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Environmental Aesthetics: The Environment as a Source of Affect

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Human Behavior and Environment

Abstract

One might be tempted to dismiss the preceding statement, made at a Pennsylvania Governor’s Conference on Natural Beauty, by the Conference Chairman, Frank Masland, Jr., as the sort of rhetoric expected of a keynote speaker at such a gathering. Yet, though there may be no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the rather sweeping assertion concerning the power of beauty and ugliness to exert such profound effects on human beings (and this writer knows of none), it may well reflect commonly held beliefs about the impact of the aesthetic quality of the environment on the individual. Such convictions have, of course, been expressed for centuries by philosophers, naturalists, writers, etc., and are certainly not limited to laymen, or politicians, even today, as reflected in the following quote from an environmentally concerned biologist in a letter in Science:

...has there been, or will there soon be sufficient selection by polluted metropolitan environments to erase man’s unspoken needs for open spaces, wild mountains, clean lakes, or small towns? Does Dobzhansky mean it is desirable to permit (let alone encourage) adaptation to New York-type cities, their bleak lifeless canyons of stone crawling with humanity, their noisy streets and overcrowded subways?... I don’t know whether Dobzhansky has forgotten what it was like to walk the dunes in solitude or to swim in the ocean, but to most humans... it is pleasanter than basking in 5 P.M.traffic on Fifth Avenue (Iltis, 1967).*

For we all know that ugliness breeds ugliness, crime, corruption, disregard for law and order, disrespect for God and man, in short delinquency in all ages. The converse of ugliness—beauty—begets beauty, in all its manifestations, in nature, in man’s handiwork, and in the realm of the spiritual.

The value of beauty and the price of ugliness can be reckoned in dollars. But the ways in which the enhancement of beauty and the abatement of ugliness—in city, village and countryside—can add to the inner prosperity of the human spirit are beyond calculation. (Governor’s Conference on Natural Beauty, 1966, p. 7).

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Wohlwill, J.F. (1976). Environmental Aesthetics: The Environment as a Source of Affect. In: Altman, I., Wohlwill, J.F. (eds) Human Behavior and Environment. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4684-2550-5_2

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