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Environmental aesthetics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M047-3
Version: v3,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved April 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

Environmental aesthetics is one of the major new areas of aesthetics that 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 environmental aesthetics beyond 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 the 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. 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, more recent work in environmental aesthetics demonstrates that although different in emphasis, they need not be in direct conflict. When conjoined, they bring together feeling and knowing, which combination is the core of serious aesthetic experience and which, when achieved in aesthetic appreciation of different environments of the world at large, demonstrates how rewarding such appreciation can be.

The initial versions of both noncognitive and cognitive positions were developed mainly by reference to large scale natural environments. Much of the more recent work in the field has focused on human environments as well as on the spaces, places and activities of everyday life. Although each of the noncognitive and cognitive positions is employed in this research, since these two approaches need not be in conflict, especially fruitful work in this area draws on and goes beyond both approaches. In addition to the aesthetics of human environments and everyday life, another new direction in environmental aesthetics has brought together the two approaches to develop an ecological aesthetics, which is favoured by some researchers in the continental tradition, and is actively pursued by scholars in China, where ideas similar to those of the two Western approaches are combined with ecosystem health and ecological ethics to produce a powerful version of what is called ecoaesthetics. The work by Chinese aestheticians is an example of the global orientation of environmental aesthetics, which has been an aspect of the field since its inception but is especially evident in the new work in the field. This global expansion is paralleled by other new research directions that constructively relate environmental aesthetics not simply to environmental policy and practice, but also to topics such as social, political and ethical concerns, animal treatment and protection, weather and climate change and the enrichment of the quality of human life.

Citing this article:
Carlson, Allen. Environmental aesthetics, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M047-3. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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