Sharing Sense: or, how ethics can be the subject matter of architectural aesthetics, by David Leatherbarrow

Posing a productive question about ethics and aesthetics in architecture is no easy matter, for these subjects raise whole clusters of problems, not simple or single questions. These complexities were apparent two millennia ago when the terms were first introduced. As in most types of business, moral issues rarely obtrude themselves into the contemporary practice of architecture, for it has been absorbed into a broader framework of technological thought and production, a kind of thought that emancipates design from place and practical purpose. Despite these tendencies, one occasionally senses that there may still be some shared background for judgments about what makes a building good, even beautiful. This background is not so much what each of us might state as our values, but a historically constituted and forceful ethos that shows itself now and again in both the settings of everyday life and works of art. Shared sense is key for that is what distinguishes ethical understanding from the various kinds of technical knowledge possessed by individuals. Architects know how to design, carpenters to construct. A living ethos is something different, neither taught nor possessed individually, but inherited in a given culture, modified slowly, and often taken for granted. Thus, there is a tension between the comparatively stable and shared ground of ethical sense and productive and relatively autonomous character of technical production. Negotiating this tension is the real work of design.

David Leatherbarrow, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Leatherbarrow, L. (2012) Sharing Sense: or, how ethics can be the subject matter of architectural aesthetics, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 18 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 18 Dec 2012].

Nature’s Meanings, by Simon James

It is widely acknowledged that many parts of the natural world should be protected from harm or restored to health or in some other way looked after, if not for their own sakes, then simply for ours, and if not for moral reasons, then for reasons of prudence, say, or because of their aesthetic value. I argue that the meanings that the natural world has for us should be looked after – or ‘cultivated’ – too. This sort of cultivation is, I propose, best achieved through the efforts of those, both inside and outside academia, whose work embodies the core values of the arts and humanities.

Simon James, Durham University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: James, S. (2012) Nature’s Meanings, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 10 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 10 Dec 2012].

Why does Beauty Matter?, by Ian Ground

This paper is motivated by the value of rendering the philosophical tradition of thought about beauty as an intelligible and useful theoretical framework for empirical research into aesthetic experience.

The discussion re-articulates and defends against some objections, four theses about our experience of beauty:

1.      The Distinctiveness Thesis.

Beauty is a distinctive aesthetic phenomenon. It is not a portmanteau term for aesthetic phenomena in general nor a mere honorific. Nor is individual or cultural variation in the things we find beautiful an objection to the thesis.

2.     The Cross-Modal Thesis.

In response to beauty, our cognitive, affective and conative capacities are all centrally involved. It is argued that standard evolutionary accounts of beauty are insufficiently deep to explain the ontological variety of the beautiful.

3.     The Mereological Thesis.

Our experience of the relation between parts and wholes is, in the beautiful, of a different kind from our ordinary experience of ordinary things. In objects experienced as beautiful, the reciprocal and intelligible relations between parts and whole play the part that law like relations play in the real world.

4.     The Particularity Thesis

The aesthetic response to beauty and the deepest possible attachment to someone, – paradigmatically, in Eros based love –  something or somewhere as absolutely particular are, at root, the same phenomenon.

Ian Ground, Sunderland University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Ground, I. (2012) Why Does Beauty Matter?, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 05 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 Jan 2013].

Aesthetic Value, Ethics, and Climate Change, by Emily Brady

While there is a growing literature on ethics and climate change, the role of aesthetics has been largely ignored. This paper addresses the complex issues at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics in relation to current and predicted environmental change resulting from global warming, and explores a set of questions: What kinds of new challenges does climate change present to aesthetic theory? What can we reasonably say about the aesthetic value of landscapes affected by climate change now and into the future? If climate change is understood as a form of environmental harm, what are the implications for our aesthetic appreciation of landscapes, species, and processes affected by climate change? Can landscapes that have evolved through the effects of climate change be considered beautiful? Drawing on resources from environmental aesthetic theory and discussions on the relationship between moral and aesthetic value, I consider a set of hypothetical cases and argue that aesthetic value is not likely to be trumped by moral considerations.

Emily Brady, University of Edinburgh, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Brady, E. (2012) Aesthetic Value, Ethics, and Climate Change, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 01 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 Dec 2012].

Monism and Pluralism in the Philosophy of Architecture, by Paul Guyer

The history of modern aesthetics has been marked by a tension between a monistic, essentially cognitivist or intellectualist view of the importance of aesthetic experience, and more pluralistic views, which allow room for the free play of emotions and imagination as well as for the possibility of knowledge through art. Architecture would seem to be a poor candidate for a strictly intellectualist approach, but in the nineteenth century some of the best-known aesthetic theories, the German Idealist theories of Hegel and Schopenhauer, took precisely such an approach. I argue that the pluralistic approach of John Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture, in spite of some antiquarian elements in that work, offer a far better model for contemporary thinking about the pleasures of architecture.

Paul Guyer, Brown University, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Guyer, P. (2012) Monism and Pluralism in the Philosophy of Architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 Nov 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 20 Nov 2012].

Re-making the Matterhorn, by Andrew Ballantyne

This paper is concerned with the cultural appropriation of landscape, and uses the example of the Matterhorn to show how a natural formation can become a cultural entity, and how the patterns of thought that are invested in it can be invested equally in built works. The examples of appropriation move from Michael Frayn’s treatment of the Matterhorn in his novel Sweet Dreams, and Walt Disney’s rebuilding of it in Disneyland, to John Ruskin’s analysis of the Matterhorn in volume 4 of Modern Painters. For Ruskin the landscape and the close observation of geological features had a moral aspect, and that fusion of Interactions is repeated in Deleuze and Guattari’s “Geology of Morals”. The upheavals in geological strata that produce mountains have a parallel in the upheavals of social strata in other events, which are related not just as metaphor but because there are real forces at work that can be described in the same terms. Architects can draw on the same abstract machines, at a more modest scale but with the aim of giving expression to quasi-geological forces. When this happens the resulting designs are not necessarily polished and beautiful, but they can have a raw power and grandeur that comes from their truth-telling and vitality.

Andrew Ballantyne, Newcastle University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Ballantyne, A. (2012) Re-making the Matterhorn, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 13 Nov 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 13 Nov 2012].

Enthusiasm for the Sublime: about exercising aesthetic awareness and experiential learning, by Paul Roncken

The implicit reason to design an aesthetic landscape is fairly simple. It is to beautify or at least to establish an appreciate response between man and landscape. There is however a vivid series of recent contributions (Berleant, 1992; Carlson, 2010; Meyer, 2008; Saito, 2010) that articulates a distinction between ‘artistic aesthetics’ against something we can indicate as an ‘environmental aesthetics’. The design of landscapes seems at times to be limited by ‘too much wanting in art’ (Olmsted, 1902, p. 51), especially considering our contemporary awareness of pollution, over exploitation of resources, loss of local identities and a general decrease of sensuous competences. The definition of ‘environmental aesthetics’ is used to negotiate all the conflicting experiences of our (everyday) landscapes. Some of these experiences can be more of less controlled by well designed interventions (e.g. Meyer, 2008) others – I suspect – are the mere result of incoherent circumstances or even neglect and demand not improved design instead an improved capacity for the digestion of experiences. Within this debate the implicit reasons to design an aesthetic landscape seems to be expanded to become (1) more explicit and (2) less determined by beautification. The idea to expand the definition of aesthetics is not dependent on an environmental or landscape related context, yet the pragmatic circumstances that orbit the appearances of environments and (everyday) landscapes provide such overwhelming evidence of ‘negative aesthetics’ that we are inclined to include such negativeness in any serious definition of aesthetics. Arnold Berleant for example refers to the idea of the sublime as a ‘negative aesthetics’ that confronts us unprepared and we have not yet developed cognitive and social structures to deal with the inherent changes it provides (Berleant, 1997, pp. 78, 79; 2009). However more truthful a more explicit and less beautified comprehension of aesthetics might seem to critics and philosophers, the mere existence of a ‘negative aesthetics‘ is hardly appealing for designers that need to convince their clients and audience. Designers and clients would rather find an antidote against such negativeness, thereby interpreting aesthetics as the theory to provide them with the principles to do so.

To improve an inclusion of both designers, clients and philosophers in the fascinating discourse on aesthetic categories, I will create an argument that neutralizes the implicit favor for the ‘positive’ or ‘appreciative’ in aesthetics. By analyzing the accumulating idea of the sublime as an aesthetic category (Burke, 1759; Kant, 1951 (1790); Longinus, 2010 (1899); Lyotard, 1994; Weiskel, 1976) I will argue that what is perceived with great enthusiasm by painters, poets and nature explorers (e.g. Macfarlane, 2007; Muir, 1994; Newman, 1950-51) and landscape designers such as Adriaan Geuze and Michael van Valkenburgh (Horn, 2010; Louter, 2003) coincides with a philosophers argument to include both the ‘negative’ and the ‘positive’ in the concept of aesthetics. Any such inclusion questions a dominant ‘appreciative’ response of people amidst environments or landscapes and instead points at a range of ‘exercising’ responses that define (environmental) aesthetics. Such an ‘exercising’ interpretation of aesthetics provides insight in the both the failures and successes of aesthetic interaction and interpretation. My main proposal is therefore to redefine aesthetic categories in terms of exercising positions and their projected educational development. The five aesthetic categories that I propose enable to expand the field of environmental and landscape design by aligning it with the educational categories of experiential learning that have been developed by Dewey (Dewey, 1929, 1933; Miettinen, 2000) and Kolb (Kolb, 1984).

Berleant, A. (1992). The Aesthetics of Environment. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Berleant, A. (1997). Living in the Landscape: Towards an Aesthetic of Environment. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
Berleant, A. (2009). Art, Terrorism and the Negative Sublime. Contemporary Aesthetics, 7(2009). Retrieved from
Burke, E. (1759). On the Sublime and Beautiful (second ed.). London: Penguin Books.
Carlson, A. (2010). Contemporary Environmental Aesthetics and the Requirements of Environmentalism. Environmental Values, 19(2010), 289-314.
Dewey, J. (1929). Experience and Nature. London: George Allen And Unwin, Limited.
Dewey, J. (1933). How We Think, a restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and company.
Horn, A. T. (2010). Architects of the Outdoors, the sculptors of Harvard landscapes create sustainable outdoor havens. The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved from
Kant, I. (1951 (1790)). Critique of Judgement (J. H. Bernard, Trans. Vol. 5). New York: Hafner Press.
Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning. Experience as the source of learning and Development: Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Longinus. (2010 (1899)). Peri Hypsous. In A. Sanders Way & W. Rhys Roberts (Eds.). Cambridge: Nabu Press. (Reprinted from: 1899).
Louter, F. (2003). Adriaan Geuze wankelt in zoektocht naar evenwicht. Archined News. Retrieved from
Lyotard, J. F. (1994). Lessons on the analytic of the sublime: Stanford University Press.
Macfarlane, R. (2007). The Wild Places: Granta.
Meyer, E. K. (2008). Sustaining beauty – the performance of appearance: Can landscape architects insert aesthetics into our discussions of sustainability? Journal of Landscape Architecture, 98(10), 6-23.
Miettinen, R. (2000). The concept of experiential learning and John Dewey’s theory of reflective thought and action. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 19(1), 54-72. doi: 10.1080/026013700293458
Muir, J. (1994). The Wild Muir, twenty-two of John Muir’s Greatest Adventures: Yosemite Association.
Newman, B. (1950-51). Vir Heroicus Sublimis.
Olmsted, F. L. (1902). Public Parks. Massachusetts: Brookline.
Saito, Y. (2010). Future Directions for Environmental Aesthetics. Environmental Values, 19(2010), 373-391.
Weiskel, T. (1976). The Romantic Sublime. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Paul A. Roncken, Wageningen University, NL

Harvard Citation Guide: Roncken, P. (2012) Enthusiasm for the Sublime: about exercising aesthetic awareness and experiential learning, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 12 June 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 15 June 2012].