Environmental aesthetics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M047-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 18, 2018, from

Article Summary

Environmental aesthetics is one of the major new areas of aesthetics to have emerged in the last part of the twentieth century. It focuses on philosophical issues concerning appreciation of the world at large as it is constituted not simply by particular objects but also by environments themselves. In this way environmental aesthetics goes beyond the appreciation of art to the aesthetic appreciation of both natural and human environments. Its development has been influenced by eighteenth-century landscape aesthetics as well as by two recent factors: the exclusive focus of twentieth-century philosophical aesthetics on art, and the public concern for the aesthetic condition of environments that developed in the second half of that century. Both factors broadened the scope of environmental aesthetics beyond that of traditional aesthetics, and both helped to set the central philosophical issue of the field, which is due in large measure to the differences between the nature of the object of appreciation of environmental aesthetics, the world at large and the nature of art. These differences are so marked that environmental aesthetics must begin with basic questions, such as ‘what’ and ‘how’ to appreciate. These questions have generated a number of different philosophical positions, two of which are the engagement and the cognitive approaches. The first holds that appreciators must transcend traditional dichotomies, such as subject/object, and diminish the distance between themselves and objects of appreciation, aiming at multi-sensory immersion of the former within the latter. By contrast, the second contends that appreciation must be guided by the nature of objects of appreciation and that knowledge about their origins, types and properties is necessary for serious, appropriate aesthetic appreciation. Each approach has certain strengths and weaknesses. However, although different in emphasis, they are not in direct conflict. When conjoined, they advocate bringing together feeling and knowing, which is the core of serious aesthetic experience and which, when achieved in aesthetic appreciation of different environments of the world at large, shows just how rewarding such appreciation can be.

    Citing this article:
    Carlson, Allen. Environmental aesthetics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M047-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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