Abstract Environmental economics is a contradiction in terms. The contradiction is intuitive to the puzzled lay person inquiring about the nature of our subdiscipline. It is explicit to those who think of environmental systems in terms of complex, evolving interconnectedness and identify the economic model with the atomistic and mechanistic assumptions of classical mechanics. Within the subdiscipline, we try to resolve the contradiction by internalizing externalities, by matching market feedbacks with environmental relations. While acknowledging that insights can be drawn from the market view of environmental problems, I argue in this essay that (1) the contradiction is nerver resolved; (2) multiple, incongruous perspectives are all we have for understanding the interface between economic and environmental systems; and (3) environmental economics will thrive with a return to philosophical pluralism, to the open acceptance of the contradiction.