One of the most intriguing – and arguably counter-intuitive – doctrines defended by environmental philosophers is that of positive aesthetics, the thesis that all of nature is beautiful. The doctrine has attained philosophical respectability only comparatively recently, thanks in no small part to the work of Allen Carlson, one of its foremost defenders. In this paper we argue that the doctrine can be found much earlier in the work of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who devised and defended a version of positive aesthetics (avant la lettre) in the early modern period, grounded in a conception of the world as a world of monads, each of which individually fulfils the rationalist aesthetic criteria of multiplicity-in-unity and that taken together ensure that the world as a whole is a harmoniously ordered system of multiple and diverse individuals, whose intelligible order and variety is made known to us through natural scientific endeavour. In showing this, we advance two further theses: first, that Leibniz’s version of positive aesthetics displays more philosophical virtue than Carlson’s, for whereas Carlson’s doctrine is vague and admits of exceptions, Leibniz’s is clear and all-encompassing. And secondly, that Leibniz’s version of positive aesthetics has the resources to overcome a difficulty inherent in the exclusively science-based justification that Carlson offers.
- positive aesthetics