Vignettes on Values and Valuation 


                        What is the meaning of appreciation? Is it a particular mode of apprehending (knowing) values,                                                or is it a name for the direct presence of values in experience? How is it related to valuation and criticism?

                                                                                                                                                                        John Dewey (1913) 






                          The above questions posed by John Dewey [1], already a  hundred years ago, cannot yet  be  said  to have been answered in a way close to consensus within academic circles.  Whatever the answers, those questions  highlight the connection between appreciation and valuation and the grounding of both in experience. The vignettes that follow represent loosely connected attempts to explore themes toward  answers, within the particular context of the appreciation of landscapes.




                In her book Reading with Feeling,[2] Susan Feagin proposes quite a concise characterization of the process of appreciating:  "appreciation involves getting the value out of something"… sort of appreciation in a nutshell…


               The above characterization[2a] suggests two main questions: one about "the value of something" and the other about the process of "getting the value out of…"  I'd say that these are central questions which concern the understanding of the activity of Appreciation. In these vignettes  I present various approaches to those questions whilst highlighting the context that arises when "the something" happens to be a landscape


             The questions concerning "the value of something" have to do with matters such as monism/pluralism, intrinsic /extrinsic, subjective/objective, valuation/ evaluation and others. The whole field is plagued with dualisms and, for the particular case of "the value of a landscape" one can be excused if feeling perplexed  when required to take sides in what appears to be irreconcilable diametrically opposed positions.  Questions concerning "getting the value out of…" are closely related with those  concerning the nature of landscape value(s). Getting out a value may be taken to imply that the said value is already present in a landscape, which is close to say that it is intrinsic to it. We may say that a painting has value because of being a work of art and it is left to us to get that value out of ; the same holds for, say, a poem if thought as a work of literature. It is questionable whether the same holds for landscapes, not only because they are not works but because they are mental constructs, figments of our imagination. An alternative way of putting it is to say that we may attribute value(s) to a landscape or that we recognize in it certain value(s); the implication being that the value(s) is considered as extrinsic to the object valued. In the former case we may be asserting objectivity while in the latter we open up to the subjectivity of values, another of the dualisms mentioned above. My position throughout the following vignettes is that, since our understanding of the landscape evaluative experiences is precarious, better keep those dualisms at arm's length.


       When talking about appreciation within the context of landscapes, a number of questions arise concerning the sort of values that we expect may be got out of landscapes. Amongst many others hatt will be discussed later on, I intend to consider four ones first: --- 

      What may be implied by "a direct presence of values in experience"? 

      Do our expectations refer to one value or to various values for each landscape instance? 

      Does a landscape have value(s) or are they attributed to a landscape by humans? 

     And, a more ambitious one – Are there value(s) common to all landscapes?

          In the following I'll take up those questions one at a time, in separate vignettes,  while reminding the reader that these, being vignettes, have no pretention of being exhaustive or thorough. After dealing with these, I hope to be on firmer grounds to expound on other topics concerning the path from valuation to appreciation of landscapes.




         About the firt of the above questions, viz. – is appreciation a name for the direct presence of values in experience? In our context the question becomes– is landscape appreciation a name for the direct presence of values in a landscape experience? Thus put, the question suggests, among others, the proposal that experiences of value are present already in the direct or immediate experience of a landscape and are not incorporated, after reflection upon the experience in the description of the experience.


             Elizabeth Anderson starts her book Value in Ethics and Economics [3] by examining the question of experiences of value. I'm very much drawn to such an experiential approach because, after all, to get values out of a landscape, or to recognize values in a landscape, requires experiencing a landscape as a necessary condition (i.e. the experiencing of something makes possible its valuing).  The way we experience a particular landscape can  be said to condition its valuing; as a consequence, many of the gaps in our understanding of landscape valuation (and hence, of appreciation) originate in gaps in our understanding of the landscape experience.quote:


      " The suggestion that we have evaluative experiences has struck many philosophers as metaphysically eerie: science has discovered no "evaluative facts" or organs of "moral sense", that enable us to discern the properties of "good" and "bad" in the world. We can dispel this mystery by recalling what ordinary experiences of value are like. We experience things not as simply good or bad, but as good or bad in particular respects that elicit distinct responses in us." [3]:2                                  

      In our context: a landscape may "elicit distinct responses in us", responses which amount to evaluative experiences of a landscape. For Anderson, evaluative experiences are "experiences of things as arousing positive or negative emotional responses in us". An evaluative experience of landscape may be thought thus as a particular type or mode of the more general notion of 'landscape experience' (other types or modes being the 'aesthetic experience', the sacred experience, etc.) What distinguishes evaluative experiences from other modes of landscape experience is that they entail a qualifying of the experience as positive or negative, which leads to valuing a landscape or disvaluing it.

      I have discussed elsewhere the question of the nature of the so-called landscape experience [4] and, particularly the question of its distinctiveness from the more general experience of place or space. I maintain there that an understanding of the landscape experience is basic for the understanding of the likes of appreciation, contemplation, reverence, etc. By adopting Anderson's experiential approach, landscape values are grounded on landscape experience and since, landscape appreciation largely involves getting values out of a landscape (see Feagin above), we can ground appreciation into experience.  A consequence of emphasizing the affective or emotional components of the evaluative experience, is to emphasize the affective content of the process of appreciation.[5]


          Evaluative experiences, in the particular context of landscape, entail to experience a landscape (the thing) as good if the elicited response is "to be favorably aroused by" that landscape. The favorable or positive responses may be of feeling attraction, interest, pleasure, awe and, of course...wonder.  

         We can think of other positive responses like charm, fascination, enjoyment, delight, admiration, respect, reverence, veneration,etc.  This wide variety of possible responses makes possible to choose among them some typical responses for particular landscape genres. Thus, for 'sacred' landscapes: respect, veneration, reverence, exaltation; for 'mythical' landscapes: fascination, wonderment; for 'pastoral' landscapes: charm, delight, attraction, lure; for 'poetical' landscapes: interest, delight.       


        It may happen of course that we may be unfavourably aroused  by certain landscapes, that is, shocked, offended, disgusted, even revolted. Thse may be responses associated to landscapes that I have called elsewhere 'conflictual' landscapes. (landscapes of colonialism, exploitation, alienation,spoliation, etc.)


Regarding the second question presented in the Foreword:

-- Do our expectations refer to one value or to various values for each landscape instance? 

It may be proper to say that in most cases people are 'favorably aroused' by landscapes if they consider them beautiful. If the experience of the beautiful is absent landscapes are usually regarded with indifference and sometimes even with disgust. In short, in most cases, people tend to value a landscape if they experience it as beautiful and disvalue it if not.


            Note though the cautionary "most cases", "usually", "tend to", inserted intentionally in the above paragraph to leave open the possibility, and plausibility, of cases where landscapes are valued for quite other reasons. People may also value a landscape because of its sacred connotations, as when some biblical episode is believed to have taken place there or when the sublime is associated with divine creation or when elements of the landscape are believed to be the result of divine intervention [6]  Similarly, a landscape may be valued for  its association with a particular myth or legend. You can find more about legends, myths and landscapes in this website; see D. Russell's A Psychological Perspective of Place or Francesc Roma's Myths and Landscapes of Catalonia.

            To the above we may add cases where landscapes are valued because they recall our landscapes of childhood or episodes of our life that we held dear or because notable historical events that took place in the site. Landscapes may also be valued or disvalued because they represent or symbolize conflicts between groups or nations, examples of which are the so-called 'landscapes of power', 'imperialist landscapes', 'contended landscapes', etc. [7


        I have dealt elsewhere [8] at some length with the above cases as landscape genres, i.e. sacred landscapes, mythical, historical, pastoral, conflictual and other themes which may have a role in landscape categorization. What may be succinctly recalled here is that landscape genres can be consider to refer to the various ways of how landscapes may be experienced, ways which reflect different values that may be attributed to them. 


      It looks then that there are multiple ways of experiencing landscapes and that this multiplicity reflects on and is a reflection of the various values that people may attribute to various landscapes. I'd rather stay clear from the centuries old debate between philosophers that favor either monist or pluralist theories of values. Whether someone believes that the various landscape values are reducible to an all encompassing one or believes that those values are irreducible, it doesn't affect the contention that in actual social practice landscapes are multi-valued.  Perhaps the case example that follows may serve to illustrate what has been said so far:

   Beit El is a place situated a few miles north Jerusalem.  It derives its notoriety from some paragraphs in Genesis XXVIII, where it is told of Jacob's dream about a ladder to Heaven and angels going up and down on it.

 And Jacob rose up early in the morning…and called the name of that place Beit El (GenesisXXVIII,19)... literally, the House of God.

Thus it came to be that the place that these days goes by the name of  Beit El became a sacred site  for all those religious persons, that take the words of the Bible literally. Indeed Jacob himself says of the place "this is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of Heaven". The landscapes around the precise point where Jacob had his dream are then a classical example of "sacred landscapes" and they are valued because of their holiness. 


       For those that are familiar with the Old Testament but do not take it literally, the whole episode of said Jacob's dream is a myth and hence they'll consider the same landscapes as 'mythical' ones. For them the landscape is also valuable but its value resides in being the location of a myth that has kindled the imagination of believers and non believers alike for generations on end.

                                                                                      Jacob's Rock, Beit El 

      Subsequent events that took place in Beit El or Beitin (otherwise Beth El) in biblical times reinforce even more its value, either as sacred or mythical. (for a criticism of the archaeological evidence, see for example D. Livingston. [9]  


    There is far more to it though; in the  location, the Israelis built a settlement that goes by the same name, Beit El, neighbouring the Palestinian village of Beitin.

(parts of both shown on the photo at right).

    This settlement, as others in the West Bank, is a matter of heated contention but in this case, and precisely because of the Biblical associations mentioned above, it acquired additional symbolic connotation in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For Jews the place became a symbol of a return to where their Patriarchs once lived; for Palestinians it became a symbol of dispossession of a landschaft where they have been living for generations and that they regard as justly theirs . As such, the landscapes shown are contended land, or better, conflictual landscapes. What one party to the conflict values for religious and nationalistic reasons is disvalued by the other party as a landscape of dispossesion and alienation. [10],[11]

    If I have gone to a detailed account of Beit El's circumstances it is because it constitutes an apt example of a multitude of other cases from which energe some relevant conclusions about landscape values:


     a) landscapes are often polyvalued, that is we can recognize in them a number of different values.. This leads to declare that landscapes are, in this context, good instantiations of the "pluralistic theory of values" 

     b)  values of a landscape are not intrinsic to it but a reflection of what particular individuals, as members of particular cultures, are predisposed to discern as valuable in a landscape. (of which more on the following vignette).  


The case example of Beit El, presented above,  bears also on the second question posed at the beginning --

    Does a landscape have value(s) or are they attributed to it by humans?


     The underlining of have is intended to emphasize the having as a property or feature that belongs to the object, it is integral to it. A particular landscape may have some trees or brooks or clouds; if it didn't have them it would be a different landscape. This in the same way as a particular symphony that has certain melodies; if it had different ones it would be another one, although still a symphony. But a particular symphony may be valued by some and disvalued by others while keeping on being the same symphony. (a case in point the mixed reception of Beethoven's Third symphony when first performed in Vienna).

    For a person that believes that the actual episode of Jacob in Beit El is just a legend and even that Jacob never existed, the landscape is not a sacred one. She can accept that the landscape is sacred to others but could not be made to value it for its holiness. I may value a particular landscape that is reminiscent of those of my childhood, but there's no reason why you, born somewhere else, should do as well. I may find a particular landscape as dull and uninteresting, while you, perceiving it from the same vantage point, may find some value(s) in it. Nothing surprising about this for we cannot reasonably expect that the experience of a landscape should be the same for each of the members of a group of people that happens to be  'located' at the same vantage point

    I explore this topic in more detail elsewhere [4]. What is of relevance here is that, if we accept the assumption of the 'individuality' or personalization of the landscape experience, the same should hold for the evaluative experiences. 

    The above considerations follow to a certain extent  those of C.I. Lewis when reflecting on values:    

"The value of an object (in our case of a landscape) consists in its potentiality for conducing to intrinsically valuable (landscape) experiences and is thus a real connection between objects (landscapes), persons and the character of the experience…" (my insertions in brackets).

     This may be taken to mean that Lewis maintains that no object has intrinsic value. Nonetheless, objects can have inherent value in so far as the good which they produce is disclosable in the presence or observation of the object itself rather than some other object [12] Which, in our case. leads to the idea that,  although not having intrinsic value(s), landscapes may be said to have have inherent value(s). Inherent in the sense that, the effect it produces is revealed in the presence of the landscape itself rather than of some other object.  


     For Lewis, "issues about the relativity or subjectivity of judgements of the value of objects aren't issues about the empirical truth of attributions of value to objects, but just issues about whether the conditions under which an object produces directly apprehended value are peculiar to the nature and capacities of a particular person and thus not indicative of the possibility of similar value finding on the part of other persons." Quine  argues that variation within and among individuals and societies, and the variable and open ended character of what they find valuable, means that predicates like “pleases” or “ feels good” do not support inductive inferences from case to case in the way that “green” or “conducts electricity” do. [13]


         It would appear intuitively that a landscape may be dispossessed of a certain value without changing into another landscape and that persons themselves cherish values that may or not attribute to landscapes. There is a tricky point involved here though; according to the value attributed to a landscape we may experience the landscape differently and it is not quite obvious that a landscape that is variously experienced by different persons is perceived be them as one and the same.

     What is often said about word meanings go as well here: landscapes don't have values, people do.


Now to the fourth question presented in the Foreword:

  Are there value(s) common to all landscapes? 

 The same question in a less concise form could pe put as:-- Can we think of at least one value that may be properly attributable to all landscape instances? ...Or even another,,,Is there an answer to the question --why do be value or disvalue landscapes? An answer that is, that could be expressed in termes of only one value.

     In the Foreword I qualified this question as a pretty ambitious one, for, given the multifarious and multifaceted diversity of the landscapes we are acquainted with and of others we barely imagine, to look for a value that we may recognize in all landscapes seems quite a challenge. To think not of one but of several values that should appear conjunctively in all the landscapes is close to consider impossibility.

   The way I see it, it is not a matter of thinking of some metaphysical notion that could be expressed vaguely enough as to be all encompassing; the sort of value one should look for is one firmly rooted in ordinary human experience. Thus put, the place to enquire for it is the notion of landscape experience and, if so, the question might be re-rephrased into:     

--is there a characteristic or feature common to all landscape experiences that we think as valuable?


    Tentatively, as an idea worth exploring, I would say that a most promising candidate is one related to the sensations and/or emotions  associated with a family of terms comprising 'open space', 'unbounded space', "vastness of space", "extendedness of space" and other terms of the sort.  All of them refer to the sensation of seeing what appears to be a continued view, uninterrupted by significant occlusions, when we rotate our head or the whole body.[14]

      All of the above  refer to the sensation of seeing what appears to be a continued view, uninterrupted by significant occlusions, when we rotate our head or the whole body. Their implications are better grasped when 

opposed to the sensations experienced when, on rotating parallel to the ground, the view is occluded by walls (as inside a room or a hall), by trees (as in a thick forest) or by ground formations (as in a ravine or a canyon).

From the above group, I prefer 'unbounded space' because it better conveys the idea of finding ourselves confronting a space not bounded by obstacles that delimit it, others of course than the line of horizon. In such a situation we experience a sensation of wonder or even of awe which is distinctive of the landscape experience ( distinct from the more general experience of place/space) [4]


   Let's recall Anderson's characterization: "To experience something as good is to be favorably aroused by it – to be attracted, interested, pleased, awed".

  That unbounded space is experimented as 'good', or is valued as such, seems rather obvious if we are to judge from common human behavior. We can go to considerable lengths in order to see space unobstructed by boundaries; we go up to the top of buildings to have a panoramic view of cities or towns that otherwise have nothing commendable; we go up hills or mounts to get a view of the countryside, even if the same countryside when traversed around may be insipid or dull. That is, independent of the aesthetic qualities of a terrain, a bird's eye view seems to produce a positive affective response upon humans.

  Upon this general valuation other, more particular, values are superimposed, these are the values I have referred to in the contiguous vignettes. When landscapes are experienced as sacred, historical, pastoral, or conflictual the result appears to be to make for a richer landscape experience. This, even if we accept Elaide's contention that…

And we conclude with Keats?




 Notes and References 

 ** The images inserted in this page are photos of works by Yinka Shonibare. For information of the artist's life and work see this link:                     

[1] Dewey J. (1913), The Problem of Values, The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, 10(10):268-269

[2] Feagin S. L., Reading with Feeling: The aesthetics of appreciation, Cornell Univ.Press , Ithaca, N.Y. (1996)

[2a] The said characterization (in pp 23), besides being concise and very much apt it has the merit of not being a definition (as I keep saying, in the matters discussed in these pages, definitions better be avoided). It avoids being a definition by not saying what 'appreciation is' but what it mainly involves, leaving room for other activities which appreciation may also involve.

[3] Anderson E., Value in Ethics and Economics, Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Mass. (1995)

[4] Goldfarb J.D., (2013) On the Landscape Experience, presented at III Giornata internazionale di studi sul paesaggio; to be published by Aracne editrice S.r.l.

[5] Prinz J. ( 2007) Emotion and Aesthetic Value , Delivered at the Pacific APA, San Francisco

[6] The link between the sacred and landscape is best made through the notion of 'sacred space' as elaborated by Eliade in:

[6a] Eliade M. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, Harcourt Inc., Florida,(1959)

  For relevant modifications on Eliade's view on this subject see:

[6b] Shinner L.E. (1972), Sacred Space, Profane Space, Human Space.Journal of the American Academy of Religion 35,425-36

[7] The literature on these subjects is prolific; as said, there is no pretense in these vignettes of an exhaustive literature survey. See the following just an examples (and with my apologies to others, as noteworthy, authors).

[7a] Mitchell W.J.T. Landscape and Power, Chicago Univ. Press (2002); includes an article by Mitchell on Imperial Landscapes.

For Colonial Landscapes a good reference book is:

[7b] Hicks D., Mc Atackney L., Fairclough G.J. Situations and Standpoints in the Archaeology of Landscapes (In particular chapters 6                         and 11).LeftCoast Inc., California (2009)

[8] Goldfarb J.D., (2011) Landscape Genres, 

[9] Livingston D., Locating Biblical Beth El, 


[10] Mitchell W.J.T.(2000) Holy Landscape: Israel, Palestine and the American Wilderness, Critical Inquiry 26(2) 193-223

[11] Rapoport M. (2010) Dualism and Desire on the Landscape of the Divine, Cultural Studies, Routledge, London  

[12] Hunter B., "Clarence Irving Lewis", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (Spring 2014 Edition)

[13] Quine W.V.  (1979), On the Nature of Human Values, Critical Inquiry, 5(30,271-80.

[14] Regarding this point, hard not to fall into a Gibsonian account of perception,as in: 

       Gibson J.J. (1968) What gives rise to the perception of motion?, Psychological Review 35(4),335-46

[15] Hepburn R.W. (2010) The Aesthetics of Sky and Space, Environmental Values, 19, 273-88