Toward An Ethics of Reciprocity: Ethnobotanical Knowledge and Medicinal Plants as Cancer Therapies

John Ryan

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This article develops a reciprocity ethics of the environment through a discussion of ethnobotanical medicines used in the treatment of cancer. The moral virtue of reciprocity, defined as the returning of good when good is received or anticipated, is central to the posthumanist rethinking of human relationships to the plant world. As herbal medicines are used progressively more around the globe and as plant diversity decreases as a result of habitat loss and climate change, an ethics of reciprocity should be a concern for environmental philosophers and conservationists. Aldo Leopold’s land ethic and J. Baird Callicott’s distinction between deontological and prudential environmental ethics provide theoretical contexts for the development of a reciprocity ethics vis-à-vis ethnobotanical species. While this article does not necessarily specify modes or forms of reciprocity, it does outline some of the more prominent ethnobotanical species used in the treatment of cancer, including those from Native American, African, Chinese, and Indian traditions. In the form of a dialogue between the fields of ethnobotany, herbal medicine, and environmental philosophy, this article presents a position from which further articulations of reciprocity can be developed, particularly those involving the rights of indigenous cultures and plants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)624-644
Number of pages21
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes

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