Public Reason: Vol. 10, No. 2, 2018 & Vol. 11, No. 1, 2019
The danger of beauty alone: The limitations of beauty in environmental decision-making
Amy Kings

The protection of non-human nature is often grounded with an appeal to beauty. Focusing on the beauty or aesthetic value of nature means basing the decision of whether to preserve an environment on whether or not it is beautiful. In this paper, I will argue that basing environmental protections solely upon aesthetic value is not only insufficient in providing an adequately robust foundation for protecting the environment but potentially deleterious to this aim. I will demonstrate the need to problematise our understanding of beauty and its role in motivating environmental preservations. In justifying this, I will appeal to the subjectivity of beauty standards and the tendency for human conceptions of beauty to mask crucial issues of environmental relevance, which can lead to shallow and inappropriate decision-making. Cases of environmentally harmful beauty and potentially beneficial ugliness are particularly at risk of being overlooked if beauty is used as the primary justification for environmental protectionism. I will argue that the notion of aesthetic disinterest is a useful tool in helping to background our most obvious self-interested motivations and preconceptions about both nature and beauty. However, it is only with a robust cognitive component that this approach would be able to provide an epistemologically sound strategy for reliably grounding the protection of nonhuman nature.

Key words: aesthetic value, beauty, disinterest, environmental ethics, aesthetics, cognitivism, protectionism.


Kings, Amy. 2019. The danger of beauty alone: The limitations of beauty in environmental decision-making.Public Reason 10 (2) - 11 (1): 111-126.