When considering Natural Aesthetics, one must at some point consider precisely what is meant not only by the term itself but also the meaning of each of its composite terms. A part of this means that we must understand each term on its own and how it interacts with and helps to shape our worldview. The term world view is meant as a as term that broadly speaking encompasses the sum of our understanding and perception of the world around us. The values, beliefs and traditions we each hold both feeds into and shapes the way we look at the world around us, and our experience of the world in turns feed back into our worldview allowing us to adjust and appreciate new knowledge, new modes of perception and new understandings.
For instance, if I come across a tree on a walk, the way I look at that tree is not only informed by my worldview, but it also feeds back and affects my perception of trees in the future. Of course, most instances of trees that one encounters will be quite trivial and will be unlikely to make any significant change at all in us, but we can cognitively change the way we perceive the world around us. In turn this will help shape and reshape one’s perspective and understanding. This does require some degree of will to engage in the experience on the part of the perceiver, but over time small changes in perception can shape in very significant ways how and what we think. The psychology of the perceiver will dramatically affect one’s ability to see and perceive the world around them, but there is no doubt that they do see and perceive (insofar as they have relatively normal functioning psychological and physiological makeup – ie we do not expect a blind man to see beauty any more then we should expect a psychopath to be able to feel true pity or display empathy) and as such I would expect this model to hold true for most normal functioning adults.
There are numerous modes of understanding which shape our worldview, but aesthetic perception appears to permeate through all our outward facing interactions with the world around us. For instance, the world of factual knowledge which forms the basis of scientific knowledge must be informed by aesthetic judgements. This in turn helps us to direct science towards the things that society decides is most important and most valuable for us. Our general sense of right and wrong also features quite strongly in that this is where we draw on our sense of value for a given object or situation, and where this sense articulates itself in the form of morality and moral judgments. Each of these plays a critical role in shaping worldview, and each has a role in shaping the way we look at the world around us. Central to this is aesthetics which is articulated throughout our everyday language, as it permeates through our entire existence. Let us consider follow statements about the tree mentioned earlier, as an example of what a complete experience of nature might look like:
“That is a tall tree and the birds flying around it add texture and life to the scene, it is beautiful and adds balance and integrity to the land!”
“That tree is 10 meters tall, there are birds that nest in that tree and it helps prevent soil erosion!”
“That tree is important for the welfare of the animals and land and for balancing the integrity of the local ecosystem, we should protect it!”
This series of statements is designed to create a picture of how each mode of understanding influences the next. It begins with what is an obvious aesthetic statement and with the normative judgment of the beauty and integrity of scene. Meaning that we are looking at a scene with a collection of formal and factual properties, the language we use informs us about the person looking at the scene but tells us very little that is factual in the first statement except that there is a tree and that there are some birds flying around it. The second statement provides us with greater understanding of the scene at hand, this can be very useful in informing us about how that the facts of the matter, but facts can not be a source of value for us on their own. It is the implication of facts that informs our value judgment which comes out in the third statement. This in turn begs the question, what is it we find valuable in this scene which is so common amongst conservationists all around the world – the third statement seems to express several sources of value in our expressed goal of conservation of this scene. While there are no doubt instrumental considerations at play in this scene that might cause us to value this scene, this seems to be at the lower end of value in the discussion of conservation. It seems as in most conservation discussions to be a moral and ethical dimension towards the welfare of the animals in this scene which is fundamentally informed by the value we place on the balance and integrity (aesthetics) of the scene at hand.
Proceed to part 2