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Environmental Ethics

Volume 6, Issue 1, Spring 1984

Allen Carlson
Pages 5-34

Nature and Positive Aesthetics

Positive aesthetics holds that the natural environment, insofar as it is unaffected by man, has only positive aesthetic qualities and value-that virgin nature is essentially beautiful. In spite of the initial implausibility of this position, it is nonetheless suggested by many individuals who have given serious thought to the natural environment and to environmental philosophy. Certain attempts to defend the position involve claiming either that it is not implausible because our appreciation of nature is not genuinely aesthetic, or that the position is justified in virtue of man’s limited control and understanding of the natural world or in virtue of the natural world’s divine design and origin. Such attempts are inadequate; they neither justify the position nor explain its acceptance. In order to account for positive aesthetics, we must note the intimate connection between nature appreciation and the development of natural science. An understanding of the role of scientific knowledge in the aesthetic appreciation of nature not only sheds light on the acceptance of the positive aesthetics position, but also suggests a means by which to justify it.

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