Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Philosophy

Committee Chair

Deborah Slicer

Commitee Members

Christopher Preston, Albert Borgmann


conversational approach, etiquette, ethics-first epistemology, Wendell Berry, self-validating reduction


University of Montana


An agrarian model of farming is one that places emphasis on the realization of a multi-faceted notion of health, one encompassing the cultural, ecological, and moral health on the farm and in farm communities. As a means to recovering such health, Wendell Berry proposes the conversational approach to farming. While the idea that a farmer can engage in a conversation with nature is intriguing, there are lots of ambiguities revolving around what this actually means. If the conversational approach leads to agrarian health, its dimensions must be made clear. In this thesis, I offer one account by which to understand Berry’s proposal. My argument begins in chapter two, where I identify three impediments to the conversational approach: “objective” science and reductionism, arrogance, and abstract language use. Next, in chapter three, I turn to Christopher Preston’s view of epistemology; it can account for the embodied skill set acquired by means of the conversational approach. Despite this, however, Preston poses a challenge to what he calls the conversation metaphor. In chapter four, I respond by embracing what Jim Cheney and Anthony Weston refer to as an ethics-based epistemology. This ethics-first approach not only shields the conversation metaphor against Preston’s criticism, but it also provides insights into the pre-requisite values for participating in Berry’s conversation. Drawing from Cheney and Weston, I develop the notion of conversational etiquette, focusing particularly on how it counters the impediments of arrogance and reductionism. Because the conversational etiquette of agrarian farmers is rather mature, they are offered “instruction” from their embodied, sensual experiences in the world. I, therefore, claim that agrarian health can be realized by means of the conversational approach insofar as human practice makes clear that nature is a conversational partner. By attending to our embodied existence in the world, we can again participate in Berry’s conversation, employing the practices necessary to agrarian health. Doing so is the difference between defending nature and allowing for its further exploitation; it is the difference between living a life of virtue and living one that continues to be diminished. Nature speaks. Listen.

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© Copyright 2014 Nicholas Brian Redig