In the latest volume of the journal Ecological Economics, I contribute to ongoing debates about the role of economic valuation in market-based conservation. I respond to an earlier piece by Brett Sylvester Matulis, nuance some of his arguments and set what I believe should be the new agenda for critical scholarship of market-based conservation. I argue for more precision in the claims we make about the role of economic valuation and the impacts of payments for ecosystem services, distinguishing across market-based instruments and across types of outcomes, and for a more nuanced account of the ethical connotations of such instruments. I suggest that such analysis should entail understanding both unequal socio-economic relations and culturally bounded conceptions of justice. Overall, I advocate for the development of a more robust empirical basis to derive generalizations on the procedural, distributive and livelihood implications of market-based instruments for conservation.