Keynote Speeches

The recorded keynote speeches of the 14th International Summer Conference of the International Institute of Applied Aesthetics: Aesthetics in the Age of Environmental Crises (3–5 June 2021, Online). The speeches were given by Emily Brady (Philosophy Department, Texas A&M University, USA), Marcello Di Paola (Humanities Department, University of Palermo, Italy), and Ville Lähde (BIOS Research Unit, Helsinki, Finland). Read the abstracts of the speeches from below on this page. Supported by Lahti University Campus.

All times in the program are in East European Summer Time (Helsinki, EEST, UTC +3).

Thursday, June 316:00–17:00
Friday, June 416:00–17:00
Saturday, June 514:30–15:30

Thursday, June 3

Emily Brady: Cryospheric Aesthetics

(Philosophy Department, Texas A&M University, USA)

Global climate change is having disastrous effects on the cryosphere, or those parts of the earth that are formed by frozen water: frozen rivers and lakes, sea ice, ice sheets, ice caps, shelf ice, glaciers, snow and permafrost (NOAA). These phenomena play a key role in our climate, and they are especially sensitive to changes from global warming. Glacial melt is occurring at an alarming rate and icebergs are melting and calving much more quickly than scientists have predicted. Such catastrophic effects are leading to sea level rise, avalanches, and other weather-related events that are harming humans and nonhumans. As we witness change and loss to the cryosphere, the field of philosophical aesthetics has an important role to play in illuminating and disclosing multisensory aesthetic qualities, meanings, and values of ice and snow.

Many parts of the cryosphere are inaccessible and uninhabitable, while other parts are home to human and nonhuman communities alike. In what ways can aesthetics illuminate various features of remote frozen places and, also, capture more everyday aesthetic experiences of them? In this talk, I work toward formulating a pluralistic, intergenerational aesthetic knowledge of the cryosphere. Given that global climate change is a past, present and future phenomenon, some of our aesthetic knowledge of the changing cryosphere will be iterative rather than definitive. To this end, I propose the relevance of various methods, such as predictions, models and the role of imagination, but also the theoretical approach of ‘descriptive aesthetics’ which refers to ‘accounts of art and aesthetic experience that may be partly narrative, partly phenomenological, partly evocative, and sometimes even revelatory’ (Berleant, 1992). Indigenous and explorer narratives, as well as familiar phenological descriptions of aesthetic change can assist in building our aesthetic knowledge of the cryosphere.

In building this project of cryospheric aesthetics, I also emphasise the value of collaborative work between philosophers and other arts and humanities researchers, especially scholars and artists working in emerging cross-disciplinary research on the ‘ice humanities’, ‘polar humanities’, and ‘arctic humanities’.

Chair: Arto Haapala

Friday, June 4

Marcello Di Paola:

Anthropocene Environments and the Virtues of Aesthetic Appreciation

(Humanities Department, University of Palermo, Italy)

The Anthropocene is this new epoch in which no earthly entity, process, or system escapes the reach and transformative influence of human activities. As the planet is anthropogenically remade, new environments emerge that can be aesthetically disorienting on various grounds. Such disorientation may challenge our appreciative abilities, preventing us from experiencing these environments in aesthetically rich, nuanced, and meaningful ways. These appreciative hindrances may in turn unduly distort our aesthetic judgments.

I argue that most emerging Anthropocene environments – those made and remade by the global, mostly fossil-fueled, transformative forces that are distinctive of the new epoch (large-scale and increasingly capable technological systems, sweeping capital movements, and systemic ecological changes) – are particularly apt to trigger in us the exercise of vices in aesthetic appreciation. I suggest that if we can easily be “tempted to err” in appreciating the aesthetic qualities of these environments, then we should strive to develop and exercise virtues of aesthetic appreciation that would help us resist such temptation. To the extent that appreciative virtues can enable richer, more nuanced, and more meaningful aesthetic experiences of Anthropocene environments, and be instruments for the articulation of more refined aesthetic judgments about them, there is, I argue, an important role for virtue theory in an environmental aesthetics for the Anthropocene.

I begin by presenting the general notion of aesthetic virtue and some recent developments in aesthetic virtue theory. I then introduce the Anthropocene and give examples of representative Anthropocene environments, highlighting some distinctive ways in which they can be aesthetically disorienting. I go on to list some appreciative vices that such disorientation can trigger, characterizing these as biased (i.e. aesthetically unjustified, irrelevant, misled, or misleading) dispositions of psychological, social, and cultural origins. I then present some important appreciative virtues whose development and exercise could work to counteract these vices. I close by considering some implications of my proposal, including with respect to the autonomism vs. moralism debate in contemporary environmental aesthetics.

Chair: Sanna Lehtinen

Saturday, June 5

Photo by Jouni Tikkanen

Ville Lähde: What is in an Environmental Crisis?

(BIOS Research Unit, Helsinki, Finland)

The explosion in usage of “the Anthropocene”, “the climate emergency” and “an existential crisis” has brought much needed urgency and seriousness to public perception of environmental problems. Instead of temporary hiccups to business as usual, they are increasingly understood as a systemic fault. The interconnections and mutual amplifications of environmental problems are taken more seriously – we are in the midst of an overarching crisis instead of leafing through a catalogue of issues that can be addressed piecemeal.

There is a downside to such terminological explosions, however. Powerful words can become ritual invocations that call forth crisis consciousness but no longer activate the interest and the will to know, to learn and to understand more. It is as if we already know enough, and can signal our supposedly shared understanding by these familiar tags: “As we live in the Anthropocene…” or “in the current existential crisis”. There are many pitfalls in this terrain, but two are especially perilous. First of all, many environmental problems are not accessible by everyday understanding. Some problems are, and local lived knowledge is often a crucial ingredient in learning about them. But others work on spatial and temporal scales that can only be reached by the collective knowledge creation in the sciences. There are no shortcuts. But ritual language can create illusionary familiarity.

Secondly, the conceptual unification of many problems into a singular crisis brings a temptation to unify causes and solutions. If instead of a plethora of problems we have one crisis, surely they can all be traced to one root: humanity itself, monotheism, patriarchy, capitalism, and whatnot? This is a recurring phenomenon in environmental thought, in fact, as the culturally powerful words “nature” and “environment” tend towards such unification or totalisation. But here conceptually led understanding fails. Environmental problems are many and one at the same time. There are common interwoven threads of crisis, and there are multiple separate threads. The entanglement of key problems into an environmental crisis is a historical creation, not a conceptual one. Clumping everything together and just assuming a common cause, and thus a common solution, pushes the useful crisis consciousness overboard and becomes another way of leaving scientific understanding by the wayside.

These paths are tempting in the arts and other cultural spheres where deviating from both scientific parlance and everyday perception are undoubtedly virtues. They are crucial ways to approach the problems of our time and to push our thinking beyond mundane lock-ins. These approaches should not be reduced as “translators of science”, but in taking the necessary liberties of expression, the pitfalls of ritual language should be avoided.

Chair: Jukka Mikkonen