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Nature, aesthetic appreciation of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M032-3
Version: v3,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

In the Western world, aesthetic appreciation of nature and its philosophical investigation came to maturity in the eighteenth century. During that time, aestheticians found in nature an ideal object of aesthetic experience and analysed that experience in terms of disinterestedness, thereby laying the groundwork for understanding the appreciation of nature in terms of the concepts of the sublime and the picturesque. This philosophical tradition culminated with Kant, while popular aesthetic appreciation of nature continued primarily under the influence of the idea of the picturesque.

In the late twentieth century, renewed interest in the aesthetics of nature has produced various positions designed to avoid assimilating appreciation of nature to traditional models for aesthetic appreciation of art. One extreme position holds that the appreciation of nature is not in fact aesthetic, while another rejects the traditional analysis of aesthetic experience as disinterested, arguing instead that the aesthetic appreciation of nature involves engagement with nature. Other positions attempt to maintain much of the traditional conception of the aesthetic, while distinguishing aesthetic appreciation of nature from that of art by appeal to the unique character of the object of appreciation, stressing dimensions such as nature’s capacity for emotional arousal, its mysterious qualities, the role of imagination in its appreciation, the freedom that its appreciation allows, or the dependence of its appreciation on scientific knowledge.

In addition to attempting to determine the essence of the aesthetic appreciation of nature, the development of these positions has a number of ramifications, the most significant of which concern, first, the connection between aesthetic appreciation of nature and environmentalism and, second, the rise of a more general environmental aesthetics. In freeing the aesthetic experience of nature from artistic models, these positions focus appreciation on the true character of the object of appreciation: nature and its properties. The significance given to nature itself as the object of appreciation intensifies the investigation of the relationship between the aesthetic appreciation of natural environments and environmentalism. For example, some of these positions attempt to provide aesthetic appreciation of nature with a degree of objectivity that may make aesthetic considerations more effective in environmental assessment. However, the claim for the objectivity of aesthetic appreciation of natural environments as well as the contention that such appreciation is in general a powerful force for environmental preservation are topics of continuing discussion. Nonetheless, whether or not contemporary work in the aesthetics of nature gives support for environmentalism, it has yet paved the way for a more general environmental aesthetics, which examines the aesthetic appreciation of the world beyond both art and nature and is comparable to some developments in other areas of philosophy, such as environmental ethics.

Citing this article:
Carlson, Allen. Nature, aesthetic appreciation of, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M032-3. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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