Environmental aesthetics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M047-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 21, 2019, from

2. The development of environmental aesthetics

Environmental aesthetics is one of the three or four new areas of aesthetics that have been developed in the second half of the twentieth century. And, although it has emerged as a major field of study only recently, and considers the aesthetic appreciation of human as well as natural environments, it has roots in earlier traditions concerning the aesthetic experience of nature. Eighteenth-century landscape aesthetics together with notions such as the sublime and the picturesque have exercised considerable influence on its development (see Nature, aesthetic appreciation of). Nonetheless, there are important differences in emphasis between eighteenth-century landscape aesthetics and current environmental aesthetics, differences that stem in part from the fact that after reaching its climax at the end of that century, the former went into gradual decline and by the twentieth century was almost totally eclipsed by the philosophy of art. Thus, to some extent environmental aesthetics had to be fashioned anew in the second half of the twentieth century.

The twentieth-century development of environmental aesthetics was strongly influenced by two factors, one theoretical and one practical. The former was the exclusive focus of twentieth-century philosophical aesthetics on art; and the latter was the public concern for ’the aesthetic quality of the environment’ that emerged in the second half of that century. Both factors helped, first, to broaden the scope of environmental aesthetics beyond that of earlier landscape aesthetics, which concentrated primarily on sublime and picturesque scenery, and, second, to set the central philosophical issue of environmental aesthetics. The scope of environmental aesthetics was broadened by the exclusive focus of philosophical aesthetics on art, since this, de facto, excluded from mainstream aesthetics everything else, leaving it to environmental aesthetics. The scope was broadened by the public concern for the state of the environment, since this concern was not simply for preserving natural scenery, but also about the aesthetic condition of the everyday human environment. Thereby, the central philosophical issue of environmental aesthetics was set in large measure by the apparently dramatic contrast between that which had become the focus of public concern, the everyday environment – and that which had become the sole focus of philosophical aesthetics – works of art.

Citing this article:
Carlson, Allen. The development of environmental aesthetics. Environmental aesthetics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M047-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

Related Articles