Ethics and Aesthetics of Landscape

Philosophical aesthetics has traditionally been more concerned with the judgement of artworks and the experience of art than with the natural beauty or the qualities of designed landscapes – or the sorts of experiences which such places might provide.  Similarly, traditional ethics assigned intrinsic value and moral standing to humans alone and seemed incapable of addressing the harm which humans were capable of doing to the environment. Over the last forty years, both aesthetics and ethics have expanded their outlook in response to the widespread sense of environmental crisis.  Environmental ethicists have suggested that not just humans, but such things as animals, plants, species, habitats, islands, forests, ecosystems and the biosphere, might have intrinsic value and that we might thus have duties towards them. Aestheticians, meanwhile, have turned their attention to a wide range of landscapes, including wilderness, traditional and industrial farms, and designed landscapes such as parks, gardens and other forms of greenspace associated with the built environment. Environmental concerns have moved aesthetics away from an elite preoccupation with art, towards consideration of the quotidian, the everyday.

The notion that ethics and aesthetics overlap (and might even somehow be the same thing) is ancient: Plato linked Beauty, Truth and Goodness. Certain human capacities, such as perceptual sensitivity, imaginative freedom and creativity, seem to be involved in both moral decisions and aesthetic engagement. Since the eighteenth century, landscape theory has revolved around the aesthetic notions of the Beautiful, the Sublime and the Picturesque (though a philosopher recently suggested that we might fruitfully pay attention to the new aesthetic categories of the Ugly, the Inauthentic and the Banal). Are these eighteenth-century notions redundant, or do they still have a place in twenty-first century design theory? What is their relation to environmental values such as species diversity, ecological integrity and sustainability?

The designers, planners and managers of places work under the imperative to act. What values do they mobilise when they seek to create or maintain ‘good places’? In creating places which are aesthetically pleasing can they also create places which are healthy, sociable, democratic, sustainable and socially just?

Paper Abstracts should be no longer than 500 words and should address one of the above or related topics and should be clearly marked if intended for this panel session.

For more information regarding this panel please contact Dr. Ian Thompson at i.h.thompson@ncl.ac.uk.

Organising Committee: Landscape Research Group

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