The Aesthetics of the Environment

Beauty in Nature and its Role in Ethics

Aesthetical arguments have been on the ethical agenda for quite a while now. Especially the beauty of nature has inspired many a philosopher to make a passionate plea for preserving the natural environment. It should not come as a surprise that these aesthetical considerations have turned out to be a valuable asset to the plant ethical cause in particular, seeing as certain kinds of plants have always been regarded as paradigms of natural beauty.

One of the classical attempts to highlight the role that perception of nature plays in the good human life is this seminal book by Martin Seel:

  • Seel, Marin. 1991. Eine Ästhetik der Natur. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Emily Brady has contributed, amongst other things, a monograph that revolves around the concept of the sublime:

  • Brady, Emily. 2003. Aesthetics of the Natural Environment. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Brady, Emily. 2013. The Sublime in Modern Philosophy: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

To get an overview of the field of nature aesthetics, see Glenn Parson's introduction:

  • Parsons, Glenn. 2008. Aesthetics and Nature. London/New York: Continuum.

As mentioned before, all of the above tendencies are not new. However, there is one more recent development that also deserves to be mentioned at this point, viz. the emergence of landscape aesthetics as a subfield of nature aesthetics. Here, the perception of nature is discussed with an eye to untamed, potentially inhospitable landscapes (e.g. mountainsides) as well as the cultivated and more functional loci of human domicile and labour (e.g. agricultural landscapes).

In this newer research area, the works of Paolo D'Angelo and Angelika Krebs are particularly noteworthy:

  • D'Angelo, Paolo. 2009. Estetica e paesaggio. Bologna: Il Mulino.
  • Krebs, Angela. 2014. "Why Landscape Beauty Matters." Land 3: 1251-1269.
  • Krebs, Angelika. 2015. "'Ein Sommer, der bleibt' - Landschaft, Schönheit und Heimat." In Die Natur und das gute Leben. Bundesamt für Naturschutz Skripten 403, edited by Matthias Schloßberger, 50-57.

A collection of further articles on landscape aesthetics can be found in this anthology:

  • Arntzen, Sven and Emily Brady, eds. 2008. Humans in the Land: The Aesthetics and Ethics of the Cultural Landscape. Oslo: Oslo Academic Academic Press/Unipub.