3. On Universalism and Cultural Historicism in Environmental Aesthetics

Jonathan Maskit challenges the ‘standard view’ that the most important division in contemporary aesthetics is that between cognitivists (those who believe that concepts, usually scientific concepts, are essential for the aesthetic appreciation of nature) and non-cognitivists (those who do not so believe). Both camps tend to agree that our goal ought to be to figure out the one correct way to appreciate an environment appropriately. Such a characterization of the field suggests an Anglo-American bias. If we confront New World with Old World perspectives an alternative distinction come to the fore, that between universalists, who are analytic in their methods, and cultural historicists, who use hermeneutic methods. Universalists generally hold that culture and history are unimportant when trying to figure out what nature is or how people should appreciate it aesthetically. Cultural historicists, by contrast, believe that one’s culture or the history of the observer or the place are crucial to working out one’s environmental aesthetic. Crucially, from the cultural historicist standpoint, the very idea of there being one correct or appropriate way to appreciate nature aesthetically makes no sense.