Session 10

Friday, June 4

13:30–14:30 (Helsinki, EEST, UTC +3), Congress Room 2

Chair: Corinna Casi

Marcello Ruta (Universität Bern, Switzerland):

End of the World versus End of the Month: The Environmental Discourse Between Ethics and Aesthetics

When in 2015 the so-called Gilets Jaunes protested on French streets before and during the UN Climate Change Conference held in Paris, they synthesized their position in a slogan: “The elites are talking about the end of the world when we are talking about the end of the month” (MartinandIslar2020). Thisslogandefactoexpressesabluntoppositiontotwokeyprinciples of Hans Jonas’s The Imperative of Responsibility: “Visualizing the Long-Range Effects of Technological Enterprise” and “Summoning Up a Feeling Appropriate to What Has Been Visualized” (Jonas 1984: 27–28).

This seems to speak in favour of the categorization of the French protesters as irresponsibles, which leads however to significant contradictions. While, according to Jonas, “the duty to the children one has brought forth” constitutes a “widespread case […] of elementary nonreciprocal responsibility and duty” (Jonas 1984: 39), the irresponsible urgencies of the end of the month also concern the children of the Gilet Jaunes, for whom they are and feel responsible. Thus, it seems, what these riots did is to unveil a radical fracture within the key ethical notion of responsibility, torn by the conflict between two temporalities and realities.

It is the aesthetic notion of disinterest, which shaped the rise of modern aesthetics (Shiner 2001: 143–145), which offers an opportunity to heal this radical fracture at the core of ethics. To put the end of the world before the end of the month seems to imply the prioritization of what is valuable “for its own sake”, and can thereby be approached with “pure unselfish pleasure” (Moritz 2018: 10). But if it’s true that “The Yellow Vests resistance […] reveals the so-far overlooked impact of transition injustices in a developed country” (Martin and Islar 2020, my italics), then it seems plausible to state that only a world regimented by justice can be disinterestedly loved. The slogan of the Gilets Jaunes could thereby be reformulated as follows: “No sustainability without justice”.

While this constitutes a coming-back to a key ethical notion (justice), after an aesthetical excursion (disinterest and beauty), it seems also to suggest a deep connection between beauty and justice: an old idea, which has found contemporary voice in the literary (Scarry 1999), philosophical (Melchiorre 2008), and theological (Wolterstorff 2009) discourse.

Matthew Rowe (City & Guilds of London Art School, UK):

Evolutionary Cognitivism in the Aesthetics of Nature

This paper builds on Paden, Harman & Millings’ 2012 British Journal of Aesthetics article “Ecology, Evolution and Aesthetics: Towards an Evolutionary Aesthetics of Nature, to provide an account of how a philosophical and normative aesthetics of nature based on evolutionary theory, might be appropriate as moving beyond anthropocentric assumptions and thus appropriate in an age of environmental crises.

The paper categorises this approach as a strand of scientific cognitivism (Carlson & Parsons) but argues for an aesthetics based on an evolutionary understanding of nature, that can result in both positive and negative evaluative judgements. The paper argues that basing a scientific cognitivism in evolutionary theory, as opposed to ecology, provides this opportunity.

It’s acknowledged that such a position will provide a functional basis to evaluative aesthetic judgements: Knowledge from evolutionary theory is the cognitive source of the judgement of value and our appreciation of nature relies upon that cognitive source. It’s argued that evolutionary theory, as a broadly functional account of nature, is both a more robust and secure body of theory on which to build a scientifically cognitivist account than alternatives such as ecology, or those based in the psychology of the subject, but also that it (i) provides the opportunity to diversify aesthetic judgements from those made within those alternative forms of scientific cognitivism, and (ii) that, since it is a functional theory, it can provide a non-anthropocentic underpinning to aesthetic judgements of nature.

For instance, the paper notes the potential for an evolution-based approach to potentially evaluate ecologically or environmentally damaging situations or objects, as at least contributing to evolutionary value through adaptations and mutations which show nature ‘working well’ in the face of environmental crisis. More speculatively, since evolutionary theory is not necessarily bounded by an exclusively organic scope, it could also provide the basis for the aesthetic appreciation of situations (such as the trans- or post-human) which go beyond the biological, organic, or natural as given, as the object of such an appreciative response. Finally it’s acknowledged, that this removal from the sensual and the anthropocentric, may, for some, serve as a reductio ad absurdum argument for an aesthetic theory of nature. This is resisted, following Saito, by suggesting that conceptual understanding can be transferred to the perceivable characteristics of an object or situation and, if based in evolutionary theory, that this conceptual understanding need not be anthropocentric or ecologically beneficial in order for this to occur.