The Dao of Civilization

The book sets out a prospectus for a new form of civilization patterned at every level to serve and sustain the biosphere. Starting with the deep philosophical flaw at the core of modernity, namely that the cosmos is devoid of ends of its own, it posits, as an alternative axis for civilization, that the cosmos indeed actively seeks its own existence, and that its self-realization is moreover internally structured via an impulse, amongst finite things, towards co-generativity. Termed ‘Dao’ in ancient China and often coded as Law in Indigenous and First Nations cultures, this innate template is here taken as a first principle for economic production in contemporary societies: basic modes of economic production must transition from antagonistic to synergistic – to a specifically biological form of synergy which involves not merely the imitation of natural systems but active collaboration with them. The fact that this first principle is so philosophically alien to the Western mind-set while yet finding strong resonances with Chinese tradition, might encourage China, as an emerging great power, to lead the world in crafting a contemporary form of civilization that is true to Dao.


‘For many of us working in the field of regenerative practice, Freya Mathews is the most important environmental philosopher writing today. In this book she sets out profound insights that challenge existing praxis as well as describing the new ways of thinking that will be necessary to shape an ecological civilization. It is hard to conceive of a more urgent task for humanity, and this book is sure to be one of the most illuminating for those that want to lead on that journey’ ― Michael Pawlyn, co-author of Flourish: Design Paradigms for our Planetary Emergency and author of Biomimicry in Architecture.

‘Freya Mathews has given us The Dao of Civilization, an intellectually stunning work that opens new ways of coping with the existential crises of climate change by uncovering the ancient and untapped earth-based philosophies of ancient Chinese Daoism and Australian Aboriginal thought. Mathews persuades us, in her highly accessible and engaging style, that we are anything but helpless in our confrontation with a dramatically changing environment. This is a trailblazing work that will upend the way we think about the world and our place in it’ ― Thomas Michael, School of Philosophy, Beijing Normal University; author of In the Shadows of the Dao: Laozi, the Sage, and the Daodejing.

You can order The Dao of Civilization: a Letter to China at

Videos & Podcasts

Towards an Australian Worldview: a Conversation with Mary Graham and Freya Mathews

Wisdom From The Mount - Freya Mathews-HD

"Presentation for ‘Three Wise Women’: a panel discussion with Mary Graham, Freya Mathews on video, Merle Thornton. Facilitator: Michelle Boulous Walker
World Philosophy Day 2016 Hosted by the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry 12:00pm – 8:00pm Thursday 17th November Abel Smith Building The University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus.”


“Wild animals are starving, it’s our fault. Should we feed them?”, The Conversation 19 August, 2013 <>

“Is an Ethic of Biodiversity Enough?” The Conversation, 7 Feb 2013 <>

“When the media won’t report the environment, it’s time to rethink the news”, The Conversation, 20 August 2012 <>

“Scientists Warned Us This Was Going To Happen”, The Age, 10 Feb 2009; also in Sydney Morning Herald and Canberra Times. <>

Ardea: A Philosophical Novella

Freya Mathews
Earth, Milky Way: punctum books, 2016

ISBN 978-0615845562.

What is soul? Can it be forfeited? Can it be traded away? If it can, what would ensue? What consequences would follow from loss of soul — for the individual, for society, for the earth?

In the early nineteenth century, Goethe’s hero, Faust, became a defining archetype of modernity, a harbinger of the existential possibilities and moral complexities of the modern condition. But today the dire consequences of the Faustian pact with the devil are becoming alarmingly visible. In light of this, how would Goethe’s arguably flawed drama play out in a 21st-century century setting? Would a contemporary Faust sign up to a demonic deal? Indeed what, in the wake of two hundred years of social and economic development, would be left for the devil to offer him? A contemporary Faust would already possess everything the original Faust in his ascetic cloister lacked — affluence and mobility; celebrity and worldly influence; access to information; religious choice; sexual freedom and the availability of women — though women, it must be noted, currently also partake of that same freedom. The only thing a present-day Faust would lack would be his soul. Would he miss it? Does soul even exist? If it does, it would of course be the one thing the devil could not bestow. So from what or whom could Faust retrieve it? What, in a word, would a contemporary Faust most deeply desire?

In pursuit of these questions, Ardea engages a familiar but possibly faulty archetype, that of Faust, with an unfamiliar one, that of the white heron, borrowed from a short story of the same name by nineteenth-century American author, Sarah Orne Jewett. In Jewett’s tale, a soul-pact of an entirely different kind from that entered into by Faust is proposed. It is a pact with the wild, a pledge of fealty, of non-forfeiture, that promises to redraw the violent psycho-sexual and psycho-spiritual patterns that have underpinned modernity. How would a present-day heir to the Faustian tradition, ingrained with the habit of entitlement but also burdened with the consequences of the old pact, respond to the new proposition?

You can order Ardea: A Philosophical Novella at: Punctum Books 


Freya Mathews


Philosophy and Politics

School of Humanities & Social Sciences

College of Arts, Social Sciences & Commerce

La Trobe University 

Freya Mathews

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Philosophy and Politics

School of Humanities & Social Sciences

College of Arts, Social Sciences & Commerce

La Trobe University


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