Glenn Parsons, Aesthetics & Nature

Introduction & Ch 1



2.      Distinguishes ways of relating to nature

         a.      Using nature as a source of resources

         b.      *Understanding it with perspective of scientist or natural historian

         c.      *Simply enjoying being in nature: snorkeling, or hiking

         d.      *Relating to nature by appreciating its beauty

                   i.       As when marvel at sight of mighty mountain or gaze with pleasure on a heron laboring in flight

         e.      May related to nature in several of these ways perhaps concurrently

3.      Questions

         a.      Are c. and d. really different?

         b.      Note that b and d are distinguished?

                   i.       How to distinguish b and d happening concurrently and scientifically informed aesthetic appreciation of nature?


4.      Aim of book is to determine

         a.      What is involved in appreciation of natural beauty, and

         b.      If it is ultimately a worthwhile or acceptable way of relating to nature?

5.      Some think aes appreciation of nature required both for respect for nature and for human flourishing

6.      If one fails to appreciate natural beauty

         a.      One is not properly relating to nature

                   i.       One is failing to respect nature

                            (1)    Like failing to appreciate the beauty of a person is to fail to respect that person

                   ii.      This aesthetic failure is as much a failure (a fault) as is the ethical failure to fail to respect nature ethically

                            (1)    Is the aesthetic failure also an ethical failure?

         b.      One loses a deep source of human satisfaction and fails to flourish fully as a human

                   i.       That is, the aes appreciation of nature is essential to human flourishing

Parsons, Chapter 1: Approaching the Philosophy of Natural Beauty



2.      Nature might mean

         a.      Unmodified (not influenced) by human activity

                   i.       Any examples?

         b.      What happens w/o agency of humans (Parsons uses this one)

                   i.       Things that don’t happen because of humans

                            (1)    Mating behavior of birds, fall of rain

                            (2)    We influence these things, but they are not the product of humans; our influence is not sufficient to be the causal explanation of them

         c.      What happens w/o intentional and voluntary human agency

                   i.       Global warming and nuclear accidents are result of human agency, but not voluntary/intentional (so they would be “natural” under this definition

                   ii.      A funny sense of “natural” (unintentional garbage heap natural/?)

3.      Objections

         a.      No “nature” left as all influenced by humans

         b.      Never was any “nature” as humans are fundamentally part of “nature” and so nature (as something humans are not a part of) does not pick anything out

4.      Need term ‘nature’ as a general way to refer to things in aesthetics and environmental policy

         a.      Parsons argues we need “nature” if we are going to be able to refer in a general way to beauty of birds, mountains as opposed to beauty of cathedrals and paintings

         b.      Also need general concept so we can talk about in general how human activities are affecting things like animal migration and temperature cycles



6.      Beauty might mean

         a.      Anything that is good or excellent or pleasing

                   i.       Clever stock trade, fine shot in tennis

         b.      Way of expressing our love/affection for something

                   i.       My “beautiful wife” (this does not mean she should be a model, but is a way of expressing my love for her and the qualities of her character that inspire that love)

                            (1)    Can’t qualities of character be beautiful/aesthetic?

                   ii.      My baby is beautiful (not commenting on looks, but expressing love for it)

                   iii.     When talk about nature’s beauty are we simply expressing our love for it?

7.      Parson’s narrower sense of beauty: a particular kind of perceptual appearance of things and especially the way they look or sound

8.      Worry: Beauty in this sense is too narrow (both focus on perceptual appearance and on sight and sound)

         a.      The perceptual appearance of narrative (literature, stories, etc) need not be relevant to their aesthetics; their non-perceptual aesthetic qualities are much more important (funny, interesting, moving, tragic)

         b.      Applies to nature;

                   i.       A swamp or prairie may not have an aesthetically positive perceptual appearance, but it may have a compelling story or other features that gives it great aesthetic value

         c.      Smells, touches, tastes not aesthetic?


9.      Study of “natural beauty” = Study of type of perceptual appearance that comes into being w/o agency of human beings



11.    Beautiful mountains and animals now a paradigm of beauty

         a.      Not always so

12.    Prior to 18th century rarer and harder to think of nature as beautiful

         a.      Nature as a paradigm of beauty alien idea then

13.    Three reasons

14.    One: Beauty was seen as just proportion (symmetry, balance, harmony) (classical appearance of Parthenon, formal garden, or symmetry of human body) and nature is irregular

         a.      Hard to apply this concept to nature because natural amalgamations of stone, water, wood compose landscape are more irregular than proportional

15.    Two: Nature sightseeing didn’t exist and was dangerous so little opportunity to appreciate way nature looked

         a.      Traveling in wilder regions was infrequent, inconvenient and even dangerous; Left alpine regions with feeling of relief rather than admiration for what had seen

16.    Three: Religious views

         a.      God made world perfect sphere (proportional)

         b.      Mountains not part of God’s original creation, but debris of upheaval associated with Biblical flood

         c.      Mountains a visible sign of human sinfulness and fallen nature of the world

         d.      Thinking of mountains as beautiful would seem bizarre or even heretical

         e.      Mountains like Alps (our paradigms of beauty) seen as warts and rubbish of earth

         f.       John Donne (a 16th century English poet) saw mountains and valleys as , “warts and pock-holes in the face of the earth”


17.    A lessening of each of these features led to new appreciation of nature in 18th century, a new conception of taste

         a.      Alps and continental tourism started up

         b.      Contact with Italy brought new influences (beauty not just proportion but could include irregular forms and terrifying landscapes) (picturesque & sublime)

         c.      Natural philosophy (science, geology) challenged traditional religious ways of thinking about mountains

18.    Picturesque: New concept of the picturesque emerged and led to positive appreciation of nature

         a.      Picturesque paintings (Salvador Rosa and Claude Lorrain) involved landscapes with irregular shapes, sudden variations and rough textures (and ruins)

                   i.       Picturesque

                   ii.      Classical beauty & Versailles

         b.      Fed a taste for actual landscapes with these qualities as opposed to classical regular, cultivated landscapes like formal gardens

19.    Sublime

         a.      Nature in wilder manifestations

         b.      Not gently irregular and variegated country-sides of picturesque

         c.      Threatening cliffs, thunder clouds towering to heavens, flashes of lightening, volcanoes, hurricanes, oceans set into a rage

         d.      People used to fear these

         e.      New aesthetic found a delightful horror and terrible joy in them

         f.       Sublime images at

20.    Summary

         a.      Moved away from beauty as balanced, regular, symmetrical, gentle formal gardens

         b.      To beauty as irregular picturesque and terrifying sublime landscapes



22.    To avoid the controversies about “beauty” talks about nature’s “aesthetic qualities”

23.    Aesthetic qualities have to do with

         a.      Perception, specifically, sense perception

         b.      Primarily how things look or sound (not other three senses)

         c.      Perceptual appearance that produces pleasure or displeasure when experience it

24.    Having an aesthetic quality = possessing a pleasing or displeasing perceptual appearance (definition to be refined below)

25.    Worry: Pleasure too crass a term to capture the feeling component of positive aesthetic response

         a.      Intrigued by pattern of clouds; Excited by lightening, awed by the falls, being riveted by predator prey interaction

         b.      Arousal of discomforting emotions

                   i.       Descriptions of the suffering of loved characters in novels

                   ii.      Art genres that emphasize the grotesque, the shocking, the morbid, the horrifying, and the ugly can be positive aesthetically (not displeasing)

                            (1)    Consider aesthetically appreciating predation

         c.      “Pleasure” is not a good way to describe these feelings

         d.      Aes value only sometimes presents itself as pleasure

         e.      "Aesthetic ‘pleasure’ is better understood as a kind of affective (e.g., feeling or emotional) absorption" (Koorsmeyer)


26.    Definition of aes quality given so far too broad

         a.      Having an aesthetic quality = possessing a pleasing or displeasing perceptual appearance

27.    Aesthetic pleasure needs also to be disinterested and disembodied


28.    Disinterested: Aes pleasure taken in object itself, for its own sake, not to satisfy some other desire

         a.      E.g., If a farmer get pleasure from the visual appearance of her field because it indicates she will get a rich harvest, not an aesthetic response

         b.      Pleasure needs to come simply from perceptual appearance itself

         c.      Not pleasure from it satisfying independent, pre-existing desires

         d.      Disinterested does not mean uninterested, only that interest not due to some personal advantage to be gained

                   i.       Like a disinterested judge

                   ii.      Put aside our own practical aims and desires

                   iii.     Take pleasure only in perceptual appearances of object

         e.      Sound of snowmobile while skiing in the woods obnoxious or delightful?


29.    Two: Disembodied: Pleasure must be disembodied pleasure so only sights/sounds can give aes pleasure and not taste, touch, and smell (since too bodily)

         a.      Worries about allowing aes qualities in experience of proximate senses of taste, smell and touch

         b.      “Many philosophers have thought should keep distinct pleasures arising from eating, smelling and touching from aesthetic qualities we find in sights and sounds”

         c.      Reason sensory experience being pleasing/displeasing for own sake not sufficient to give it aes qualities

                   i.       Soothing tactile sensations of a warm bath

                   ii.      Physical pleasures of sex

                   iii.     Highly pleasant for own sake

                   iv.     We don’t describe them as involving aes qualities

                            (1)    An appeal to a common practice (of aestheticians but not ordinary people?) and it might be a dubious one

                   v.      Nor group them with things that we do enjoy aesthetically, such as artworks

                            (1)    Objection: We don’t group going to sit on the beach with artworks either but it involves aesthetic pleasure

         d.      Difference is that pleasures of proximate senses–typically–felt as bodily sensations

                   i.       Pleasures of sight/hearing are not

         e.      Pleasure of watching a gazelle not felt directly in any particular region of our body

         f.       Pleasures of warm bath are felt directly in more or less localized regions of the body

                   i.       How is pleasure of warm bath localized in region of body?

                   ii.      Why should it matter whether pleasure is localized in region of body, or even if it is felt as a bodily pleasure, to whether or not it is aesthetic?

         g.      Pleasure involved in aes qualities transcend the body; disembodied pleasure


30.    Aesthetic quality: A visual or auditory appearance that is pleasing or displeasing for its own sake (final definition)

         a.      An appearance is a relational property between a perceiver and an object; so the aesthetic quality is not intrinsic to the thing itself, but a feature of its relation to the perceiver


Study questions for Parsons, Aesthetics & Nature Introduction & Ch 1

1.      Is the aes appreciation of nature important for respect for nature? Is it important for flourishing as a human being?

2.      What is the difference between thinking nature is that which is uninfluenced by humans and thinking nature is that which is not the product of human agency? Give an example of the former that is not an example of the latter. Are there any example of nature that is uninfluenced by humans? Why might one think there are not?

3.      Parsons gives three reasons for why it was harder to think of nature as beautiful prior to the 18th century. Identify two of those reasons.

4.      How is a sublime landscape different from a beautiful one?

5.      What does it mean to say pleasure needs to be disinterested if it is to be aesthetic pleasure? Given an example of pleasure at looking at a farm field that is not disinterested pleasure and thus not aesthetic.

6.      Does Parsons allow that aesthetic pleasure can be obtained from each of the five senses? Explain how this relates to his idea that aesthetic pleasure must be ‘disembodied’.