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Aesthetic and spiritual values of ecosystems: recognising the ontological and axiological plurality of cultural ecosystem 'services'.

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Original languageEnglish
JournalEcosystem Services
Early online date4 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


This paper explores spiritual and aesthetic cultural values associated with ecosystems. We argue that these values are not best captured by instrumental or consequentialist thinking, and they are grounded in conceptions of nature that differ from the ecosystem services conceptual framework. To support our case, we engage with theories of the aesthetic and the spiritual, sample the discourse of ‘wilderness’, and provide empirical evidence from the recent UK National Ecosystem Assessment Follow-on Phase. We observe that accounts of spiritual and aesthetic value in Western culture are diverse and expressed through different media. We recognise that humans do benefit from their aesthetic and spiritual experiences of nature. However, aesthetic and spiritual understandings of the value of nature lead people to develop moral responsibilities towards nature and these are more significant than aesthetic and spiritual benefits from nature. We conclude that aesthetic and spiritual values challenge economic conceptions of ecosystems and of value (including existence value), and that an analysis of cultural productions and a plural-values approach are needed to evidence them appropriately for decision-making.

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