“I declare this world is so beautiful that I can hardly believe it exists.” The beauty of nature can have a profound effect upon our senses, those gateways from the outer world to the inner, whether it results in disbelief in its very existence as Emerson notes, or feelings such as awe, wonder, or amazement. But what is it about nature and the entities that make it up that cause us, oftentimes unwillingly, to feel or declare that they are beautiful? One answer that Emerson offers is that “the simple perception of natural forms is a delight.” When we think of beauty in nature, we might most immediately think of things that dazzle the senses – the prominence of a mountain, the expanse of the sea, the unfolding of the life of a flower. Often it is merely the perception of these things itself which gives us pleasure, and this emotional or affective response on our part seems to be crucial to our experience of beauty. So in a way there is a correlate here to the intrinsic value of nature; Emerson says: the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal, give us a delight in and for themselves. Most often, it seems to me, we find these things to be beautiful not because of something else they might bring us – a piece of furniture, say, or a ‘delicacy’ to be consumed – but because of the way that the forms of these things immediately strike us upon observation. In fact, one might even think that this experience of beauty is one of the bases for valuing nature – nature is valuable because it is beautiful.Emerson seems to think that beauty in the natural world is not limited to certain parts of nature to the exclusion of others. He writes that every landscape lies under “the necessity of being beautiful”, and that “beauty breaks in everywhere.” As we slowly creep out of a long winter in the Northeast, I think Emerson would find the lamentations about what we have ‘endured’ to be misguided:The inhabitants of the cities suppose that the country landscape is pleasant only half the year….To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again. The close observer of nature sees a river in constant flux, even when the river’s water is frozen and everything appears to be static and unchanging for a time. Nature can reveal its beauty in all places and at all times to the eye that knows how to look for it. We can hear Emerson wrangle with himself on this very point in the words of this journal entry:At night I went out into the dark and saw a glimmering star and heard a frog, and Nature seemed to say, Well do not these suffice? Here is a new scene, a new experience. Ponder it, Emerson, and not like the foolish world, hanker after thunders and multitudes and vast landscapes, the sea or Niagara. So if we’re sympathetic to the idea that nature, or aspects of it, are beautiful, we might ask ourselves why we experience nature in this way. Emerson says that nature is beautiful because it is alive, moving, reproductive. In nature we observe growth and development in living things, contrasted with the static or deteriorating state of the vast majority of that which is man-made. More generally, he writes: “We ascribe beauty to that which…has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things”. He cites natural structures as lacking superfluities, an observation that in general has been confirmed by the advancement of biology. Furthermore, he says that whether talking about a human artifact or a natural organism, any increase of ability to achieve its end or goal is an increase in beauty. So in Emerson we might find the resources for seeing evolution and the drive to survive as a beautiful rather than an ugly process, governed by laws that tend to increase reproductive fitness and that we can understand through observation and inquiry. And lastly, Emerson points to the relation between what we take to be an individual and the rest of nature as a quality of the beautiful. This consists in the “power to suggest relation to the whole world, and so lift the object out of a pitiful individuality.” In nature one doesn’t come across individuals that are robustly independent from their environment; rather things are intimately interconnected with their surroundings in ways that we don’t fully understand. Nothing is quite beautiful alone: nothing but is beautiful in the whole. All of these qualities of beauty seem to go beyond the mere impression of sensible forms that we started with, and what they require is what also served as the basis of truth and goodness in nature. In addition to the immediate experience of beauty based in perception, Emerson suggests that the beauty of the world may also be viewed as an object of the intellect. He writes that “the question of Beauty takes us out of surfaces, to thinking of the foundations of things.” In other words, we can also experience the world as beautiful because of its rational structure and our ability to grasp that structure through thought. Think for instance of the geometric structure of a crystal, or snowflake, or nautilus shell. Or consider the complexity of the fact that the reintroduction of the wolf in Yellowstone National Park changed the course of the rivers due to a chain reaction of cause and effect through the food web, a process called a trophic cascade. This reinforces Emerson’s emphasis on the interconnection between all members of the natural world; as observers of nature we are confronted with one giant, complex process that isn’t of our own making, but that we can also understand, and get a mental grasp on, even if only partially, and be awe-struck in that process of understanding. There is thus an emotional or affective component in the beauty of the intellect just as there is in the immediate beauty of perception. If we destroy the natural world, we take away the things that we can marvel at and experience awe towards in these two ways. And this experience of the beautiful through the intellect may reinforce our attributing value to nature here as well, but a deeper kind of value, the intrinsic value I talked about in the last essay. Here it is not only that nature is valuable because it is beautiful, but nature is beautiful because it possesses intrinsic value, grounded in its intelligible structure. Thus we see a close parallel between goodness and beauty in nature. We can find an objective basis for goodness and beauty in nature, namely its intelligible structure, but also see that nature is valuable and beautiful for us, with the particular apparatus that nature has given us for navigating our way through the world.So that which is the basis of truth in nature and provides it with intrinsic value is also that which makes it beautiful. Emerson himself ties these three aspects of nature into one package himself:He should know that the landscape has beauty for his eye, because it expresses a thought which is to him good: and this, because of the same power which sees through his eyes, is seen in that spectacle This is the unified philosophy of nature that I set out to explicate in the first essay – nature is the source of truth, goodness, and beauty, because of its intelligible structure, and because of its production of organisms that can recognize that structure, us. And this view of nature includes an inherent call to protect that which is true, good, and beautiful. These are the things that we as human beings are searching for, are striving after, and yet they’re right in front of us if only we would listen with our ear to the earth. Although I’ve been advocating an approach to nature based on its intelligibility, we are far from tying down the giant that is nature with our minds. Emerson writes that “the perception of the inexhaustibleness of nature is an immortal youth.” Although we shall continue to try to uncover nature’s secrets, let us also continue to take pleasure in our immediate encounter with her. Let us continue to be awe-struck, like the child on the seashore, or clambering up a tree. Let us hold onto that experience, and fight for the environment that makes it possible, both for the child in each of us, and for those that come after us. “We are by nature observers, and thereby learners.” Here Emerson points to a way that nature itself has shaped the kind of things that we are. But this power of observation, and potential for learning, can be applied to a multitude of things, as our modern universities attest. In this essay I’d like to explore what we might learn when nature, through us human beings, bends back upon itself and becomes conscious of itself; when one of its products has gained the ability to reflect upon that out of which it has arisen. Implicit in this picture is the idea that we human beings are a part of nature; it discourages the formation of a boundary that separates humans and nature as two alien forces that must vie with one another. No doubt, the relation between humans and the physical environment in which we live has undergone drastic change in the history of our species, particularly in the relatively recent past. That developmental history is one in which we’ve come out of a physical environment saturated with “essences unchanged by man” and created one in which most people are surrounded by the man-made. The question for us now is whether this trajectory will continue, and what we might be missing out on if we lose touch with this nest from which we have flown. Emerson writes: Every rational creature has all nature for his dowry and estate. It is his, if he will. He may divest himself of it; he may creep into a corner, and abdicate his kingdom, as most men do, but he is entitled to the world by his constitution. In proportion to the energy of his thought and will, he takes up the world into himself. What is Emerson on about here? What is this business about being entitled to the world by our constitution and taking the world up into ourselves? And how is this tied to rationality? The answer, it seems, is connected to what it is that we learn about nature when we observe its operations; and Emerson seems to think there’s a common thread in the various truths that we glean from nature through observation. He says man “finds something of himself in every great and small thing, in every mountain stratum, in every new law of color, fact of astronomy, or atmospheric influence which observation or analysis lay open.” So what truth is it that we find everywhere in nature through observation, whether casual or of a more scientific stripe, that is also at the same time somehow a part of ourselves? The answer for Emerson is that nature is intelligible, is law-governed, structured in accordance with rational principles; and I think there is compelling case for our adoption of this stance today. The natural world is susceptible to being understood by our minds, and when you step back and think about this fact, it is astounding. Where we once thought that we had to offer supplication towards the heavens for rain, we now know that this process is governed by laws that we can get a grasp on with our minds. There is a match, a fit, between the rational operation of our minds, and the way that nature operates, like two interlocking puzzle pieces. And it is this match that we find in nature, its intelligibility, that we feel is of kin with us; we are entitled to nature because of our rational constitution, and we take up the world into ourselves in thought. We can reproduce in our minds the guiding principles of the world outside our minds, and this activity itself is the result of nature’s handiwork. It is this account of truth in nature that allows Emerson to say: the ancient precept, ‘Know thyself,’ and the modern precept, ‘Study nature,’ become at last one maxim. The tight connection between the rational mind and intelligible nature does not, however, give us license to see in nature whatever we will, to descend into a subjectivism where we can attribute processes and mechanisms to nature willy-nilly. Rather we are constrained in certain ways by the demands of reason, but they are constraints that illuminate rather than shackle us in obscurity. Emerson’s method is clear: “Some play at chess, some at cards, some at the Stock Exchange. I prefer to play at Cause and Effect.” And, just like the rational approach to nature, the kinds of truths in nature that are uncovered don’t seem to be random or willy-nilly, at least not on a macro scale. Emerson writes: The first steps in Agriculture, Astronomy, Zoölogy, ...teach that nature’s dice are always loaded; that in her heaps and rubbish are concealed sure and useful results. And furthermore, it’s not the case that we find such truths only in what we happen to like, or in things that we happen to have an affinity with. They are found throughout everything, great and small, attractive or displeasing: Truth has not single victories; all things are its organs,—not only dust and stones, but errors and lies. The laws of disease, physicians say, are as beautiful as the laws of health. So it is in this way that nature bends back upon itself and becomes conscious of itself as I said at the outset of this essay: one particular component of nature, the human being, has been endowed by nature itself with the ability to re-present in thought what takes place in the world, and in a way so as to potentially encompass all existing things. Emerson asks: “What is a man but nature’s finer success in self-explication?”, and goes even further in claiming that “the soul’s communication of truth is the highest event in nature.” The potential of human thought to grasp truth is a phenomenon that is astonishing in itself; in addition, however, it is this phenomenon that serves as the foundation for objective claims about the existence of value and beauty in nature, which are the topics of the final two essays. Emerson claimed that all rational creatures are entitled to the natural world because of their constitution, that is, in virtue of being rational. We have no reason to think that subsequent generations, whether already born or not, are likely to be any less rational than ours. Rather, we may have reason to hope that they will be more rational, less self-interested and driven by the consuming flames of wealth. And if they are entitled to the natural world just as much as we are, a long ethical look in the mirror on our part is called for. We have an obligation to preserve the truth, goodness, and beauty in nature for those that come after us. This ethical imperative, however, is not only for the sake of these other rational creatures, but for the natural world more generally, and it is to the intrinsic goodness of nature that I turn to in the next essay. People do not read.