What ist ‘Mapping the Interplay between Nature and Economy – MINE’?

The MINE website explores the interplay between nature and economy. Focusing on such fundamental concepts as time, thermodynamics, evolution, homo politicus and justice, a new outline of economic activity emerges within nature. The dominant approach of Mainstream Economics, which considers nature as a subsystem of the economy, is thus replaced by a broader and more integrated framework.

The visual map and its links between concepts provides an orientation. The visitor can approach the content from their own starting point and follow their own path to discovery. Each concept starts with the historical background and moves on through theory and practice.

The research behind MINE began in the 1970s at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in an interdisciplinary group spearheaded by Professor Malte Faber, including scientists from economics to mathematics, physics and philosophy. The research has contributed to the field of Ecological Economics.

How can I use MINE?

MINE is directed at students, scientists and decion-makers.

Students and scientists gain new and pluralistic perspectives on economy and nature, benefiting from easy access and an inutitive orientation of the field. Together, students and scientists are invited to use MINE for teaching, academic work and the strengthening of interdisciplinary networks.

For decision-makers, MINE connects day-to-day questions with an inspirative scientifc framework, quotes and arguments.

MINE is totally free. It can be read from mobile devices to printed versions under the lemon tree.

Who is the team behind the MINE website?

The MINE website has been created from 2015 to 2018 by an interdisciplinary and intergenerational project team. Its members are Dr. Dominik Zahrnt from (r)evolutionary ideas (lead), Prof. Malte Faber (initiator) and Marc Frick from Heidelberg University, Johannes Tolk from TOLK, Caspar Kolster from (r)evolutionary ideas and Suzanne von Engelhardt.

In the editorial phase, the content of over 40 books and more than 200 publications was destilled into 15 fundamental concepts. To explore and represent their interplay, concepts were structured by a common templated and visualised in a map. Thus, connections became more visible and tangible. Before, this integration was only possible to a lesser extent since the concepts have been developped one after the other over 40 years.

MINE has been financed by Prof. Malte Faber and been made possible through additional pro-bono contributions of (r)evolutionary ideas and TOLK.

Who are the researches behind MINE?

The research behind MINE began in the 1970s at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in an interdisciplinary group spearheaded by Professor Malte Faber. At the core level, more than 30 scientists from economics, mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering science, philosophy, theology, Anglistic, German literature studies have contributed [see Contributors]

The researches, sometimes refered to as the ‘Heidelberg School of Ecological Economics’, carried out pioneering work with regards to a unified, interdisciplinary approach to environmental, social and economic problems. Aknowleding the strengths of Mainstream Economics, the focus was to highlighted its blind spots and detrimental effects and to partly overcome them by creating new conceptual bridges to other disciplines [see Introducing MINE; Discussion Paper Series No. 658, Department of Economics, Heidelberg University].

The research was accompanied by policy-advising in Germany, the European Union, the US and China.

What ist the scientific methodology of MINE?

“The primary focus of our research project in creating the MINE website is to explore humankind’s relationship to its environment. It has become clear that an adequate evaluation of that relationship demands knowledge from multiple fields: society, economy, politics and law. In modern times, the sciences give us access to all of these fields. No single individual can master all of those sciences at once. Even if there were such a universal genius with outstanding expertise in economics, law, the social sciences and the natural sciences, especially physics, biology and chemistry, that individual still would not possess the skills to bring all of that knowledge together into a comprehensive understanding or help achieve such a comprehensive understanding and its network of concepts.

This means in practical terms (practical in the sense of practical philosophy which concerns itself with human action) that these fields can only be understood through science which is accessed through simpler overarching concepts. These concepts do not form a hierarchically structured system within MINE. Instead they are conceived as a network of interdependent concepts that reference each other but also remain categorically distinct from one another.

Hence, we have general concepts fundamental to understanding the world, such as time and irreversibility. Furthermore there are constitutive concepts of nature in the natural sciences, such as thermodynamics, and concepts in the social sciences like that of Homo Oeconomicus and Homo Politicus. The latter is not simply a counterpart to Homo Oeconomicus, but has its roots in practical, normative metaphysics, as developed for instance by Immanuel Kant (Metaphysics of Morals, 1979/2009).

In addition there are concepts like joint production on the one hand and responsibility on the other which attempt to capture the physical side of economic production. Both terms exhibit a structural relatedness, which is why they are especially well suited to more precisely define the requirements of practical politics in their relationship to the environment.

Finding such concepts or principles is always a matter of judgement because these concepts cannot be deduced from a series of potentially different types of observations. The power of judgement has the ability to reflect on such possible principles that may allow us to understand differing fields and how they are interrelated. On the one hand there are principles that remain within the realm of judgement, as it were, because they are only principles of reflection. Principles of refection are principles which guide reflection and scientific research yet cannot become scientific propositions or laws themselves. They therefore are principles upon which we only reflect. An example of such a principle of reflection is the sentence Natura non facit saltus (Nature does not make jumps) or, as Kant showed (1790/2001), the teleology in observing nature.

Teleology, the study of purposes, understands objects as purposeful creatures, striving for self-preservation, growth and reproduction. This is how it understands natural organisms, and this is often essential in guiding scientific research which intends to explore the functions peculiar to each organism. For instance, we can only adequately grasp the function of the eye if we regard the eye as an organ for seeing. That means we understand the eye as an organ whose purpose is for seeing. And yet, even though the teleological approach is an important prerequisite for research, teleology itself can never become a constituent concept of science. Laws discovered by science expressly may not contain any teleological elements.

We can say that teleology is a perspective which the power of judgement lends to science. If judgement is able to develop perspectives like teleology, then it is also able to find constitutive principles of nature from which phenomena can be deductively explained, as for instance thermodynamics and Newton’s law of universal gravitation. Once judgement has found such constituent principles, they become part of science, and judgement has made itself superfluous to a small extent, because explaining phenomena through these principles now only requires reason (see Wieland 2001: 173-175).”

(Faber, M., Petersen, T., Frick, M. and Zahrnt, D. (2018), MINE – Mapping the Interplay between Nature and Economy. A digital gateway to the foundations of Ecological Economics, Discussion Paper Series No. 658, Department of Economics, Heidelberg University).

How can I participalte in activities around MINE?

In Germany, courses based on MINE are goint to be taught in 2019 at  Heidelberg University and the TU Berlin.

If you have ideas for extensions, related projects or teachting sessions, please contact us [contact].

What is the resonance on MINE?

“The project could provide us with access to a lot more than just literature: It offers us a contextualisation and an easily usable tool to dig into the research on the problems we face as a generation. Looking forward to it!”

Student from the group Heidelberg Group of Real World Economics

“I am grateful that your team is taking up this work – not just for my own learning but for whole generations of people who will use the content and learn. I hope to get back to you and your team with ideas for using this material and some of your expertise to design and teach ‘ecological economics’ in India.” 

Dr Rajeswari S. Raina, Professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Shiv Nadar University, India

“One of the most wonderful and exciting homepages I know. MINE is a fascinating project. Decades of scientific work on the ecological economy as it was taught, particularly in Heidelberg. Prepared in such a way that it is impossible to avoid being inspired for everyday work. Fascinating. I hope for many visitors and exciting debates that result from it. And that also applies in a special way to the topics of the energy transition and climate protection that are constantly on my mind.”

Andreas Kuhlmann, physicist and CEO of the German Energy Agency (dena)


We want to express our gratitude to the swiss photographer Raphael Alù who took the photo in the background of the page in Equador and kindly allowed us to use it.

A big “thank you” also to Binia Sonnen from the University of Münster, who patiently tested our website and helped us a lot with her feedback.

The conent of MINE originates from scientific work published in books or peer-reviewed journals. Quotes are recognisable by a special typografic style.

The content of MINE originates from scientific work published in books and peer-reviewed journals. Quotes are indicated by a special typographic style.

The project team would like to thank the publishers Edward Elgar, Elsevier, Routledge, Springer and Taylor & Francis for granting a reproduction permission.

Furthermore, we want to express our gratitude to Bernd Klauer, Reiner Manstetten, Thomas Petersen and Johannes Schiller for supporting the MINE Project and granting the permission to use parts of the content of their book Sustainability and the Art of Long-Term Thinking.

We are indebted to Prof. Joachim Funke, Ombudsman for Good Scientific Practice at Heidelberg University and the legal department at Heidelberg University, for their advice and support.

The authors of this homepage have, to the best of their knowledge and belief, obtained permission from the publishers to publish the texts and images. If a text passage or an image should not have been considered accidentally with the approval, this happened unintentionally. In this case the authors of this homepage ask for immediate reference, so that this lack can be repaired immediately.

We recommed to reference to MINE in the following form.

MINE Website (2019), The Homo Oeconomicus and the Homo Politicus, accessed on 20 January 2019, www.nature-economy.com/homo-politicus