Ecology, Evolution, and Aesthetics: Towards an Evolutionary Aesthetics of Nature

British Journal of Aesthetics 52 (2):123-139 (2012)
Allen Carlson has argued that a proper aesthetics of nature must judge nature for ‘what it is’, and that such judgements must be informed by a scientific understanding of nature, in particular, one shaped by the science of ecology. Carlson uses these claims to support his theory of positive aesthetics. This paper argues that there are problems in this view. First, it misunderstands ecology, thereby adopting a view of the natural world that holds it to be much more integrated than it is. Second, it ignores an even more fundamental science of nature, evolution. Thus, it misunderstands both ecology and nature. An alternative to this view would be an aesthetics based on an evolutionary understanding of nature, which holds that, although there are many functional wholes in nature, there is also significant conflict, disintegration, and incongruent scales. A proper aesthetics of nature must take these conflicts into account. The paper ends with a sketch of an aesthetic theory based on the science of evolution
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