Marcia Eaton, Fact and Fiction in Aes Appreciation of Nature

(JAAC, Spring 1998, Response to Emily Brady’s

“Imagination and the Aes Appreciation of Nature” in the same issue)


1.      On connection nature aes and environmental protection

         a.      If people see how beautiful ecosystems are, will tend to act in ways that better protect them and other environments

         b.      If true that positive aes response leads to care, important to learn how to generate such positive aes response

         c.      But also important to learn how to produce right care

         d.      Many actions that people see as caring for a landscape are not sustainable

                   i.       Mowing with a gas engine

                   ii.      Green lawns everywhere: “As long as people want large, green, closely mowed yards no matter what the climate or soil or water conditions, they will continue to use polluting gasoline mowers and a toxic cocktail of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.”

                            (1)    Fertilizing with chemicals that pollute ground water

2.      Eaton wants to generate aes responses to nature that will lead to sustainable care

3.      Worries: Does this lead to aesthetically better aesthetic responses or only environmentally better ones?

         a.      An instrumental view of proper/appropriate aes appreciation of nature?

                   i.       Making nature aesthetics subservient to environmental protection

                   ii.      Goes against what some take as an ideal: the autonomy of the aesthetic

                   iii.     Eaton is one of the main aestheticians who integrate aesthetics with other types of value, so she is not interested in “autonomy of the aesthetic”

         b.      Eaton appears to be claiming that appropriate aes responses to nature must lead to the protection of nature

                   i.       That an aes response to nature that led to destruction of nature was an inappropriate one

                   ii.      Example: That a positive aes response to green lawns is aes inappropriate, because it is env. harmful?


         c.      On the other hand, perhaps Eaton is only claiming that it is good environmentally (and thus good overall) to try to inculcate in people an aesthetic of nature that is environmentally friendly rather than environmentally harmful.

                   i.       And that this says nothing about whether such aesthetic responses are better or more appropriate aesthetically.


4.      Contrasts the cognitive model with Brady’s imaginative model of nature appreciation

         a.      Of course these aren’t the only alternative models

5.      Carlson’s cognitive model

         a.      Since appreciation of nature must be directed at nature, aes appreciation of nature must be directed by knowledge about it, knowledge from the different environmental sciences

                   i.       W/o scientific knowledge, one can’t be certain that one’s response is to nature and not something else

                   ii.      Why isn’t common sense knowledge of the object enough?

6.      Many feel Carlson’s model is over intellectualized

7.      Brady thinks Carlson doesn’t account for significance of imagination in experience of nature

         a.      Imagination has been given short shrift in western thought and Brady wants to rehabilitate it for aes appreciation of nature

         b.      Brady worries that cognitive restrictions precludes access to richness of imagination’s insight

8.      Eaton wants to connect Carlson’s cognitive model with Brady’s imagination model

         a.      Robert Fudge also does this in his essay



         a.      Like Kant, Brady thinks “free play of imagination” is central to human aes pleasure

         b.      Kant thought involves aes disinterested in sense

                   i.       Put aside ordinary scientific, ethical, or personal interests and respond to objects as we please

                   ii.      Allow imagination full rein

                   iii.     Can think of tree as a person, animal, tower, or mountain

                   iv.     This freedom gives us tremendous pleasure

         c.      Eaton thinks that Brady agrees with Kant, but it is clear that Brady rejects many of the above characterizations of proper use of imagination


10.    Sustainability requires attention to artistic culture/uses of imagination

         a.      Eaton thinks that in order to create/preserve sustainable landscapes, must pay attention to how fiction (and artistic culture in general) shape human attitudes toward environment

         b.      Fiction (objects created by appeal to the imagination) plays a huge role in shaping a culture’s response to nature

11.    Eaton stresses the importance of imagination for aesthetics and for env. protection

         a.      Imagination can intensify experience

         b.      Thinking about destruction of remaining old growth surely requires imagination

         c.      Need rich imagination to develop new metaphors for designing sustainable lands

12.    But the type of imagination that is required is informed imagination

         a.      Imagination in the aesthetic appreciation of nature that is not constrained or informed by scientific knowledge is dangerous and likely or possibly lead to env. destruction                                                                                                       



         a.      If goal is environmental protection or more generally?

14.    Knowledge about how natural objects function in particular contexts plays a major role in appreciation of nature (Eaton thinks Brady rejects this)

15.    Blackened forest are ugly example:

         a.      Preventing forests fires because burned areas are considered ugly meant that plants that need burning become rarer (e.g., long-leaf pine ecosystems)

         b.      Ignorance of the function of fires one the trees or soils of certain ecosystems has led to mismanagement of forests

                   i.       Even when providing aes value was a goal

         c.      Here imagination can be useful if guided by knowledge: Imagine what forest looked like before fire and what it will look like through various stages of succession

16.    Worries

         a.      Teaching people to aes appreciation blackened forests (which presumably involves teaching them the useful functions of fire in some ecosystems) is important for env. protection

         b.      But not clear this shows that such information is aes relevant

         c.      That lack of functional knowledge of nature leads to aesthetic responses that promote bad environmental management does not show these functional concerns are relevant to the proper aes appreciation of nature



18.    Examples of potential troubling imaginings

         a.      Small thicket (as a child) was a jungle where kids fought off variety of foreign enemies

         b.      Any harm in thinking that poisonous snakes lurked under blackberry bushes?

                   i.       Env. harm of people fearing, hating, demonizing and killing off snakes

         c.      Any harm in thinking that not only an enemy soldier but tiger might spring from behind elm tree?

         d.      Who really cares that tigers and elms don’t share same biotic patches?

                   i.       More informed (better?) imagination would be that a cougar might spring from elm tree

19.    Brady’s own imaginative flights Eaton sees as probably “harmless, even charming”

         a.      Tree: Tree clefts as mountains/valleys; Tree as seasoned old man, deep wrinkles; Tree as stalwart; So she respects it like wise old sage

         b.      Lamb: Truth about innocence; Contemplating fresh whiteness small fragile stature; Images of purity and naivete


20.    Imaginings directed by fiction can lead to very harmful env. attitudes

21.    Bambi (1923, Felix Salten’s book and the Disney’s classic movie)

         a.      We can’t look at deer and see them truthfully

                   i.       In certain contexts, deer are an overpopulated, dominating species that destroy habitat for themselves and for other species which are in decline

         b.      All we see is Bambi

                   i.       Sweet innocent gentle deer

                   ii.      Never kill anything (which is false)

                   iii.     A sentimental image that is hard to shake

         c.      Makes it hard for forest managers to convince public we need to reduce numbers of deer


22.    Swamps

         a.      Stories about swamps as places inhabited by monsters, so hard to get people to appreciate wetlands

23.    Big bad wolf stories

         a.      In part responsible for eradication of wolves in the beginning of the 20th centruy



         a.      Proper use of imagination and Brady’s attempt to limit imagination requires guidance by a cognitive dimension

25.    Examples: Is it appropriate to

         a.      Respond to little white lamb by reflecting on innocence

         b.      To imagine a tree as stalwart man (or haggard witch)

         c.      Do they avoid being shallow or naive?

         d.      Is this “imagining well” or poorly?

26.    Eaton claims that one can’t answer these questions w/o relying on type of cognitive model Carlson insists on

         a.      Brady’s “imagining well” presupposes knowledge

                   i.       It makes no sense unless know what the object is one is talking about, and as much as possible about it and its context

27.    Worry: Brady (in her book) provides a number of criteria for distinguishing better and worse uses of imagination that don’t rely explicitly on such knowledge

         a.      Do they all fail?

         b.      How does scientific knowledge guide allow us to distinguish between better and worse uses of imagination?


28.    Imagination must be based upon, tempered by, directed and enriched by solid ecological knowledge

29.    Or should be based on ecological knowledge if we hope to preserve/design sustainable landscapes

         a.      So is Eaton’s claim that imagination must be directed by knowledge only valid if we accept this instrumental environmental role for aes appreciation of nature?

         b.      Or is it valid even for aes appreciation not aimed at this purpose?

30.    If sustainable environments are goal, then fiction/imagination must be at the service of fact


         a.      Sometimes ignorance of scientific knowledge is bad for aesthetically based environmental protection (as Eaton’s examples show)

         b.      But false beliefs about nature can be environmentally beneficial

                   i.       Belief in “delicate balance of nature” is good environmentally, though disputed in ecology

                   ii.      Belief that driving one species extinct will lead to ecological collapse is good for species preservation, but ecologically dubious

                   iii.     Seeing nature as filled with conscious souls, spirits like ours (Native American belief that rocks are “alive”), might have good env. consequences and thus on Eaton’s view generate good aes response

                            (1)    But they are clearly mistaken, scientifically speaking


32.    Grants existence of societies with sustainable relations to nature where scientific knowledge plays no role

         a.      So importance of knowledge-based aesthetic response to nature not universal for an adequate nature aes

                   i.       Aes planning is site specific

                   ii.      Non technological societies work quite well w/o our science

         b.      Example of native Congo person dancing in forest “alone” at night, but claims he is really dancing with the trees and the moon

                   i.       This is an imaginative interaction with nature not based on science but it is ecologically beneficial

         c.      Eaton is not worried about imagination in such cultural aes responses to nature

         d.      But for us, where stewardship is viewed almost exclusively as developing adequate technology, we must insist that imagination is based on solid knowledge



34.    Doesn’t insisting upon scientific basis for appreciation of nature take all the fun out of it?

         a.      “I just want to read Jane Austen’s work; I don’t want to learn about her life or the techniques she employs in her writing”

         b.      “I just want to enjoy nature; I don’t want to have to learn all about it and how it works”

35.    No; Eaton claims scientific knowledge typically enhances aes appreciation

         a.      She does not believe that knoweldge kills aes pleasure

         b.      Looking closely does not decrease but increase aes expereince

         c.      Knowledge of a variety of species likely to draw one’s attention to a variety of colors, not detract from them

         d.      Sometimes a sense of wonder, mystery, comes only when have knowledge

         e.      Example: Minnesota trout lily grows only in two counties and nowhere else on earth

         f.       Even knowing the names of flowers can lead one to see them

                   i.       Seeing is essential to aes appreciation

                   ii.      Seeing is more likely if we look for it and we look for it only if we know where and what to look for

36.    Even if it were true that knowledge takes some of fun out if it, it’s worth price

         a.      Only with knowledge will sustainable practices develop

         b.      Must be aware of possible harm of imagination



38.    Does the cognitive model deprive aes of something distinctive?

         a.      Brady: over reliance on knowledge will not provide a clearly aes frame and makes aes value hard to distinguish from other environmental values (ecological, historical, cultural)

         b.      Eaton does not think cognitive approach gives away the store to these other values

39.    Aes interest not separate from our other interests as humans

         a.      This is her response to Brady’s attempt to distinguish and separate aes response from other responses

         b.      We go back and forth between contemplating aes object and thinking about other things

40.    No need to carve out unique niche for aes

         a.      Human valuings are holistic

         b.      Rarely experience something purely aesthetically or ethically, religiously or scientifically

41.    So less worried than Brady that knowledge will get in way of aes experience



         a.      Give aes response to nature the knowledge that guides imagination so as to insure environmentally sound behavior

         b.      Develop ways of using delight humans take in flights of imagination, connected to solid cognitive understanding of what makes for sustainable environments and produce kind of attitudes/ preferences that will generate the kind of care we want