Nature appreciation, science, and positive aesthetics

British Journal of Aesthetics 42 (3):279-295 (2002)
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Abstract
Scientific cognitivism is the idea that nature must be aesthetically appreciated in light of scientific information about it. I defend Carlson's traditional formulation of scientific cognitivism from some recent criticisms. However, I also argue that if we employ this formulation it is difficult to uphold two claims that Carlson makes about scientific cognitivism: (i) it is the correct analysis of the notion of appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature, and (ii) it justifies the idea that nature, seen aright, is always beautiful (that is, positive aesthetics about nature). I attempt to find a revised formulation of scientific cognitivism that can support both of these claims. I argue that to do this we must rethink the notion of positive aesthetics and its place in our theorizing about the appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature. Specifically, I propose that positive aesthetics be made ‘internal’ to the theory of appropriate aesthetic appreciation, in the sense that this theory determines the correct scientific categories for appreciating a natural object, in part, in virtue of a ‘beauty-making’ criterion. I argue that this sort of formulation of scientific cognitivism can support both of Carlson's claims and does not compromise the objectivist scruples that motivate the view.
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