you believe it is God's art (both produced by God and produce by God with artistic aims)

75.    Formalism: To properly appreciate an artwork (or nature) one should attend to its form rather than content, where form is conceived as something immediately available to the senses (independent of background knowledge)

         a.      Formalism in nature appreciation claims proper appreciation of nature should be confined to properties/appearances immediately available to the senses, w/o reliance on background knowledge (like science)

76.Tempting to think

         a.      Beauty in nature is the main thing we value (where as beauty in art is not).

         b.      Beauty in nature simpler than in art. Stares you in the face

77.    Env aes includes nature aes but also aes of humanized environments

78.    Our ability to discriminate beauty is determined by

         a.      Availability: if mountains and ridges available, hard to find cornfields beautiful.

                   i.       If only cornfields available, will learn to find more beauty in some than others


         b.      Aspects of nature made salient by a culture