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Environmental Ethics

Volume 2, Issue 4, Winter 1980

L. Duane Willard
Pages 293-310
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics19802420

On Preserving Nature’s Aesthetic Features

I consider and reject four possible arguments directed against the preservation of natural aesthetic conditions. (1) Beauty is not out there in nature, but is “in the eye ofthe beholder.” I argue that since ingredients ofnature cause aesthetic experiences, we cannot justifiably disregard and exploit nature. Preservation of aesthetic conditions is compatible with both objective and nonobjective theories of aesthetic value. (2) Frequent aesthetic disagreements bring about irresolvable disputes concerning which segments of nature to preserve. I claim that these disputes are not irresolvable. Not all disputes about nature’s aesthetic values are purely aesthetic disputes: ecological balance, community identity, historic continuity, and economics are relevant; aesthetic experts can help; and such disputes can be put to a vote. (3) Natural beauty is not important compared to nonaesthetic values of nature. I show that this is questionable. Current awareness of environmental problems includes a rapidly growing concern for natural aesthetics. Moreover, even if majority preference is for nonaesthetic uses of nature, this does not settle the question of whether we ought to preserve nature’s attractive features. (4) From neither a utilitarian nor a deontological viewpoint do we have an obligation to preserve natural aesthetic conditions for future generations. I argue that even if we do not have a strict obligation, it does not follow that it makes no moral difference whether we preserve. Not yet existing people may have no rights against us, but this does not mean that we do no wrong in polluting and destroying aesthetic conditions of the natural world in which future people will live.

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