Meaningful relations: the relational basis of aesthetic judgment and its implications for aesthetic concern in environmental deliberation

Speed, Fran (2008) Meaningful relations: the relational basis of aesthetic judgment and its implications for aesthetic concern in environmental deliberation. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The impetus for the research undertaken in this dissertation hinges on concern for the low priority status attached to aesthetic issues in public deliberation on matters concerning environmental and ethical issues. Although interconnected reasons are identified for the prevalence of this attitude a principal reason is the tendency to assume a conventional understanding of aesthetic value as primarily concern for visual or formal appearance, a consequence of which is that it is treated as of superficial significance only to be considered after more pressing issues have been addressed, for example, economic ones. A ifirther concern, however, is the prevalence in environmental theory/ethics to take a similar view in the way that aesthetic value tends to be considered an unsuitable basis on which to establish an environmental ethic or as of only partial significance in environmental protection and management. While contextualist theorists in environnental aesthetics have made significant contributions in redressing this attitude the discipline is divided between two schools of thought
namely scientific cognitivists and non-cognitivists. In arguing against the cognitivist position I develop and advance a non-cognitive approach that focuses on the relational dimension of aesthetic experience and value. Relationship, though largely implicit or assumed in non-cognitive accounts, is undeveloped theoretically particularly as a locus of value in itself I contend that aesthetic value communicates the quality and merit of the relations that given things embody and express. I illustrate how a relational approach raises issues of identity and meaning; issues that are not addressed in environmental theory or mainstream axiological approaches. The significance of the approach rests in its practical and theoretical implication particularly as it bears on the concept of nature; of natural and unnatural value; on issues of beauty, ugliness and
sacredness and on the culture/nature dualism predominant in environmental thinking and practice. Moreover, and importantly, a relational approach to aesthetic value extends the reach of environmental aesthetics from a focus on the evaluation of our physical surroundings to a broader, more inclusive view of 'environment' such that its 'reach' can be shown to have ethical import, for example, in issues concerning biotechnological practices.

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