Katherine Robinson and Kevin Elliott

Environmental Aesthetics and Public Environmental Philosophy



         a.      Env aes important in public env philosophy

         b.      Aesthetic integrity (aesthetics of an env) is closely tied to people’s sense of place

         c.      Threatening aes integrity of an env is problematic because it compromises people’s sense of place

         d.      People’s sense of place important to their well being

         e.      Thus people have (two) rights based on aes integrity: Due process (participating in deliberation about policies that compromise aes integrity) and redress when due process is violated

         f.       Env aes concerns are good frames/umbrellas under which other, more decisive env factors can be raised (e.g., human health, economics)

         g.      Objectivity of env aes not very important to env aes role in env policy



3.      Environmental aesthetics plays an important role in environmental policy (and philosophy)

         a.      “Main claim of paper: Aes should play central role in development of public env philosophy

         b.      Public env philosophy = Env philosophy that is understandable and useful to those engaged in env disputes and captures their moral intuitions

                   i.       “Environmental aesthetics can assist ethicists in making a more effective contribution to the policy-making sphere”

4.      Framing environmental conflicts in terms of threats to aesthetic integrity is both morally justifiable and pragmatically useful



6.      Definition of aes integrity (aes character?): (=AI)

         a.      Coherence/harmony over time between positive sensual qualities and cultural, historical and biological features that contribute to aes evaluation of a place

7.      AI broad, multi-faced type of aesthetic character

         a.      Not just sensual awareness of formal qualities of a place

         b.      Includes senses, affective, cognitive, imaginative elements

8.      Includes historical and cultural elements

         a.      Berleant: “Our aesthetic experience calls on background factors of social and cultural experience, habits and belief systems, traditions of behavior and judgment, even styles of living”

         b.      Includes landscape elements and their relationship over time to historical/cultural features of location

9.      AI encompasses env integrity (e.g., air/water quality and biodiversity) insofar as env integrity contributes (along with sensual components) to aes evaluation of a place

         a.      AI is a coherence/harmony between features of an ecosystem (tree cover/interaction of species) and other perceptual, historical and culture features of a location

10.    Aesthetic integrity must be positive aesthetically

         a.      If the loud commercialism of Las Vegas is aes negative, even if these negative sensual features do cohere/harmonize with historical/cultural integrity of Las Vegas, then Las Vegas has very little aesthetic integrity (fn 2)

         b.      People might agree that there is no or very limited aes integrity of a slum or Las Vegas, yet want to preserve it for historical, cultural, or economic reasons

         c.      It seems that positive sensual (or other typically aesthetic) features play a necessary (or overriding) role in the concept of aes integrity?

         d.      If the desolation of a desert is a positive aesthetic quality, what about the desolation of a ghetto?

11.    Frequently possible to identify threats to aes integrity, i.e., proposed activities that are detrimental to AI

         a.      Sufficient for facilitating public env philosophy

12.    Clear examples of compromising aes integrity

         a.      Tree cutting

                   i.       Putting an asphalt parking lot in tree-shaded neighborhood

                   ii.      Removing trees from a road to put up billboards

                   iii.     Trees contribute to aes qualities of surroundings particularly in neighborhood known for tree cover

         b.      Putting a landfill next to public park

                   i.       Landfills not aes pleasing

         c.      Eliminating or polluting waterways of small town known for its lakes

                   i.       Water often central to aes exp, especially in places that developed history/culture around important waterways

         d.      Putting a big-box chain store in historic neighborhood with distinctive architecture

                   i.       Aes integrity not just about natural but also cultural features

         e.      If these examples are clear, that suggests objectivity in aesthetic judgments, at least in the sense of rejecting anything goes subjectivism

13.    Difficulty/controversial cases where opinions on aes integrity might differ

         a.      Replacing wetland with golf course

                   i.       If value closely cropped grass, might think aes integrity promoted

                   ii.      If incorporate ecological complexity into aes evaluation, would disagree

14.    *Sharp disagreements about how to promote aes integrity are not as common as might seem

15.    *More likely disagreement about how to weigh aes integrity against competing values like econ development

         a.      E.g., Some want chemical refinery to move into community for jobs sake and willing to sacrifice aes integrity



17.    SP: A type of meaning attached to particular spacial setting by a person or group

         a.      Not simply romantic yearning

         b.      Appreciation of landscape that goes beyond its use value

18.    Affective bond: Involves care and concern for place

         a.      Sense of place manifest in emotionally charged feelings of attachment to or satisfaction with particular places

                   i.       Grounded in human emotions and relationships

                   ii.      Desire to maintain closeness

19.    People craft their identity in communion with landscape

         a.      Identification with a place; feeling of being at home there

         b.      Examples

                   i.       People who live in mountains become attached to them and care deeply about them

                   ii.      Lily pond was a “meaningful and cherished facet of identity of town” 

                            (1)    Aesthetic factors go beyond narrow appeals to beauty of scenery

20.    SP is highly motivational

         a.      Because of emotional ties/commitments, sense of place tied to willingness of individuals/groups to act on behalf of env



22.    Aesthetic integrity tied to sense of place

23.    Aes integrity is one of most important factors in developing and maintaining a sense of place

         a.      In many cases, sense of place determined largely by aes factors

         b.      Empirical research supports this

24.    Both involve perceptual element, cognitive, cultural and imaginative overlays

         a.      “Not easy to say where aes appreciation ends and sense of place begins”

25.    Don’t equate two; they can conflict

         a.      Aes integrity more deeply grounded in perceptual experience

         b.      Example of conflict

                   i.       Town built around paper mill or coal mine

                   ii.      These industrial sites are central to residents sense of place, but harmful to its aes integrity

                   iii.     Mill or mine could contributes to historical or cultural integrity (which contributes to sense of place), but detrimental to aes integrity as AI incorporates not only historical-cultural factors but also positive sensual qualities and ecological features

                   iv.     Could stench of the paper mill and billowing clouds of smoke that belch from its smokestacks be viewed as positive aesthetically by those whose families have worked there and find it part of their sense of place?

26.    People care about sense of place--thus care about AI--which in tern has significant power for motivating citizen action/concern



28.    Sense of place is central to human well being

29.    Sense of place is highly important in people’s lives

         a.      Is this true in our rootless, mobile society?

30.    “Place attachment is a state of psychological well being”

         a.      So realization of aesthetic values one component of well being



32.    There are moral rights that protect sense of place/aesthetic integrity

33.    Not a right to live in a beautiful environment (what would a minimally aes acceptable env look like?)

34.    Two rights under “Aesthetic Integrity Principle”

35.    Due process: Right not to have aes integrity of their env degraded significantly w/o due process

         a.      Due process = Appropriate access to information and public participation in decision making about aesthetic integrity

                   i.       Not veto power

36.    Redress: If above violated, have right to due recourse

         a.      Access to env justice when due process violated

37.    These seem to be pretty weak rights



39.    Umbrella lesson: Aesthetic integrity is a useful umbrella device for bringing forward other more definitive environmental considerations

40.    Response to worry that aes integrity not weighty enough to stand up to powerful economic concerns

         a.      Need to put such factors as human health or counter-economic concerns forward to protect env

                   i.       They have argued that aes integrity is a central part of human well-being and though that’s not physical health it is mental health!

41.    Concerns about aes integrity can be effective starting point that allows other concerns to be brought forward

         a.      Not claiming AI has to be the deciding factor

42.    Some of these non-aes factors may be (often are) more effective in settling policy debates in favor of env concerns

         a.      Note they didn’t say they were more morally/philosophically important, but rather more effective in policy debates!

43.    Public env phil that highlights aes integrity threats is likely to generate energy and enthusiasm necessary for development of subsequent sci, legal and economic technical arguments around which env decisions generally are resolved

         a.      This is a straight forward empirical claim that could be tested and belongs to environmental sociology/politics

44.    Aes problems often more easily and quickly identifiable

         a.      Neighborhood creek foaming; smoke stack belching nasty fumes easy to tell

         b.      Showing that they cause cancer much more difficult, but aes can give us impetus to investigate

45.    If AI’s value is as umbrella for more important issues, how “central” is AI to env protection?



47.    What kind of moral force do aes integrity arguments have?

48.    From above moral rights they conclude:

         a.      Env philosophers are on strong moral ground if they attract public’s attention to activities that could significantly damage aes integrity of environments in which they live

                   i.       “Significant degradation of aes integrity is a legitimate moral issue”

                   ii.      Note: They are not a conclusive reasons against such policies, but a good reason to put such activities under scrutiny

49.    Aesthetics of env is an important moral consideration in the debate over env policies as it is tied to sense of place which is tied to human well being

50.    So this is an anthropocentric argument about not the beauty of nature itself, but how that beauty is crucial to human well being

         a.      Note: this is much stronger than a view which takes env aes to be reducible to giving human’s aes pleasure (another anthropocentric approach to value of nature’s beauty)



52.    Lack of objectivity in environmental aesthetics is not significant problem in using aesthetics in the way they suggest

         a.      “Judgments about aesthetic integrity need not be entirely objective in order for them to play a productive role in the policy sphere”

53.    Aes judgements too subjective to play role in policy?

         a.      Usually, not always, lots of agreement on what constitutes damage to aes integrity

54.    Real issue is whether aes concerns should be given serious attention in env decision making

         a.      “We claim that judgments about aesthetic integrity, even if both subjective and contextual, can nonetheless be valuable and effective in decision making

55.    Search for objectivity can easily become a red herring

56.    Even if folks disagree about aes integrity of natural area, as long as some feel it is threatened, then their sense of place was threatened, their perspective should be taken seriously in env deliberation about this issue

57.    **The relative importance of env aes judgments would not be significantly increased even if should be shown that they were objective

58.    Doubts about objectivity of aes judgement should not keep env aes from playing an important role in public env philosophy


59.    Worries about idea objectivity in env aes not all that important

60.    Example where agree and disagree on AI

         a.      In one case some thought it was ugly swamp and others thought aes beautiful and important to sense of place

         b.      In another case all agreed that it was beautiful essential to their sense of place but some wanted to destroy it anyway for economic reasons

         c.      I think the beauty of the area (its aes integrity) much less likely to be dismissed as irrelevant or people just defending “mere views” if there is some sort of objectivity

61.    They think aes objectivity not important because they are pushing the “mere umbrella” view of importance of aes issues

         a.      “Real power of aes judgments often lies in ability to motivate further investigation of other issues that prove decisive”

62.    Seems to me their argument at best shows objectivity not important for policy considerations, but not that it is unimportant for the philosophical justification for paying attention to aes integrity

         a.      If aes important to sense of place and SP important to well being of humans and that is why aes is important in env philosophy/ethics, then if people are wrong about the aesthetics of a place--that development will not undermine AI–then the aes argument against development would seem to collapse

63.    But maybe all that matters is that people believe that something is a threat to aes integrity, sense of place and it follows that it is?

         a.      If so, subjectivity is enough

64.    One issue is whether the subjectivity is about the aes value of a place or about the importance of the aes character to sense of place. Perhaps the latter is an empirical psychological question?

65.    I agree at least about the rhetorical role that AI can play even if not objective

Questions on Robinson and Elliott’s “Environmental Aesthetics and Public Environmental Philosophy”


1.         What role do they believe aesthetics of environment can play in environmental policy decisions?

2.         What is aesthetic integrity? How does it relate to formalists idea of aes character of nature? How does it relate to env integrity? Do historical and cultural dimensions of an environment play a role?

3.         Give examples of activities that compromise aesthetic integrity and explain how they do this

4.         What is a sense of place? How is it related to aesthetic integrity? How might they conflict? How does sense of place relate to human well being?

5.         What are the two moral rights that Robinson/Elliott argue are associated with sense of place? Do people have a right to live in a beautiful environment (on their view)?

6.         What is their “umbrella lesson” about AI? In what way does AI function as an “umbrella device?” What role do they think AI can play in policy debates and how important do they consider AI in comparison to other reasons for env protection?

7.         What do the authors say about the importance of objectivity in judgements of aesthetic integrity (env aesthetics)? Do you agree?