Nature’s Meanings, by Simon James

It is widely acknowledged that many parts of the natural world should be protected from harm or restored to health or in some other way looked after, if not for their own sakes, then simply for ours, and if not for moral reasons, then for reasons of prudence, say, or because of their aesthetic value. I argue that the meanings that the natural world has for us should be looked after – or ‘cultivated’ – too. This sort of cultivation is, I propose, best achieved through the efforts of those, both inside and outside academia, whose work embodies the core values of the arts and humanities.

Simon James, Durham University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: James, S. (2012) Nature’s Meanings, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 10 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 10 Dec 2012].

Why does Beauty Matter?, by Ian Ground

This paper is motivated by the value of rendering the philosophical tradition of thought about beauty as an intelligible and useful theoretical framework for empirical research into aesthetic experience.

The discussion re-articulates and defends against some objections, four theses about our experience of beauty:

1.      The Distinctiveness Thesis.

Beauty is a distinctive aesthetic phenomenon. It is not a portmanteau term for aesthetic phenomena in general nor a mere honorific. Nor is individual or cultural variation in the things we find beautiful an objection to the thesis.

2.     The Cross-Modal Thesis.

In response to beauty, our cognitive, affective and conative capacities are all centrally involved. It is argued that standard evolutionary accounts of beauty are insufficiently deep to explain the ontological variety of the beautiful.

3.     The Mereological Thesis.

Our experience of the relation between parts and wholes is, in the beautiful, of a different kind from our ordinary experience of ordinary things. In objects experienced as beautiful, the reciprocal and intelligible relations between parts and whole play the part that law like relations play in the real world.

4.     The Particularity Thesis

The aesthetic response to beauty and the deepest possible attachment to someone, – paradigmatically, in Eros based love –  something or somewhere as absolutely particular are, at root, the same phenomenon.

Ian Ground, Sunderland University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Ground, I. (2012) Why Does Beauty Matter?, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 05 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 Jan 2013].

Aesthetic Value, Ethics, and Climate Change, by Emily Brady

While there is a growing literature on ethics and climate change, the role of aesthetics has been largely ignored. This paper addresses the complex issues at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics in relation to current and predicted environmental change resulting from global warming, and explores a set of questions: What kinds of new challenges does climate change present to aesthetic theory? What can we reasonably say about the aesthetic value of landscapes affected by climate change now and into the future? If climate change is understood as a form of environmental harm, what are the implications for our aesthetic appreciation of landscapes, species, and processes affected by climate change? Can landscapes that have evolved through the effects of climate change be considered beautiful? Drawing on resources from environmental aesthetic theory and discussions on the relationship between moral and aesthetic value, I consider a set of hypothetical cases and argue that aesthetic value is not likely to be trumped by moral considerations.

Emily Brady, University of Edinburgh, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Brady, E. (2012) Aesthetic Value, Ethics, and Climate Change, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 01 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 Dec 2012].

The Gravity of Desire, by Ron Henderson

The contemporary Japanese architect, Toyoo Ito, described ohanami (the Japanese cherry blossom festival) as the quintessential Japanese construction. A blanket is laid on the ground to define areas of action and performance. Following the descent of the cherry blossoms, the blankets are removed – and act that signals the end of the architecture as well.  This framework of performative landscapes and cultural practices will be considered in relation to the economic, militaristic, and aesthetic implications of cherry blossoms falling to the ground.

Ron Henderson, Pennsylvania State University, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Henderson, R. (2012) The Gravity of Desire, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Human Landscapes, Virtue and Beauty, by David E. Cooper

By ‘human landscapes’, is meant parks, gardens, farmland and other landscapes that patently bear the impress of human intervention, including building. Many questions concerning the relation of ethical to aesthetic considerations about human landscapes can be raised. For example, is ‘aesthetic pollution’ of an environment also a moral offence? The question addressed in this paper is how, if at all, ethical considerations are relevant to aesthetic appreciation of human landscapes. In the first half of the paper, I reject the familiar view that the moral provenance and/or effects of a landscape affect its aesthetic qualities. (Eg. A seemingly beautiful verdant park is not beautiful if the water it requires causes serious environmental damage). I argue that the mere knowledge that a landscape has certain causal connections of a morally significant kind cannot alter a genuinely aesthetic judgement – though it may prompt a person to suspend aesthetic attention. For the moral aspects of a place to affect an aesthetic judgement they must, as it were, show up or figure in the experience of the place. This leads into the second half of the paper, which defends the ‘virtue-centric’ claim that an aesthetically admired landscape is experienced as having virtues – or, more precisely, as having features which, when possessed by human beings, are virtues. (Eg. In some cultures, to find a parkland graceful, noble and constrained is to admire it aesthetically). Put oversimply, a human landscape is beautiful when it exemplifies virtue. I proceed, after defending the claim against certain objections, to argue that a main merit of the virtue-centric approach is its considerable explanatory power. It explains why the beauty of human landscapes, and much else, matters a great deal to people. (It matters because virtue (and vice) matter). It also explains, much more plausibly than the ‘eye of the beholder’ account of beauty, the significant differences between cultures in the appreciation of landscapes. It renders these differences interesting by grounding them in different moral perspectives. (Eg. Differences in 17th C. Japanese and Italian tastes in gardens surely reflect differences in the kinds of virtues prominent in the moral thinking of the respective societies). The paper ends with the proposal that there is such an intimacy between moral and aesthetic sensibilities that the sharp distinction made between them in modern times is artificial, and registers an abstraction in effect from the conception of the good life articulated by the thinkers of ancient Greece and China.

David E. Cooper, Durham University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Cooper, D. (2012) Human Landscapes, Virtue and Beauty, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Landscape, Imagination and Morality, Ian Thompson

This paper explores the agency of ‘landscape imaginaries’.  The notion of a landscape imaginary is related to the philosopher Charles Taylor’s use of the term ‘social imaginary’ to refer to ‘the way in which our contemporaries imagine the societies they inhabit and sustain’.   Imaginaries are not expressed in theoretical terms but are carried in images, stories and legends.  From the perspective of landscape architecture, one of the important things we need to do is to identify the imaginaries we have inherited from the past which continue to shape our landscapes and constrain our environmental choices today. Designers have a particular responsibility because not only do they make aesthetically and ethically loaded choices about how the world will be, but they can also reinforce and perpetuate harmful imaginaries or initiate new ones, hopefully less harmful.  To illustrate this the paper considers the influence, both for good and ill, of the pastoral-picturesque imaginary.

Ian Thompson, Newcastle University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Thompson, I. (2012) Landscape, Imagination and Morality, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Do We have Ethical and Aesthetic Obligations to Respect Landscapes?, by Isis Brook

Traditionally we have thought of ethical obligations as placing constraints on our behaviour towards other humans and, later, sentient animals. With the rise of environmental ethics these obligations were re-examined and in some cases broadened to include living entities and/or communities such as ecosystems or species. However, that broadening – when focused on the intrinsic value of entities and systems – did not include what were perceived as cultural constructs: buildings, planned environments, and landscapes. If we were seen as having obligations of any kind regarding such things it was due to their importance to humans or other entities with intrinsic value. A core feeling in environmental ethics was that it was time for human preferences and desires to take a backseat; thus, the built or designed environment, even cultural landscapes, were not regarded as important except in regard to their impact on ecosystems or, for example, biodiversity potential. The fact that protection of wilderness was at the foreground of environmental thinking meant that cultural landscapes, if considered at all, tended to be thought of as defiled or degraded regions that only the uninformed would mistake for the real thing.

The idea of aesthetic obligations is unusual and, if it has any purchase at all (beyond a Wildean extravagance), would generally be seen as resting on ethical obligations to respect the aesthetic preferences of other humans. And yet an aesthetic response to something that is out of place or inappropriate as somehow ‘wrong’ is not, at base, a feeling that it is wrong because others would similarly be upset by it or deprived of a pleasing view; rather, it is a feeling that it is ‘wrong for this place’ per se. We feel the landscape has been treated disrespectfully; that it has been wronged regardless of other human preferences or perceptions. By the same token, developments or changes to a landscape that feel ‘right’ can feel ‘right for the place’ not just right in a second-order way, that is, in a way that is dependent on other appreciators of the place. Of course one would hope that there is a commonly felt sense of rightness, but it would be shared because it is ‘right for the place’ not because it was in accord with individual preferences that just happen to be similar.

This paper will examine these different axiological approaches to the question of respect for cultural landscapes and ask whether the moral or aesthetic – or a merging of the two – can be used to defend the thesis that landscapes should be respected in their own right, that is, regardless of, or at least prior to, concerns about human preferences. One route to this seemingly impossible task is Fox’s theory of responsive cohesion. Another is Goethean phenomenology. Both can be used to place the human being in a role of service to the landscape itself and thus use our moral/aesthetic sensibilities to make judgements for the good of the landscape.

Isis Brook, Writtle College, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Brook, I. (2012) Do We have Ethical and Aesthetic Obligations to Respect Landscapes?, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].