Patricia Matthews, “Scientific Knowledge and the Aes Appreciation of Nature” (2002)


1.       Mathews a defender of Carlson’s scientific account of aes appreciation of nature

          a.       Carlson’s science account shows both how nature appreciation is deep and complex and also how the seeming mundane can become interesting given scientific facts about them


2.       Matthews response to the problem that there is an huge amount of empirical/scientific information/categories that could be brought to bear in the aesthetic appreciation of nature

          a.       Can limit the number of relevant scientific and empirical categories

          b.       Relevant when it affects perception of the object


3.       When are (and what makes) empirical knowledge and categories relevant/important to the aes appreciation of nature?

          a.       When they affect how we perceive the object (Ned’s language)

                    i.        If scientific or empirical categories don’t affect way we perceive the object, then we no longer have basis for insisting on their relevance to aes app

                    ii.       E.g., chemical composition of a tree will under ordinary perceptual circumstances not contribute to how we perceive the tree.

          b.       Relevant knowledge is limited to what can serve as a category for the perception of nature (p. 40)


4.       The relevant knowledge/category gives us perceptual norms

          a.       Knowledge tells us what things are and allows us to place aesthetic object in certain categories rather than others

          b.       They tell us what and how to perceive (provide aesthetic focus, tells us which properties are aesthetically relevant)

                    i.        E.g., What to expect (if something is a painting, we look for color)

                    ii.       If something is a representational painting, we looks to see if it represents realistically (and this involves a value judgment)

          c.       Indicate which features standard, contra-standard, and variable and this affects what aesthetic properties it has

5.       Examples of how categories can affect perceptual response

          a.       Picasso Guernica example (dynamic painting, restful 3 dimensional object)

          b.       Grizzly bear: dish shaped face (standard), white color (contra-standard), brown or black (variable)

                    i.        A white bear (spirit bear) will appear striking

          c.       Trees: Knowledge of trees will help us see certain features of a particular tree as standard, contra standard, and variable

                    i.        A comparably large tree of a class will strike us as grand or majestic

                    ii.       If leaves on tree normally green, then an orange and red leafed tree will be striking

          d.       Egg color/nest parasitism example

                    i.        Knowledge that eggs in the same clutch have evolved to be similar colors to avoid other birds laying their eggs in a nest will make a different colored egg appear “mysterious” or “striking” as “if viewer is let in on a secret.”


6.       Relevant knowledge must be active in the perception of the object

          a.       Must involve seeing as: We must see the object AS an instance of that category (or under that category) rather than simply having the knowledge that it belongs to that category

                    i.        “The point of making use of empirical knowledge is to perceive objects under categories, not simply to have information about objects” (40)

          b.       This constitutive role of knowledge in perception of nature is different from a tangential role of knowledge in the appreciation of nature where knowledge draws our attention to further objects/aspects of appreciation


7.       Linguistic/Associative view: We read nature

          a.       Knowledge is relevant if it is associated with the aesthetic object

          b.       A biologist with knowledge of egg color evolution does not perceive the eggs differently, but she connects the color with her knowledge

          c.       What matters is not the look of the eggs, but evolutionary story they tell

          d.       Just as in novel what counts is not the shape of the letters, but the story they tell.

          e.       But the story of the novel and egg evolution lead to very different experiences and aesthetic properties, even if the perception (understood narrowly) is not different

8.       Perceptual view

          a.       Knowledge only relevant if mobilized in the perception and affects how it appears

                    i.        Egg evolution story affects our perception of the egg and is not merely associated with it

                    ii.       What aesthetic properties it appears to have or how the non-aesthetic base properties look–e.g., does the color look brighter?

9.       Why must change in perception (narrowly construed) occur?

          a.       Perhaps change in experience broadly construed (Goldman) is enough.

          b.       What if something “looks” the same after the new knowledge but we judge it differently (judge it to possess different aesthetic properties)?

          c.       Is Matthews conception of perception is broad enough to include changes in experience and judgment about the object?

          d.       She is right that possessing the knowledge is not enough, one must use it in one’s experience or understanding or thinking about the object


10.     Explains why someone can see purple loosestrife (an invasive exotic) as beautiful even while knowing it is harmful

          a.       They need to “perceive the loosestrife” under the category of environmentally harmful and not simply have the knowledge that it is

          b.       Perceiving an aesthetic object under a category takes time and patience (as Walton notes for art categories)

          c.       One has to learn to “see the loosestrife as harmful.”

          d.       When we see/perceive the loosestrife as harmful (and not just think it so), our perception will change:

                    i.        It will either no longer appear beautiful or the quality of the beauty will change (it will be a sad or tortured beauty).

11.     Multi-colored spot on a child’s face

          a.       A beautiful mark?

          b.       Not once one (not just learns) but perceives it is a bruise of a victim of child abuse


12.     Ned’s analysis of pollution sunset case

          a.       Perhaps continue to see it or claim it is beautiful after being told its cause is pollution

          b.       But if one integrates that knowledge into one’s aesthetic experience

                    i.        Understanding that what one is seeing is sunlight reflecting off particles that damage lungs, send children and the elderly to the hospital, and acidify lakes

                    ii.       Imagining fish belly up in the creeks and the weezing sound of vulnerable people in response to pollution

                    iii.      Feel anger at the company making profits by externalizing costs onto other and at the regulators who aren’t doing their jobs

          c.       Then the experience won’t be of pure, untainted beauty (or possibly not beauty at all)

          d.       Folks who continue to experience the pollution sunset as beautiful, have not realized or taken this knowledge seriously; they have not kept it in mind or have failed to let that knowledge affect their thinking and judgment and experience of the sunset.

          e.       Matthews would simply say that they don’t “perceive” the sunset under this category of harmful.


13.     A view taken by both Carroll (who advocates a visceral emotional reaction of “being moved by nature”) and Stecker

14.     Enhancement view of the role of knowledge,

          a.       Knowledge (e.g., that colors of flowers is indicative of certain stage of spring) merely adds another layer to aesthetic appreciation, filling in gaps w/o affecting earlier layers

15.     Knowledge can also be corrective:

          a.       New knowledge can correct the aes properties we thought the object had under the “thinner, less informed” interpretation.

          b.       Additional kn provides not only richer aes appreciation but also more accurate one

16.     Can’t know if naive, uniformed aesthetic experience is veridical

          a.       Until we perceive the object (e.g., Carroll’s waterfall) under the right categories or with the right knowledge we can’t tell if the aesthetic properties we perceived under the naive, uninformed experience will be borne out or shown to be misleading in light of the more well-informed perception.

17.     Examples

          a.       A live oak that appeared sparse now appears normal or even elegant, average size now seems small, tree once perceived as grand/majestic now seems youthful, the once abnormal small leaves now appears just right

          b.       Waterfall is wonderful? (But what if it is a fake Disney world waterfall?)

          c.       Judgement of a rat as scary and disgusting may be corrected once get to know it as a sweet, loving, and harmless pet.

18.     So additional kn is required either to correct app or to confirm that our original app is correct

19.     Because of this the incorporation of scientific knowledge is necessary for well justified aesthetic responses


20.     False belief/categorization can be okay

21.     Allows that sometimes can appreciate an object and do so under the wrong category and not make appreciative mistakes

          a.       Carroll: appreciate the size and grandeur of what we believe to be a giant fish (when really it is a whale)

          b.       Matthews says not every bit of knowledge is relevant to ever aes property of the thing knowledge is about and getting some information wrong need not result in a false aes assessment


22.     Matthews response to objection that there are multiple ways to correctly (scientifically) categorize objects in nature

23.     These different categories/ways of appreciating can lead to different and conflicting aesthetic properties

          a.       This deer is graceful as an animal, but awkward for a deer

          b.       Parsons’ Venus fly trap example: As a plant it is grotesque, as a carnivorous plant it is not.

24.     Matthews thinks this a equally a problem for art categories

          a.       Need to find right level of generality in which to categorize object

                    i.        Painting? Cubist painting?

          b.       She rejects Stecker’s claim that categories of art fully prescribe features relevant to aesthetic experience or art while they do not for nature.

25.     Unlike art, nature has surface depth (tree’s inside is aes relevant and this is not usually true for art)

26.     Part of nature’s appeal that the range of relevant knowledge for nature will be greater than for art

          a.       A very broad range of knowledge is relevant, but this is a function of aesthetic richness of nature and not a problem with the cognitive model


27.     Relation between a bit of knowledge and aesthetic properties is empirical and experiential

          a.       We perceive the object under that bit of knowledge or category and discover its aesthetic properties

          b.       We can’t derive the aesthetic properties from simply knowing the relevant bit of knowledge and/or categories but must perceive the aesthetic object with that knowledge or under that category