Environmental aesthetics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M047-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved June 13, 2024, 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.

The development of environmental aesthetics 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 have broadened the scope of environmental aesthetics beyond that of traditional aesthetics, and both have helped to set the central philosophical issues of the field, which are 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 most basic questions, such as ‘what’ and ‘how’ to appreciate.

These questions have generated a number of different philosophical positions, which are typically classified as either noncognitive or cognitive approaches. Positions of the first type stress various kinds of emotional and feeling-related states and responses, which are taken to be the more noncognitive dimensions of aesthetic experience. By contrast, positions of the second type contend that appreciation must be guided by the nature of objects of appreciation and thus that knowledge about their origins, types and properties is necessary for serious, appropriate aesthetic appreciation.

Each of these two kinds of approach has certain strengths and weaknesses. However, recent work in environmental aesthetics, especially in the aesthetics of human environments and everyday life, demonstrates that 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, demonstrates just how rewarding such appreciation can be.

    Citing this article:
    Carlson, Allen. Environmental aesthetics, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M047-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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