"Natural Beauty" in Beauty: A Very Short Introduction

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

In the first two chapters of Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (public library), Roger Scruton considers judging beauty and human beauty.  In his third chapter, he turns to natural beauty.

The cover of Beauty with a cadmium red color swatch.

Early in the chapter, he points out the difference between aesthetic interest in the arts and aesthetic interest in nature:

In fact, however, appreciation of the arts is a secondary exercise in aesthetic interest.  The primary exercise of judgement is in the appreciation of nature.  In this we are all equally engaged, and though we may differ in our judgements, we all agree in making them.  Nature, unlike art, has no history, and its beauties are available to every culture at every time.  A faculty that is directed toward natural beauty therefore has a real chance of being common to all human beings, issuing judgements with a universal force (50).

Scruton also describes the difference between the beautiful and the sublime in the natural world:

The beautiful landscape prompts us to a judgement of taste; the sublime vista invites another kind of judgement, in which we measure ourselves against the awesome infinity of the world, and become conscious of our finitude and frailty (63).

The beautiful landscape at Queen of Angels Monastery, the weeping cherry tree
between the monastery and the chapel.

Details of the weeping cherry tree

A local experience of the sublime, Mount Hood
as seen from Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary.  Credit: Phillip Shifflet

He concludes the chapter with thoughts on the purpose of beauty:

The awareness of purpose, whether in an object or in ourselves, everywhere conditions the judgement of beauty, and when we turn this judgement on the natural world it is hardly surprising if it raises, for us, the root question of theology, namely, what purpose does this beauty serve? (66)