Saving ‘Disinterestedness’ in Environmental Aesthetics: A Defence against Berleant
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The old, historical concept of ‘disinterestedness’ has dominated the tradition of aesthetics for almost two centuries. In environmental aesthetics, a rather recent branch of aesthetics, some scholars such as Arnold Berleant have criticized disinterestedness, claiming that it is not a satisfactory criterion since it views the environment as an artwork. As an alternative, Berleant proposes a theory of the ‘aesthetics of engagement’. I claim that although his main intention is to introduce a comprehensive perception of nature, ‘appreciating nature as nature’ (not as an artwork), into the aesthetics of nature, Berleant misinterprets ‘disinterestedness’ and overlooks the fact that it can still be maintained within environmental aesthetics. Disinterestedness can guide our judgements with the notions of non-instrumentality, transparent self, and impartiality. In this sense, I argue that (1) the proper opposite of engagement is not disinterestedness but a dominant concept of aesthetics left over from the eighteenth century, the ‘picturesque’, (2) in contrast to holistic accounts of the philosophers who look for an immersion-of-self-in-a-bigger-Self, disinterestedness provides being devoid-of-any-empirical-self and (3) disinterestedness is not anthropocentric, but anthropogenic, human-generated, which accepts the ‘otherness’ of nature and opens the way for respect and care in environmental ethics.
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