Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Kevin C. Elliott


Environmental aesthetics is a relatively new field of philosophy, and interest in the issues that it raises is growing rapidly. Most of the early work in environmental aesthetics has been focused on developing the most appropriate model for aesthetic appreciation of nature, but in this dissertation I redirect the focus toward the moral significance of environmental aesthetics. The dissertation centers on two principle claims:

1. The aesthetic integrity of the environment has strong moral significance and should be an important component of environmental ethics.

2. In addition to bearing moral significance the aesthetic integrity of the environment inspires a deeply-held resonance among people and should play a major role in environmental decision making and policy setting.

In the course of the dissertation I develop both theoretical and practical arguments in support of my primary claims, calling on the work of previous environmental ethicists, empirical studies, and new moral and political arguments. To establish a framework for my first claim I analyze the connection between morality and the aesthetics of nature established by Immanuel Kant and developed in the work of contemporary environmental ethicists Holmes Rolston and Bryan Norton. I then examine multidisciplinary empirical studies that illustrate the importance of environmental aesthetics in the development of human beings' sense of place and well-being. These studies also show that environmental aesthetics is often aligned with goals for sustainable living.

To provide theoretical support for my claims I develop moral defenses, arguing from both deontological and utilitarian viewpoints to show why including environmental aesthetics in environmental decision making and policy setting is a moral obligation. Those arguments are bolstered by a political defense demonstrating that recognition of the values of environmental aesthetics is procedurally necessary for a flourishing democratic society and suggesting that failure to recognize environmental aesthetics adequately can and does contribute to environmental injustice. The viability of these arguments is illustrated by comparisons with two case studies. Based on the arguments presented and defended and insights gained through empirical observation, the work of this dissertation has important implications for the future of environmental philosophy and for effective environmental decision making.


© 2009, Katherine Williams Robinson