Parsons, Aesthetics & Nature



2.      Distinguishes ways of relating to nature

         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?

         c.      Ned thinks aes appreciation of nature required both for respect for nature and for human flourishing

                   i.       If one fails to appreciate natural beauty

                   ii.      One is not properly relating to nature

                            (1)    One is failing to respect nature

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

                                      (a)    Is it also an ethical failure?

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

                            (1)    That is, the aes appreciation of nature is essential to human flourishing



2.      Discussion of various meaning of nature

3.      Nature might mean

         a.      Unmodified (not influenced) by human activity

         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)    Similar to Jamieson’s idea that nature is what is not a product of humans

         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

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

4.      Objections

         a.      None left as all influenced by humans

         b.      Never was any nature as humans are fundamentally part of nature and so nature does not pick anything out

5.      Need turn ‘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.      Concept of beauty also ambiguous

7.      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?

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

9.      Beauty in this sense is too narrow

         a.      Narrative (literature, stories, etc) need have no perceptual appearance yet they have aesthetic qualities

         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


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



12.    Beautiful mountains and animals now a paradigm of beauty

         a.      Not always so

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

         a.      Nature as a paradigm of beauty seem alien

14.    Three reasons

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

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

16.    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

17.    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.”


18.    A lessening of each of these features let to new appreciation of nature in 18th century, 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 tractional religious ways of thinking about mountains

19.    Picturesque: New concept of the picturesque emerged and let 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

20.    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

21.    Summary

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

         b.      To beauty as irregular picturesque and terrifying sublime landscapes


22.    Aesthetic quality

23.    To avoid the controversies about “beauty” lets talk about nature’s “aesthetic qualities”

24.    Aesthetic qualities have to do with

         a.      Perception, specifically, sense perception

         b.      Primarily how things look or sound

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

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

26.    Two questions/worries

27.    One: Can’t aes response be in between or neutral?

28.    Two: 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)


29.    Definition of aes quality too broad

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

30.    Aesthetic pleasure needs also to be disinterested and disembodied

31.    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?

32.    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 though 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)    This is an appeal to common practice and a dubious one at that

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

                            (1)    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?

         g.      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?

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

33.    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



2.      Aes qualities (elegant, graceful, hideous, sublime) have three elements

         a.      Sensory element (how looks sounds)

                   i.       Elegant if array of shapes and colors and sounds certain way

         b.      Affective element (having to do with desires); delight in sensory appearance for its own sake

         c.      Thought component

3.      Thought

         a.      Not just anything in the mind (like warm feeling from bath or having a visual sensation of blue or having an emotion)

         b.      Must involve “propositions” (statements) that are true or false

                   i.       E.g. it rained

         c.      Different kinds of thoughts involving a proposition: To hope it will rain tomorrow, to believe it rained yesterday, to want it to rain and to imagine it is raining

4.      What is role of thought in aes experience? Is experience of aes qualities just sensation (looking or listening) with no role for thought?


5.      Thoughts can be infused with experience of raw sensation and pleasure we get in large part due to thought

6.      Most of looking and listening we do involves experience of sensation in close conjunction with all sorts of thinking

         a.      And the thought is important to the pleasure we experience

7.      Hepburn leaf falling example p. 20

         a.      Falling leaf infused with thoughts of transience and change makes the leaf look poignant


8.      When appreciate aes qualities in part because of thought, it is still the perceptual appearance we find pleasing, not the though itself

         a.      We could find the thought itself pleasing (thought of transience and change pleasing)

         b.      But with aes appreciation of nature, it is perceptual appearance in which we delight, infused with and modified by thoughts of transience and change

                   i.       Leaf looks pregnant with larger significance because of the thought component we bring to it

         c.      How thought gets infused

                   i.       Beliefs: Every living thing dies

                   ii.      Imagination: Imagine leaf veins as blood vessels or imagine ourselves falling into oblivion


9.      Different possible sources of these thought component

10.    Natural science might be source of thoughts about appearances of nature

         a.      Geology, biology, natural history tell us about natural world

         b.      Examples

                   i.       Ugly bat a marvelous sonar flying machine

                   ii.      Venus fly trap is a carnivore now looks deadly

11.    History a source of thoughts

         a.      As view a natural area imagine past events (Gettysburg battle fields) and long gone inhabitants (prairie grass under thundering herds of buffalo)

12.    Leaving realm of facts

13.    Cultural myths and legends and narratives of religious traditions

         a.      Assign meaning and significance to natural events

         b.      Example: Lightening as wrath of Zeus

         c.      These stories can infuse our perceptual experience of nature, whether believe in them or only imagine the events they describe

                   i.       Okay if only imagine them, not okay if believe them?

         d.      Seeing natural things as symbols of cherished cultural values

                   i.       Wilderness and Bald Eagle as symbol of American Freedom

14.    Fictional narratives as source of thought component

         a.      A particular falls where Butch Cassidy and Sundance kid jumped

         b.      Personal imaginative narrative

                   i.       Brady’s imagining a tree with thick ridged bark as a ‘seasoned old man”

                   ii.      See rock as a giant’s head

                   iii.     Cloud as a basket of washing

                   iv.     Hear wind as expression of nature’s anger



16.    What if people bring different thoughts to bear that result in different or incompatible aes evaluation of same natural phenomena? A problem?

17.    Sky example

         a.      Penny, imagines battle of Gods, perceives sadness

         b.      Sam, views sky in terms of astronomy, perceives delight in sublime vastness

         c.      Fred, just sees patterns of lights (not even as from stars) sees sky as delicate

         d.      Each has different aes response to same natural thing


18.    How ought we appreciate nature aesthetically?

         a.      What place does correctness or appropriateness have in aes appreciation of nature?

         b.      Is one of the above more correct or more appropriate or all equally valid?

         c.      Are there normative standards for better and worse appreciation of nature?

19.    Post modern view is Anything goes: Bring any thought you like to aes appreciation of nature

         a.      When people disagree over aes character of natural item, often because differ in imaginative associations they bring and none is better or worse

20.    Post modernism in literary theory

         a.      Literary work does not posses an inherent meaning (e.g., perhaps one assigned by author) that reader tries to understand

         b.      Meaning of work created in act of reading as reader brings various associations

         c.      Reader creates the text, so she is free to employ whatever materials she wants

21.    Post modern view of nature appreciation:

         a.      We don’t create nature when appreciate it but we create its meaning and significance and aesthetic qualities?



22.    Benefits of post modern approach

         a.      Aes appreciation nature is free and stimulating, as unlimited number of ways to aes appreciate it

         b.      Little chance get bored

         c.      Open ended character makes it more personally rewarding as we both give meaning to the thing and develop our own attitudes, values, and beliefs

         d.      Our appreciation of nature displays and shapes our inward life

         e.      Gives us the freedom to maximize our aes enjoyment


23.    Ambiguity in characterization of PM view

         a.      Anything goes, or

         b.      Maximize aes enjoyment



25.    Doesn’t seem to work for aes appreciation of art, including literary works

         a.      Reading Harry Potter as if it was about a transsexual, whose sex change operation gave him special powers, and novels written by Shakespear himself

                   i.       Whether a person believes this or is only pretending to believe this

                   ii.      Whether reading the text that way increases aesthetic merit for person or not

                   iii.     Seems inappropriate

         b.      Literary interpretations have a great deal of leeway, but we don’t take seriously interpretations that distort nature of the work to this extent

                   i.       Not a serious interpretation of the work

                   ii.      Doesn’t really tell us how good the novel is

26.    There are normative standards for artworks

         a.      Not anything goes

         b.      Some ways of thinking about artwork are simply incorrect or inappropriate

27.    Rejecting anything goes does not commit us to single true meaning only that there are limits to acceptable interpretations


28.    Argument that art appreciation has normative standards, but nature appreciation does not

         a.      Argument that though not anything goes for art appreciation, anything goes for nature appreciation

29.    Nature appreciation different art appreciation as no informal or formal criticism of nature like there is for art

         a.      We have practice of art criticism

                   i.       Informal: Individuals come together and discus merits of books and films

                   ii.      Formal: Professional critics with training and experience write formal appraisals for publication

         b.      Is there nature criticism?

                   i.       Is there debate and appraisal where different judgments about aes character of nature are evaluated?

                   ii.      People do delight in mtn peaks and revile in look of swamps but do so on own or very informal contexts

                            (1)    “No clubs or journals where the aes merits of dif peaks debated or systematically explored”

         c.      Reply:

                   i.       Sierra club slide shows

                            (1)    People talk about special places they went and describe them

                   ii.      Nature writing and photography

                   iii.     It is true that not much of a critical nature is said, but people don’t talk about bad books much either

                   iv.     Unlike with movies we don’t give one to four stars to natural places as does say Roger Ebert or local movie reviewers to moviews

                   v.      We do have special places that we take people to

         d.      Because artists often dispute criticisms of their work this explains why critical disputes about aesthetic merits arise more naturally and frequently with art

                   i.       Nature can’t speak up and so disputes about aes merits of nature less frequent


30.    Analogy with art argument: If normative standards for art, why not for nature?

         a.      Arbitrary to treat art and nature differently (one anything goes and other not) unless some relevant difference can be pointed to

         b.      If it is bizarre to think it okay to appreciate an artwork in terms of a fictitious story about its origins

         c.      Why isn’t it bizarre when do this with nature (e.g. conceptualizing the night sky in terms of stories of Greek myth)

31.    So instead of an exercise in imagination, or an exploration of our own beliefs and attitudes, ought to approach nature appreciation as an attempt to evaluate the object

32.    We ought to develop a body of nature criticism


33.    Difference art and nature that might justify only art having normative standards

         a.      Art has a creator with an intention that may be thought to fix the meaning so one can get it right or wrong, where as no such intention behind natural beauty that could fix its meaning.


34.    3 ethical arguments against anything goes (post modern approach)

35.    One: Anything goes nature appreciation fails to respect nature

         a.      Treating nature as a blank slate on which we can project any associations manifests a lack of respect for nature

         b.      Narcissistic absorption in our own interests

         c.      A failure to recognize and understand the other’s reality

         d.      Simply using nature as a means to get our “aesthetic kicks”

         e.      Examples

                   i.       Looking at the Tetons as giant breasts

                   ii.      Imagining a falling star as a message from one’s lover

         f.       A moral virtue to respect natural objects by appreciating them on their own terms instead of as props for our self indulgent fantasies

36.    Two: Anything goes nature appreciation has harmful consequences

         a.      Film Bambi led to an over sentimental attitude toward deer and this makes it hard for land managers to check deer populations that are overrunning local ecosystems

37.    Three: Anything goes appreciation of nature undermines aesthetic preservationism (the idea we can use aesthetic merit of natural area as reason for preserving them)

         a.      Arctic National Wildlife refuge

                   i.       U.S. President Jimmy Carter judges it to be a place of "solitude, unmatched beauty, and grandeur"

                   ii.      Former U.S. Interior Secretary Gail Norton regards the refuge as a "Godforsaken mosquito-infested swamp shrouded in frozen darkness half the year,"

         b.      No way to resolve this debate; they each are correct

         c.      Eagle a symbol of freedom or of “predatory elitism”

         d.      Can’t use aesthetic criteria for protection if no better or worse aesthetic judgments


38.    If reject anything goes, not all thought components in aes appreciation are equally appropriate

         a.      Some lead us astray or distort what we are tying to appreciate.