Brady on Imagination in Aes Appreciation of Nature

from Emily Brady, Chapter 6 of Aesthetics and the Natural Environment

pp 146-172



2.      Imagination not a necessary condition of aes exp (contrary to Kant’s view)

         a.      Aes objects may not evoke imagination and we may simply rely on perception

3.      Imagination in aes of experience of nature can do these things

         a.      Open up aes horizon and deepens the aes response

         b.      Help us reach beyond stereotyped modes of env. appreciation

         c.      Come afresh to familiar environments and locate undiscovered qualities

         d.      Help overcome aes boredom (Heyd)

         e.      Imagination encourages a more intimate engagement with nature

4.      Imagination is an important part of Brady’s integrated aes



6.      A distinctive mental power not just used in aesthetics, but in many other contexts

         a.      Imagination not just bringing to mind mental pictures

         b.      Not just creating fantastic scenarios as in make-believe and daydreams

         c.      Imagination used when

                   i.       Entertain possibilities, being inventive, solving problems in science and in moral and artistic situations

                   ii.      Reach beyond given to bring elements of experience together in novel ways

                            (1)    Bring to mind a person/thing absent from perception

                   iii.     Attempt to identify with another person’s feelings

                            (1)    So important in ethics

         d.      Examples

                   i.       Imaginatively transform ourselves into trees swaying in wind

                   ii.      Imagine a better alternative to a harmful practice

                   iii.     Envisage life on a planet w/o atmosphere as on earth

7.      Imagination can be serious or trivial

         a.      Serious uses

                   i.       Artistic creativity

                   ii.      Technical invention

                   iii.     Imaginative leaps underlying scientific discovery

                   iv.     Put onself in another’s situation to better determine what to do

         b.      Trivial uses

                   i.       Imagining oneself on desert island instead of in the office grading papers

8.      For appropriate uses of imagination need to

         a.      Realize imagination not free to do whatever it pleases

         b.      Realize imagination does not just involve fantasy

         c.      Distinguish relevant/irrelevant imaginings

                   i.       See below


9.      Relation imagination and belief/knowledge/rationality

         a.      Imagination reaches beyond beliefs and knowledge, but is not unrelated to them

         b.      Imagination depends on beliefs about the world

                   i.       Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes begins with beliefs about the person’s situation

                   ii.      Imagination is contrasted with what is the case, so when we imagine a pink elephant we entertain the belief that p while also having the believe that not p

                   iii.     Having a false belief (accepting it as true) is not same as entertaining false belief through imagination

         c.      Brady agrees with Scruton that imagination is a rational activity

         d.      At the extreme, imagination loses contact with beliefs

                   i.       Obsessive fans believe that a rock star is singing about them

         e.      Delusions can result, but are rare

                   i.       When reading a novel or seeing a film have aes distance; imagination allows us to engage fictional events but don’t believe they are real

10.    Brady rejects the negative view of imagination

         a.      Sees it as unruly, irrational power that creates fictions and misleading representations of reality rather than truth

         b.      Reduces imagination to fancy, fantasy, daydreams

         c.      Something that must be kept in check by reason

         d.      But Brady does keep it in check and does talk about it as a rational capacity





         a.      Aes object fused with some image that is not of that object

13.    Shiprock is a free-form gothic cathedral

         a.      Work with qualities of one thing and compare it with another to illustrate resemblances

         b.      Not arbitrary: They do resemble one another

                   i.       Jagged forms are reminiscent of pointy parts of towers of Gothic cathedrals

                   ii.      Sheer scale of Shiprock is like the scale of a great cathedral dwarfing surrounding buildings

         c.      Imaginative description draws attention to perceptual qualities of object (pick out pointedness more clearly)

         d.      Direct appreciations, and by offering images of other things for comparison, refines and enrich our apprehension of aes qualities (massiveness)



         a.      Closely tied to perception

         b.      Imagination brings meaning to bear on perceptual qualities and this helps to discover aes qualities

15.    Tree bark/old man example

         a.      See deep clefts in thick ridges of bark of tree

         b.      Images of mountains and valleys come to mind

         c.      Think of age of the tree given thickness of the ridges

         d.      Image comes to mind of a seasoned old man with deep wrinkles from age

         e.      Response is aes judgment of tree as stalwart

         f.       Respect it as I might a wise old sage

         g.      Interpretation of locust tree tied to its nonaes qualities–texture of bark–and associations spawned by perceptual qualities



         a.      What is actually perceived is added to, replaced with, or overlaid by a projected image

17.    Deliberate seeing as, intentionally, not mistakenly see something as another thing

         a.      Projecting geometric patterns onto stars to unify them

                   i.       But does this “manipulate aes object for own pleasure-seeking ends”

18.    Projecting ourselves into natural object:

         a.      Alpine flower example: In appreciating alpine flower might imagine what it is like to live under such harsh conditions and this allows one to appreciate the remarkable strength hidden so beautifully in the delicate flower

19.    Results in a more intimate aes experience and helps us explore nature’s ways and its otherness

20.    Other examples:

         a.      Imagination used to help decide which way we walk in the woods

         b.      Imagination used to ascend a craggy peak one could not really climb



         a.      Involves the inventive power of imagination, amplifies the perceptual given, and thus reaches beyond mere projection of images onto objects

         b.      Imagination in its most deep and active role

22.    Sea pebble example:

         a.      In contemplating smoothness of a sea peddle, visualize the relentless surging of ocean as it shaped pebble into worn form

         b.      Imagine how it looked before became so smooth, and this contributes to my wonder and delight in the object.

         c.      This involves thought and at least common sense (and perhaps naturalists) scientific knowledge

23.    White mussel shell on gravel bar in Maine (Andrew Wyeth) is thrilling when think of (imagine) the gull that brought it there, the rain & sun that bleached it there

         a.      Again naturalists knowledge is invoked

24.    Imagining the cold icy feeling of glaciers that carved out the valley’s form helps us appreciate its shape

         a.      This involves naturalists knowledge;

25.    Imagination helps us appreciate the temporal qualities of natural objects/environments by allowing us to contrast its present appearance with past or future ones



         a.      Where ampliative imagination leads to disclosure of an new meanings, understandings, and revelations; new ways of seeing

                   i.       In an earlier article Brady use these words: “Discovery of aesthetic truths and knowledge”

27.    Example glaciers reveal earth’s power:

         a.      By imaginatively contemplating how the glaciers carved this valley, this reveals the tremendous power of the earth

         b.      A new understanding emerges via distinctively aes experience

28.    Not gained via “intellectual endeavor”

         a.      Not sought out

         b.      Part of aes experience and revelation does not disclose an “extra-aes truth

         c.      Idea, belief, or value is “crystallized” by aes exp

         d.      Would it matter if I imagined how a river carved this U-shaped valley (a false scientific belief)?

29.    Innocence in lamb example (how imagination can reveal aes truths)

         a.      Quick glance at lamb reveals little except its sweetness

         b.      Fuller perception and imagination “brings about a stronger grasp of the nature of innocence”

         c.      Contemplating the fresh whiteness of lamb and its small fragile stature evokes images of purity and naivete

         d.      Dwelling aes and imaginatively on such natural things may achieve new ways of seeing

30.    Imaginative revelations need not be pleasant and positive

         a.      Can reveal horror and suffering of humanity and nature

         b.      Witnessing human evil, natural disasters, or cats stalking and killing birds–can strike imagination in ways that spread meaning more deeply

         c.      Make these experience more demanding and difficult to undergo.

31.    Can imagination (when functioning appropriately) reveal negative aesthetic value in nature?

         a.      That much of nature is violent and ugly (perhaps, predation)

         b.      See an opossum that seems lethargic and imagine the thousands of parasitic worms that infest its body?

         c.      Result is that we disrespect wild nature or certain dimensions of it

         d.      Perhaps this runs afoul of Brady’s requirement that aesthetic appreciation of nature be respectful nature? (P. 129)



33.    Objection stated:

         a.      Imagination likely to cause incorrect/inappropriate responses by trivializing

         b.      Imagination leads to an experience that is too unpredictable, arbitrary and prone to fantasy to guide appropriate aes appreciation of nature

         c.      Imagination involves subjective flights of fancy will leave aes object and its qualities behind

34.    Brady’s provides criteria to help distinguish appropriate from inappropriate uses of imagination

35.    Such discriminations aren’t easy or clear cut,

         a.      But practice can lead to skill of keeping imaginings on track

         b.      Defense of imagination must be largely on a case-by-case basis


36.    IMAGINING WELL (versus imagining poorly)

         a.      Brady thinks imagination can be used well (a virtue) or poorly (a vice)

         b.      Like keen and slack perception (only former enables discovery of aes value in dull landscape), so too imagination can be used effectively or ineffectively

         c.      Imagining well involves using imagination skillfully, rationally, and appropriately according to context

         d.      Involves knowing when to clip the wings of imagination

         e.      Identifies ways to keep imagination on track to prevent trivializing responses

37.    Aesthetic object should guided imagination

         a.      Effective imagination is exercised according to demands of aes object

         b.      Object’s qualities evoke, direct and guide our imaginings

                   i.       Don’t just look at a mountain and think of a pink elephant (fantasy, not directed by the object)

                   ii.      E.g., deep ridges in tree bark with belief that the tree is old suggest old man with wrinkles on face

         c.      Object directed while also shaped to some degree by particularity of appreciator (168)

                   i.       Can the subject’s interests ever override the demands of the object?

38.    Imagination needs to respect the aesthetic object

         a.      Imagination should follow “a rule of decorum” (161) and not belittle the aes object

         b.      And should value the object for its own sake

         c.      Imagination must relate to aes object in ways that enhance app (168)

         d.      Ought to harness imagination’s powers in ways that bring out nature’s value

         e.      So imagination is only appro if it helps us reach a judgment of positive aes value for the aes qualities?!!!!

                   i.       Good for the thesis of positive aesthetics

                   ii.      But seems like cheating: Can only use a faculty if it indicates/guides you to positive aesthetic value

         f.       Brady does say imagination can lead to unpleasant responses

39.    Need to distinguish relevant and irrelevant imaginings

40.    Beach Head cliff example

         a.      Awe struck by dramatic sheer drop to sea of English high cliff

         b.      Feeling heightened by knowledge that this is a favorite suicide spot

                   i.       Notice this is knowledge, but cultural knowledge related to natural object rather than scientific knowledge

         c.      Imagining feeling of jumping off cliff and fear of someone standing there accentuates the sublimity of the place and is a virtuous imagining

         d.      Irrelevant to aes appreciation of cliff if one imagined

                   i.       The gruesome fallen body at bottom and the specific wounds cliff face might have inflicted

                   ii.      Here imaginings become distanced from qualities of the cliff

                   iii.     So too if one imagined financial difficulties that might serve as motive to jump

41.    Seeing river as a bookmark example (Fudge)

         a.      No relationship here between perceptual qualities that lets one image illuminate the other

         b.      Rivers are never straight like sides of bookmark and usually rippled from wind and current

         c.      Well, they both are linear, long, and skinny

42.    Rejects trivial or trivializing or sentimentalizing imaginings

         a.      Imagination that involves shallow, naive, trivializing, sentimental responses that impoverish rather than enrich app

43.    E.g., Imaging lamb dressed up in baby clothes might underline aes truth of innocence, but it is sentimental and shallow and fails to direct appreciation appropriately

44.    Would Brady’s criteria rule out imagining that Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes were formed by the hoofs of Paul Bunyon’s Blue Ox Babe?

45.    Rejects Hepburn’s serious/trivial way of assessing imaginings because playful (non-serious) ones can be just as good as serious ones

         a.      Mountain as a giants head or a sublime solid granite rock

                   i.       Equally legitimate aes responses.

                   ii.      Boy who sees a hill as a giant’s head

                   iii.     Sees a huge looming hill shaped like a head with a bumpy part that suggests a nose, so imagines a giant’s head

                   iv.     Brings attention to great scale of the hill and its distinctive shape

                   v.      More playful than geologists response to the rock type and sees the aes qualities of solid, bulk, and sublimity

46.    Imagination must be disinterestedness

         a.      Imagination that is self-indulgent, indulges in personal fantasy, or instrumentalizes nature is ruled out

47.    Example: Fantasizing about number of sea shells I might collect if waves not so big

                   i.       Violates disinterestedness as instrumental and self-interested

                   ii.      Distracts attention from aes object

48.    Example: Butterfly movement from one flower to the next makes me think of my old girlfriend who goes from one man to the next

                   i.       This is self-indulgent and you become preoccupied with own personal associations and problems and takes focus away from aesthetic object


49.    Warranted imagination must be communicable and shareable

                   i.       Like Carlson’s “culturally embedded” and “generally available”

         b.      Warranted aesthetic responses must be revisable

         c.      If we are to be able to revise our aesthetic responses through critical discourse about aesthetic appreciation of nature these responses must be communicable

         d.      If our aesthetic judgments are to be communicable, we discard imaginative descriptions that can’t be reasonably shared by others

                   i.       Because too bizarre, idiosyncratic, or highly individualistic

50.    Shiprock sticks up like a blue thumb not shareable

         a.      Perhaps under certain lighting conditions this might make sense

         b.      But so specific of little interest or importance

         c.      Highly individualistic

         d.      Not easily shareable or assessable to others

51.    Table Mesa as the ultimate aircraft carrier is shareable

         a.      Metaphor works well by pointing to its flatness and massive bulk and gets us to focus on its aesthetic qualities

52.    Robert Fudge’s upside down ice cream cone example

         a.      Claims Brady’s view would have to countenance imagining the mountain as an upside down ice cream cone, or projecting such a cone onto the mountain

         b.      The mountain is snow covered two thirds of the way up with a brown/grey rocky pointed top

         c.      Ice cream is cold as is the snow on the mountain

         d.      Brady’s response:

                   i.       Connection is too tenuous to be relevant

                   ii.      Not sufficient resemblance to invoke this imagining

                   iii.     Doubt this image is shareable

                   iv.     It is irrelevant, trivial, not shareable and just the result of a whim.

         e.      Is it clear Fudge’s example is any different in these respects from Brady’s tree is like an old man?

                   i.       Fudge’s example is belittling, and Brady’s is not; but why can’t aes imaginings belittle?


53.    How imagination is not just intellectual thought

         a.      Fudge thinks imagination thinks in facts (165)

         b.      Brady thinks this reduces imagination to intellectual thought

         c.      Imagination is not feeding knowledge into aes exp

         d.      Imagination opens up new aes qualities or deepens our engagement with them

         e.      Imagination is related to thought, but makes a creative break from facts and knowledge given in experience and makes novel connections

         f.       It is a transformative power in relation to given experience

         g.      Imagination engages in entertaining beliefs and propositions, not in ascertaining facts


54.    Marcia Eaton thinks that imagination needs to be guided by knowledge of the aes object and its context and claims one should find out as much as possible about these

                 Brady responds that requiring that aes app learn as much as possible to have “correct” app is an unreasonable expectation

                           Knowledge is not necessary, other things can guide imagination

                 But Eaton might say it is necessary for the best sorts of uses of imagination and for the best types of aes app