Nature, aesthetic appreciation of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M032-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2024, from

2. Background to the present

However, as theoretical study of the aesthetics of nature declined, a new view of nature was initiated that eventually gave rise to a different kind of aesthetic appreciation. This mode of appreciation was rooted in the nature writings of Henry David Thoreau and reinforced by George Perkins Marsh’s recognition that humanity is the major cause of the destruction of nature’s beauty. It achieved its classic realization at the end of the nineteenth century in the work of the American naturalist John Muir. Muir saw all nature and especially wild nature as aesthetically beautiful and found ugliness only where nature was subject to human intrusion. These ideas strongly influenced the North American wilderness preservation movement and continue to shape the aesthetic appreciation of nature associated with contemporary environmentalism. This kind of appreciation may be called positive aesthetics and, in so far as it eschews humanity’s marks on the landscape, contrasts sharply with picturesque appreciation, with its delight in the signs of human presence. It became and remains the rival of the picturesque as the popular mode of aesthetic appreciation of nature, although popular appreciation is typically an uneasy balance of the two.

In spite of these developments in popular appreciation of nature, however, philosophical aesthetics, with few exceptions, ignored nature during the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries. Friedrich Schelling and a few thinkers of the Romantic movement dealt with it to some extent, and George Santayana and John Dewey both discussed it. But, by and large, aesthetics was dominated by an interest in art. By the mid-twentieth century, philosophical aesthetics in the analytic tradition was virtually equated with philosophy of art. Moreover, when aesthetic appreciation of nature was mentioned, it was treated, by comparison with that of art, as a messy, subjective business of little philosophical significance. In this context Ronald Hepburn’s work in the 1960s had special importance. Hepburn argued that aesthetic appreciation of nature was as significant and as rich as that of art, and that it could be, though not a carbon copy of appreciation of art, similar to that of art – shallow or deep, appropriate or not. It required serious philosophical study.

Citing this article:
Carlson, Allen. Background to the present. Nature, aesthetic appreciation of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M032-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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