Ronald Hepburn, Trivial and Serious in Aes App of Nature (1993)



1.Aes app of both art and nature can be more/less serious

         a.      N.O and art objects can be

                   i.       Hastily and unthinkingly perceived

                            (1)    Oh yeah that’s a painting/van Gogh or a bird

                   ii.      Or perceived with full and thoughtful attention.

                            (1)    That’s Van Gogh’s wheat field he painted three weeks before he cut off his ear

                            (2)    That’s a wood stork, an endangered species, look at the black stripes on the wing


2.      Criteria for distinguishing trivial and serious more available for art than nature

         a.      Art criticism and phil study of arts has long history, practice which give us criteria (despite internal disputes in art criticism)

         b.      With nature have less guidance, in part due to comparative neglect of natural beauty in recent aesthetics

                   i.       Endless framing choices with nature (p. 66)


3.      For policy reasons (at least) it is important to dist trivial from serious aes app of nature

         a.      If seek to prevent degradation of areas of “outstanding natural beauty” matters greatly what account we can give of the appreciation of that beauty

         b.      How nature’s aes value can be set alongside competing values involved in industry, commerce and urban expansion

4.      If app of natural beauty is to have high value, must be able to show that more is involved there than mere

         a.      Pleasant, unfocused enjoyment of a picnic place,

         b.      Fleeting/distanced impression of countryside through a tourist-coach window

         c.      Or obligatory visits to standard viewpoints/snapshot-points

5.      Are a-c trivial aes app and high value stuff serious? Yes

6.      But a-c seem to me to be important for policy, even if somewhat trivial?

ROLE OF THOUGHT (notice he uses ‘thought’ not ‘knowledge’)

7.      Duality of sensuous and thought components in much aes app of nature

         a.      Sensuous immediacy (in pure cases one is taken aback by sky color or rolling away of mist from landscape)

         b.      Most often an element of thought is present

                   i.       Where implicitly compare/contrast here with elsewhere, actual with possible, present with past

                   ii.      Implicit as need be no verbalizing or self-conscious complexity in the experience

         c.      Thought element is undeniable

8.      Thought can’t reasonably be held (in general and as such) to fight with aes character of an experience

         a.      E.g., fall of a leaf: watch w/o thought, may or may not be moving/exciting aes object, but robbed of its poignancy, message of summer gone, symboling all falling including ourselves; this autumn linked to innumerable other autumns and to cycle of seasons

         b.      Thought element brings analogies to bear on concrete particulars

         c.      E.g., flight of swifts, wheeling, screaming; thought added that they have just returned from Africa, a huge journey, seeming frailness, frantic, restless frightening burning up of energy, in ceaseless motion

9.      Thought is fused with perception (of tiny bird) and feeling

         a.      Union/fusion, overall modification of awareness

         b.      Feeling and thought elements and perception all interact

         c.      Example: Bring in metaphysical or religious background, nature as divinely created or as uncreated, enigmatically there

                   i.       Even this thought not externally juxtaposed to perception of natural object



11.    **Seriousness/depth does not necessarily correlate with intensity/fullness of thought content

12.    Some thoughts (e.g., causal explan of particle physics) might not enrich, but neutralize, or fight and fail to fuse with perceptual content or even might trivialize

         a.      Hepburn thinks thought needs to fuse with the perceptual content to be relevant/helpful

13.    No obligation to think in “perception-transcending” ideas/explanations

         a.      E.g., thinking of the rock the valley is made of at the molecular level

         b.      Thinking in what fragments or overwhelms or dissolves aes perception is not appropriate 71

         c.      To destroy it can’t be to deepen it



15.    Rejects idea that aes exp not properly concerned with how things actually are and concern only with immediate given perceptual qualities the “sensuous surface”

         a.      Such a limitation avoids many problems but is unacceptably thin version of aes app of nature

         b.      Falling autumn leaf becomes small fluttering reddish brown material object

16.    Best is a mean between these two extreme views of aes experience

         a.       About the perception-transcending substructure of objects

         b.      Excludes all thought and focus on sensuous immediacy only

17.    Thought up to point it takes away from perception

         a.      Acceptable ideal for serious aes perception found by encouraging ourselves to

         b.      Enhance the thought load almost to point, but not beyond, at which it begins to overwhelm the vivacity of the particular perception


         c.      How to dist trivial from serious in both perception and reflection (thought)

18.    Perception serious/trivial : attentive/inattentive, discriminating or undiscriminating, lively/lazy;

         a.      Doors of perception can need cleansing

                   i.       Did you notice that vulture overhead? Turkey or black?

         b.      Conventions and simplification of popular perception can need resisting

19.    Reflective component can be feeble or stereotyped, individual, original or exploratory, immature or confused, based on a metaphysically untenable thought

         a.      Idyllic romanticized view of nature (ignore nature red in tooth and claw)

         b.      See deer as Bambi

         c.      This rainbow was placed here for me (self-indulgence)

20.    Trivializes when narrow aes response to a minimally reflective, passive perception


21.    1ST APPROXIMATION (he questions this at the end)

22.    Trivial to extent distorts, ignores, suppresses truth about objects

         a.      Feels or thinks about them in way falsify how nature really is


23.    Fear thought will destroy aesthetic delight

         a.      If have agreeable aes exp–perhaps trivial–don’t think too hard about thought component, for aes delight will dissipate and have to work hard to regain at a deeper more serious level what one possessed at a more superficial one.



25.    Trivial to see nature from ready-made standard views (pull-offs in National Parks)

26.    Trivial to see oneself as a detached viewer; deeper to see oneself as a part of nature

         a.      Seriousness deepens when realize I am one with, part of nature

         b.      Don’t simply look out upon nature for we are part of the nature and where we are looking from is nature too

27.    Serious aes app of nature is necessarily also self-exploration

         a.      For energies, principles regularities and contingencies of nature sustain our embodied life and awareness as well

28.    Trivial to believe that nature has univocal, invariable expressive qualities; for with less conventional thought or different contexts these qualities can be “endlessly modified”



30.    Idea that aes exp of nature is founded on variety of illusions and can never be serious

31.    Aes exp of nature is unstable, wholly dependent on anthropomorphic factors such as scale, viewpoint perspective (Godlovitch’s scale objection)

         a.      Mountain we app for majesty, stability is on different time scale as fluid as the ripples on a lake

         b.      Put the distinctive natural object in a wider context in environment and the aes quality you enjoy vanishes

         c.      You shudder in awe at base of cliff towering above you; look at cliff from aircraft at 30,000 feet, and awe strikes one as misplaced, theatrical, exaggerated, even childish

         d.      How can exp be serious if so readily undermined?

32.    This happens in art exp too (only app under certain conditions) and it doesn’t seem to undermine art’s worth when conditions for its proper app are fulfilled

         a.      Too remote view point or too distant listening point can ruin impact of picture or performance of music

         b.      W/o sympathetically preparing one’s mental state many works of art can strike one as grotesque, comical

         c.      There are conditions of satisfactory art exp that must be met

         d.      So too with satisfactory aes exp of nature

                   i.       Is this in conflict with Budd’s freedom/relativism claims?

         e.      That the conditions are sometimes not met, doesn’t undermine the worth of the appreciation when they are met.

33.    Skeptical idea here assumes that one viewpoint has authority

         a.      View from aircraft allegedly shows what cliff is really like

                   i.       Shows that awe misplaced

         b.      To dissipate majesty of stable mountain, skeptical critic may appeal to universality of change and flux

34.    These are taken to annul/destroy our serious app of perceptual qualities of a self-selected fragment (artificially isolated from whole)

35.    Critic is saying I know/see something you are not aware of, from my distance/height your awe is shown misplaced

36.    But you at the foot of the cliff could say something similar

         a.      You in aircraft can see a great deal, but are unable to perceive and respond to the perceptual qualities that generate the awe I feel

         b.      Such a view has its limitations too

37.    This ironical, anti-romantic, belittling, leveling reaction is favored today as an authoritative reaction (you won’t put anything over on me)

         a.      Sociological of value is needed to see why is bought by so many people

         b.      Readiness to conform to such a social trend can be a factor on side of trivialization, not seriousness

38.    Our aes exp of nature is thoroughly dependent on scale and individual viewpoint

         a.      To fail to realize how deeply would trivialize

         b.      Mature aes exp of nature realizes ones aes exp is perspectival

39.    Rejects implicit claim that one perspective, one view, one set of resultant perceived qualities takes precedence over another and so can discredit or undermine it or even all others

         a.      Rejects that one has in aes context greater authority than another

40.    Response to skeptic: Your point of view has no more authority than mine

         a.      Seems to mean that none of these perspectives are any better?

         b.      Is this a (satisfactory) reply to the (Godlovitch’s) scale objection and to idea Teton’s aren’t majestic cause dinky compared to Himalayas?

         c.      Aren’t some perspectives more appropriate?

41.    Easier to deal with art examples

         a.      Painting is made to be viewed from the distance at which see its signficant detail and overall unity; music made to be hear closely enough to occupy our auditory attention in all detail



         a.      Two elements that exert pressure in dif directions and in stressful relation

43.    One: Seriousness obtained by respect for truth, more objective truth such as sciences pursue, so long as give us thought that does not carry us beyond what we can fuse into essentially perceptual exp

         a.      Thinking in to our perceptual experience what we know to be objectively true

         b.      Glaciation as shaping a valley

         c.      Anxiety coloring our response to seeing wild animal whose predator is seldom far off

         d.      A correcting/guiding of our experience is an objetivizing movement of mind

44.    Two: Radically anti-hierarchical, anti-objetivizing trend toward ontological parity

         a.      Perceptually corrected and veridical has no stronger or more serous claim to aes attention that illusory

                   i.       The reference to illusory is troubling

                            (1)    Thinking about how a river carved a U shaped valley (rather than a V shaped one) is not serious or appropriate aes appreciation of the valley?


45.    Ends paper with dilemma: Should we say:

46.    (1) All this is a game we play with nature for enjoyment and enriching our lives and so follow whichever option promises more reward? (Reward =enjoyment?)

         a.      We are free to respect, or ignore objetivizing, option

                   i.       True; but not free to make up stuff

         b.      To feel bound to always pursue it is not really to show commitment to so-called seriousness, but to show a profound misunderstanding of the aesthetic

                   i.       Fair criticism of Carlson?

47.    Or (2) is this simply and shockingly to capitulate to the trivializers?


Below are unorganized notes



49.    Another duality: aes app of nature involves focus on nature but also on the forms/images of nature we have incorporated in ourselves

         a.      a respect for its own structures and the celebrating of those

         b.      and annexation of natural forms

50.    Other respecting concern for Nature, nature’s own forms, strictures that we seek to contemplate

         a.      More serious, the more earnest will be our regard for and respect for integrity and proper mode of being of objects, inanimate and not, in nature

         b.      Sentimentality is trivializing as falsely posits human feelings/attitudes in nonhumans, or positing failed human life/attitudes instead of successfully attained nonhuman life.

                   i.       Get rid of excesses of anthropomorphism

         c.      But exclude to much if only accept this other-respecting concern

51.    Nature as furnishing symbols for our inwardness

         a.      Human inner life been nourished by images form nature; its self articulation/development requires appropriation forms from nature

         b.      Annex these not in calculated way but imaginatively seize them and cherish their expressive aptness and use them to under ourselves

         c.      Some, not all of this, is aes contemplation/encounter

         d.      Need examples: Flower dying in late fall chill symbolizing our own frailty/dying?


52.    But Nature red in tooth an claw objection:

         a.      Respect for natural objects (perceive them as IV, affirm, rejoice in manner of being), but nature shows limited respect for its individuals

         b.      Rejoice in zebra, then hurt and saddened when lion tears zebra apart

         c.      Bleak thought of vulnerability/brevity of individual life attaches itself to perceptions of flourishing living beings and to do so is closer to the truth of things

         d.      Depth seems to rule out optimistic falsification

         e.      But we want an appreciative mode, and so can’t claim that undifferentiated awareness of natures’ dystelology must predominate in all aes exp.

                   i.       So aes app must be positive, not negative?

         f.       Muting the disturbing thought content is to move toward the trivial

         g.      A nature that can be made aes comtemplatable only by sentimentalizing, falsifying, selectivity that runs away from tooth and claw

         h.      Moves in trivializing direction and shirks the challenge of the would-be appreciator’s own creativity

         i.       Some of most poignant, animated, zestful, aes arresting movements of living beings directed at destruction of other living beings

53.    Solution here:

         a.      Celebrate nature’s as creative and destructive at same time

         b.      Sometimes can make aes app of nature more sustainable w/o falsification, by fashioning less simplistic and less inappropriately moralized view of natural processes: celebrate natures overall vitality as creative and destructive in indissolvable unity get a reflective equilib neither unqualified by melancholy nor disillusioned