Bags of Bran

The Aesthetics of Nature
January 25, 2015, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Personal Adventures

Environmental aesthetics might not have been the discussion around your breakfast table (certainly wasn’t around mine), but it’s a field full of unexamined assumptions. Is there beauty in nature? What is the nature of beauty in nature? Is that nature beautiful? Is it possible to say “yes” meaningfully? What qualities attach to the “yes” that I want to say with gusto? If beauty exists in nature, what about truth and goodness?

The domination of the discipline of aesthetics by an interest in art had two ramifications: On the one hand, it helped to motivate a controversial philosophical position that denied the possibility of any aesthetic experience of nature whatsoever. The position held that aesthetic appreciation necessarily involves aesthetic judgments, which entail judging the object of appreciation as the achievement of a designing intellect. However, since nature is not the product of a designing intellect, its appreciation is not aesthetic (Mannison 1980). In the past nature appreciation was deemed aesthetic because of the assumption that nature is the work of a designing creator, but this assumption is simply false or at least inadequate for grounding an aesthetics of nature.

The secular side of the discussion (as reflected above) wants to find beauty in nature, but is not interested in finding truth or goodness in nature, because that would entail “a designing intellect.” I understand their objection: there is a great gulf fix’t.

Genesis 1:21 should prevent the Christian from taking that viewpoint, though the fall, curse, and flood (Genesis 3-8) have to come into the discussion at some point. It will be interesting to see what kind of effect the erosion of inerrancy, especially when discussing the opening chapters of Genesis, might have on the discussion of environmental aesthetics among Christians.

It’s another in a long line of fascinating and important topics that I’ll probably never have the time to read thoroughly on, let alone write on. But perhaps someone will.


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