Before Proceeding here please read Part 1
Aesthetics and aesthetic judgments are a source of significant contention in philosophy and each thinker on this topic has their own view on the meaning of the term. As such we will take things back to a basic formulation which is largely non-contentious. For our purposes here, the term is much more broadly encompassing going beyond any school of aesthetic thought and are instead zooming out and looking beyond art and nature into the realm of perception itself. In general, aesthetics in this context refers to the relationship between the person perceiving and the object being perceived, referring specifically to how we view the world around us. If we accept this perspective, then is seems likely that aesthetics seems to be at the centre of our worldview – and these kinds of interactions are central to understanding how perception and the value we place on the object of perception is formulated. On its own, one’s aesthetic judgments demonstrates quite well the beliefs and values at play as well as highlighting what is seen as important or unimportant. On this view there is no correct or incorrect aesthetic school of thought beyond what is seen to produce an appropriate or inappropriate perspective. In human produced works of art for example we see intent behind art work, as such there can be said to be an appropriate mode of aesthetic appreciation. But in nature it is much more difficult to ascertain this information, one cannot look to an artist for the answer to this question. Instead we must look to other sources of understanding to ask ourselves what is valuable in the experience of nature and how that value can be grounded objectively such that the value we assign nature is not seen as being merely personal and subjective. We can do this by shaping a school of aesthetic appreciation which grounds itself in the factual reality of the experience and is designed with the idea of fostering a societal perspective on nature. We cannot say that such an aesthetic school of thought is the only one, but it can be advocated as a means of producing meaningful value judgments on nature which inspire our sense of right and wrong.
Since there is no true or correct perspective on nature as such, we must consider that kind of worldview we want to foster through aesthetic experience of nature. Do we want to endorse a mode of perception which is trivial and unimportant, and represents a misleading or perverted interpretation of the experience at hand? There seems to be a moral component in aesthetic experiences that pushes us in the direction of appreciation of truthfulness. It is “right” or “good” or interpret the facts appropriately. Let us consider a rewording of the earlier series of statements here:
“There tree is tiny and deformed, and the birds are an eyesore!”
“That tree is 10 meters tall, there are birds that nest in that tree and it helps prevent soil erosion!”
The facts are the same, but our internal categorization of what we are perceiving is not just inappropriate, it seems in the obvious case to be wrong. It is true that two people can look at a thing and each will see their own beauty, but the way we categorize the world aesthetically does seem to be relational to the facts involved especially about formal or factual properties. To say that a ten-meter-tall tree is tiny for example would require some explaining on the part of the perceiver. We may also question the comment about the birds – either in relation to the perceivers questionable judgment or the tree or to the societal understanding that birds are rarely seen as an eyesore, especially in a natural setting.
Historically, the value of formal properties has been central to the experience of nature. This kind of perception is trivial and holds little value in nature itself – value is found on this view where the formal properties of nature align in such a way to produce a sense of gratification. But what about the rest of nature? Do we simply preserve one area of a national park because it just happens to be the best view and damn the rest of it? Are the formal properties of nature (primary and secondary) the best way to look at nature? One suggestion is that we can turn to other sources of understanding to help shape the kind of aesthetic that is most suitable to creating value for nature in and of itself.