<<

. 67
( 82 .)



>>

ent environments and of their relevant systems and elements.21 This knowledge
comes from science and natural history, including that which is embodied in
common sense. Where else could it come from? What else could understanding
nature as nature amount to? The knowledge we derive from art criticism and art
history for the purposes of art appreciation come from ecology and natural his-
tory with respect to nature appreciation.
Carlson writes:“What I am suggesting is that the question of what to aesthet-
ically appreciate in the natural environment is to be answered in a way analogous
to the similar question about art.The difference is that in the case of the natural
environment the relevant knowledge is the commonsense/scientific knowledge
which we have discovered about the environment in question.”22
The structure of Carlson™s argument is motivated by the pressure to discover
some guidance with respect to nature appreciation that is analogous to the guid-
ance that the fixing of artistic categories does with works of art.Three possibilities
are explored: the object paradigm, the scenery paradigm, and the natural environ-
ment paradigm. The first two are rejected because they fail to comprehensively
track all the qualities and relations we would expect a suitable framework for the
appreciation of nature to track. On the other hand, the natural environment
BETWEEN RELIGION NATURAL HISTORY 373
AND


model is advanced not only because it does not occlude the kind of attentiveness
that the alternative models block, but also because it has the advantage of supply-
ing us with classificatory frameworks which play the role that things like genres
do with respect to art, while at the same time these categories are natural (derived
from natural history).
Stated formally, Carlson™s argument is basically a disjunctive syllogism:
1. All aesthetic appreciation requires a way of fixing the appropriate loci of
appreciative acts.
2. Since nature appreciation is aesthetic appreciation, then nature appreciation
must have a means of fixing the appropriate loci of appreciative acts.
3. With nature appreciation, the ways of fixing the appropriate loci of appre-
ciative acts are the object model, the scenic model and the natural environ-
ment model.
4. Neither the object model nor the scenic model suit nature appreciation.
5. Therefore, the natural environment model (using science as its source of
knowledge) is the means for fixing the loci of appreciative acts with respect
to nature appreciation.
Of course, the most obvious line of attack to take with arguments of this sort
is to ask whether it has captured the relevant field of alternatives. I want to suggest
that Carlson™s argument has not. Specifically, I maintain that he has not counte-
nanced our being moved by nature as a mode of appreciating nature and that he
has not explored the possibility that the loci of such appreciation can be fixed in
the process of our being emotionally aroused by nature.
Earlier I conjured up a scene where standing near a towering cascade, our ears
reverberating with the roar of falling water, we are overwhelmed and excited by
its grandeur. People quite standardly seek out such experiences.They are, prethe-
oretically, a form of appreciating nature. Moreover, when caught up in such expe-
riences our attention is fixed on certain aspects of the natural expanse rather than
others “ the palpable force of the cascade, its height, the volume of water, the way
it alters the surrounding atmosphere, and so on.
This does not require any special scientific knowledge. Perhaps it only requires
being human, equipped with the senses we have, being small and able to intuit the
immense force, relative to creatures like us, of the roaring tons of water. Nor need
the common sense of our culture come into play. Conceivably humans from other
planets bereft of waterfalls could share our sense of grandeur.This is not to say that
all emotional responses to nature are culture-free, but only that the pertinent
dimensions of some such arousals may be.
That is, we may be aroused emotionally by nature, and our arousal may be a
function of our human nature in response to a natural expanse. I may savor a
winding footpath because it raises a tolerable sense of mystery in me. Unlike the
scenery model of nature appreciation, what we might call the arousal model does
not necessarily put us at a distance from the object of our appreciation; it may be
the manner in which we are amidst nature that has moved us to the state in which
374 ALTERNATIVE TOPICS

we find ourselves. Nor does the arousal model of nature restrict our response to
only the visual aspects of nature. The cascade moves us through its sound, and
weight, and temperature, and force.The sense of mystery awakened by the wind-
ing path is linked to the process of moving through it.
Perhaps the arousal model seems to raise the problem of framing, mentioned
earlier, in a new way. Just as the object model and the scenery model appeared to
impose a frame on an otherwise indeterminate nature, similarly the arousal model
may appear to involve us in imposing emotional gestalts upon indeterminate nat-
ural expanses. Nevertheless, there are features of nature, especially in relation to
human organisms, which, though they are admittedly “selected,” are difficult to
think of as “impositions.”
Certain natural expanses have natural frames or what I prefer to call natural clo-
sure: caves, copses, grottoes, clearings, arbors, valleys, etc.And other natural expanses,
though lacking frames, have features that are naturally salient for human organisms “
that is they have features such as moving water, bright illumination, and so on that
draw our attention instinctually toward them. And where our emotional arousal is
predicated on either natural closure or natural salience, it makes little sense to say that
our emotional responses, focused on said features, are impositions.
An emotional response to nature will involve some sort of selective attention
to the natural expanse. If I am overwhelmed by the grandeur of a waterfall, then
certain things and not others are in the forefront of my attention. Presumably
since I am struck emotionally by the grandness of the waterfall, the features that
are relevant to my response have to do with those that satisfy interests in scale,
notably large scale. But my arousal does not come from nowhere.The human per-
ceptual system is already keyed to noticing salient scale differentials and the fact
that I batten on striking examples of the large scale is hardly an imposition from
the human point of view.
Suppose, then, that I am exhilarated by the grandeur of the waterfall.That I
am exhilarated by grandeur is not an inappropriate response, since the object of
my emotional arousal is grand “ that is, meets the criteria of scale appropriate
to grandeur, where grandeur, in turn, is one of the appropriate sources of
exhilaration. In this case, our perceptual makeup initially focuses our attention
on certain features of the natural expanse, which attention generates a state of
emotional arousal, which state, in turn, issues in reinforcing feedback that con-
solidates the initial selective gestalt of the emotional arousement experience.
The arousal model of nature appreciation has an account of how we isolate
certain aspects of nature and why these are appropriate aspects to focus upon;
that is, they are emotionally appropriate.
Perhaps Carlson™s response to this is that emotional responses to nature of the
sort that I envision are not responses to nature as nature.This route seems inadvis-
able since Carlson, like Sparshott, wants us to think of the appreciator of nature as
a self in a setting which I understand as, in part, a warning not to divorce human
nature from nature.23 Admittedly, not all of our emotional arousals in the face of
nature should be ascribed to our common human nature, rather than to what is
BETWEEN RELIGION NATURAL HISTORY 375
AND


sectarian in our cultures, but there is no reason to preclude the possibility that
some of our emotional arousals to nature are bred in the bone.
Conceding that we are only talking about some of our appreciative responses
to nature here may seem to open another line of criticism. Implicit in Carlson™s
manner of argument seems to be the presupposition that what he is about is iden-
tifying the one and only form of nature appreciation. His candidate, of course, is
the environmental model, which relies heavily on natural science.
I have already argued that this model is not the only respectable alternative.
But another point also bears emphasis here, namely, why presume that there is
only one model for appreciating nature and one source of knowledge “ such as
natural history “ relevant to fixing our appreciative categories? Why are we sup-
posing that there is just one model, applying to all cases, for the appropriate appre-
ciation of nature?
That the appreciation of nature sometimes may involve emotional arousal,
divorced from scientific or commonsense ecological knowledge, does not disallow
that at other times appreciation is generated by the natural environment model.
Certainly a similar situation obtains in artistic appreciation. Sometimes we may be
emotionally aroused “ indeed, appropriately emotionally moved “ without know-
ing the genre or style of the artwork that induces this state. Think of children
amused by capers of Commedia dell™arte but who know nothing of its tradition or
its place among other artistic genres, styles, and categories.Yet the existence of this
sort of appreciative response in no way compromises the fact that there is another
kind of appreciation “ that of the informed connoisseur “ that involves situating
the features of the artwork with respect to its relevant artistic categories.
I want to say that the same is true of nature appreciation. Appreciation may
sometimes follow the arousal model or the natural environment model. Some-
times the two models may overlap “ for our emotions may be aroused on the basis
of our ecological knowledge. But, equally, there will be clear cases where they do
not. Moreover, I see no reason to assume that these are the only models for the
appropriate response to nature. In some cases “ given the natural closure and
salience of arrays in nature “ the object model may not be out of place for, given
our limited perceptual capacities, structured as they are, nature may not strike us as
formally indeterminate.
My basic objection to Carlson is that emotional arousal in response to nature
can be an appropriate form of nature appreciation and that the cognitive compo-
nent of our emotional response does the job of fixing the aspects of nature that are
relevant to appreciation. Here, I have been assuming that emotional arousal,
though cognitive, need not rely on categories derived from science. But Carlson
sometimes describes his preferred source of knowledge as issuing from common
sense/science. So perhaps the way out of my objection is to say that with my cases
of being moved by nature, the operative cognitions are rooted in commonsense
knowledge of nature.
A lot depends here on what is included in commonsense knowledge of
nature. I take it that for Carlson this is a matter of knowing in some degree how
376 ALTERNATIVE TOPICS

nature works; it involves, for example, some prescientific, perhaps folk, under-
standing of things like ecological systems. That I know, in my waterfall example,
that the stuff that is falling down is water is not commonsense knowledge of
nature in the way that Carlson seems to intend with phrases like common
sense/science. For the knowledge in my case need not involve any systemic
knowledge of nature™s working of either a folk or scientific origin.And if this is so,
then we can say that we are emotionally moved by nature where the operative
cognitions that play a constitutive role in our response do not rely on the kind of
commonsense systemic knowledge of natural processes that Carlson believes is
requisite for the aesthetic appreciation of nature. And, perhaps even more clearly,
we can be moved by nature where our cognitions do not mobilize the far more
formal and recondite systemic knowledge found in natural history and science.

I I I . T H E C L A I M S O F O B J E C T I V I S T E P I S T E M O LO G Y

One reason, as we have just seen, that prompts Carlson to endorse natural history as
the appropriate guide to nature appreciation is that it appears to provide us with our
only satisfactory alternative. I have disputed this. But Carlson has other compelling
motives for the type of nature appreciation he advocates. One of these is epistemo-
logical. It has already been suggested; now is the time to bring it centerstage.
Echoing Hume™s “Of the Standard of Taste,” Carlson™s impressive “Nature,Aes-
thetic Judgment and Objectivity” begins with the conviction that certain of the
aesthetic judgments that we issue with respect to nature “ such as “The Grand
Tetons are majestic” “ are or can be appropriate, correct, or true. That is, certain
aesthetic judgments of nature are objective. Were someone to assert that “The
Grand Tetons are paltry,” without further explanation, our response would con-
verge on the consensus that the latter assertion is false.
However, though the conviction that aesthetic judgments of nature can be
objective is firm, it is nevertheless difficult to square with the best available mod-
els we possess for elucidating the way in which aesthetic judgments of art are
objective. Indeed, given our best models of the way that aesthetic judgments of art
are objective, we may feel forced to conclude that aesthetic judgments of nature
are relativistic or subjective, despite our initial conviction that aesthetic judgments
of nature can be objective.
So the question becomes a matter of explaining how our aesthetic judgments
of nature can be objective.This is a problem because, as just mentioned, reigning
accounts of how aesthetic judgments of art are objective have been taken to imply
that aesthetic judgments of nature cannot be objective.
In order to get a handle on this problem, we need, of course, to understand the
relevant theory of art appreciation that ostensibly renders nature appreciation sub-
jective or relative.The particular theory that Carlson has in mind is Kendall Wal-
ton™s notion of categories of art. This theory is an example of a broader class of
theories “ that would include institutional theories of art “ that can be usefully
thought of as cultural theories. Roughly speaking, cultural theories of art supply
BETWEEN RELIGION NATURAL HISTORY 377
AND


the wherewithal to ground aesthetic judgments of art objectively by basing such
judgments on the cultural practice and forms “ such as artistic genres, styles, and
movements “ in which and through which artworks are created and disseminated.
On Walton™s account, for example, an aesthetic judgment concerning an art-
work can be assessed as true or false.The truth value of such judgments is a func-
tion of two factors, specifically: the nonaesthetic perceptual properties of the
artwork (e.g., dots of paint), and the status of said properties when the artwork is
situated in its correct artistic category (e.g., pointillism). Psychologically speaking,
all aesthetic judgments of art, whether they are subjective or objective, require that
we locate the perceived, nonaesthetic properties of the artwork in some category.
For example, if an uninformed viewer finds the image in a cubist painting woe-
fully confused, it is likely that viewer regards the work in terms of the (albeit
wrong) category of a realistic, perspectival representation.
However, logically speaking, if an aesthetic judgment is true (or appropriate),
then that is a function of the perceived, nonaesthetic properties of the artwork
being comprehended within the context of the correct category of art. In terms of
the preceding example, it is a matter of viewing the painting in question under
the category of cubism. Consequently, the objectivity of aesthetic judgments of
art depends upon identifying the correct category for the artwork in question.
A number of circumstances can count in determining the category of art that
is relevant to the aesthetic judgment of an artwork. But some of the most conclu-
sive depend on features relating to the origin of the work: such as which category
(genre, style, movement) the artist intended for the artwork, as well as cultural fac-
tors, such as whether the category in question is a recognized or well-entrenched
one.These are not the only considerations that we use in fixing the relevant cate-
gory of an artwork; but they are, nevertheless, fairly decisive ones.
However, if these sorts of considerations are crucial in fixing the relevant cat-
egories of artworks, it should be clear that they are of little moment when it
comes to nature. For nature is not produced by creators whose intentions can be
used to isolate the correct categories for appreciating a given natural expanse nor is
nature produced with regard for recognized cultural categories. But if we cannot
ascertain the correct category upon which to ground our aesthetic judgments of
nature, then those judgments cannot be either true or false. Moreover, since the
way in which we fix the category of a natural object or expanse appears to be
fairly open, our aesthetic judgments of nature appear to gravitate toward subjec-
tivity.That is, they do not seem as though they can be objective judgments, despite
our starting intuition that some of them are.
The structure of Carlson™s argument revolves around a paradox.We start with
the conviction that some aesthetic judgments of nature can be objective, but then
the attempt to explain this by the lights of our best model of aesthetic objectivity
with respect to the arts, indicates that no aesthetic judgment of nature can be
objective (because there are no correct categories for nature). Carlson wants to dis-
solve this paradox by removing the worry that there are no objective, aesthetic
judgments of nature. He does this by arguing that we do have the means for iden-
378 ALTERNATIVE TOPICS

tifying the relevant, correct categories that are operative in genuine aesthetic judg-
ments of nature.These are the ones discovered by natural history and science.
For example, we know that the relevant category for aesthetically appreciating
whales is that of the mammal rather than that of fish as a result of scientific
research. Moreover, these scientific categories function formally or logically in the
same way in nature appreciation that art historical categories function in art
appreciation.Thus, the logical form, though not the content, of nature apprecia-
tion corresponds to that of art appreciation. And insofar as the latter can be objec-
tive in virtue of its form, the former can be as well.
Another way to characterize Carlson™s argument is to regard it as a transcen-
dental argument. It begins by assuming as given that nature appreciation can be
objective and then goes on to ask how this is possible “ especially since there does
not seem to be anything like correct categories of art to ground objectivity when
it comes to nature appreciation. But, then, the possibility of the objectivity of
nature appreciation is explained by maintaining that the categories discovered by

<<

. 67
( 82 .)



>>