Our Oldest Task: Making Sense of Our Place in Nature

Eric T. Freyfogle

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


Our environmental ills are due to the ways we interact with nature, variously using it appropriately and abusing it. These interactions, in turn, are much influenced by—their root causes are found in--modern culture, particularly how we see and value nature and our place in it. This book takes on the ambitious task of making sense, literally, of our place in nature, thereby assisting in what conservationist Aldo Leopold termed “our oldest task”—to live in nature without degrading it. The book addresses the topic in its fullness, in a way few scholars have attempted. Drawing as much on history, sociology, economics, ecology, and environmental politics as it does environmental philosophy the work transcends academic fields to engage basic issues pushed aside in environmental studies programs and calls for a “new economy.” The opening chapter explores how we gain knowledge (epistemology), what the world contains (metaphysics), how we make normative choices, how we define truth, and how parts of nature (humans included) interact to form larger wholes with emergent proprieties. This inquiry sets the stage for considering how we might best distinguish good from bad interactions with nature. The discussion critiques our overuse of science and dominant liberal moral frames in the course of identifying and drawing together the many normative considerations—social and inter-generational justice as well as ecological concerns—that bear on the challenge. Concluding chapters offer an ambitious program for reform of liberal culture and of the key institutions (the market and private property) that reflect and strengthen that flawed culture.
Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780226326429
ISBN (Print)9780226326399
StatePublished - 2017


  • conservation
  • sources of normativity
  • new economy
  • metaphysics
  • liberal individualism
  • epistemology
  • environmental studies
  • environmental philosophy
  • cultural reform


Dive into the research topics of 'Our Oldest Task: Making Sense of Our Place in Nature'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this