Aesthetics, Ethics and Nature

Paul O’Brien


Should we value baby seals over baby rats, just because most people believe that seals are cuter? If it’s inappropriate to judge humans on aesthetic grounds, why is it appropriate to judge between species of animals on those grounds? Is nature a value to which we should always aspire? What are the exceptions? In the struggle between Gaia and humanity, which side should we come down on, and why? Can war, or pollution, be beautiful? Where evil is beautiful, is it to be valued—and if not, why not? Is “art for earth’s sake” possible or desirable? This presentation briefly highlights some key tensions that arise in the interface between ethics, aesthetics, politics and the environment. On the way to a new global value system, it is important to examine not only the traditional axiological categories of ethics and aesthetics, but also the areas of tension and conflict that they sometimes involve.

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