The Philosophy of Nursing

By Fry, Sara T. PhD, Rn, Faan | Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Philosophy of Nursing


Fry, Sara T. PhD, Rn, Faan, Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice


The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the philosophy of nursing. First, the ontological, epistemological, and ethical issues that comprise the field of inquiry are identified. Second, we discuss how some of these issues are being addressed as demonstrated by the articles in this issue of Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice. Finally, suggestions are made for the further development of the philosophy of nursing in the 21st century.

This issue of Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice focuses on the works of several authors who are making important contributions to the philosophy of nursing, an emerging field of philosophical inquiry in nursing. Philosophy of nursing is not a new field of inquiry; indeed, it has developed alongside the development of the science of nursing over the past 150 years. Only recently, however, has it been possible to identify increased productivity and interest in the field. Evidence of this interest and productivity is the following: The formation of the Institute for Philosophical Nursing Research at the University of Alberta in the 1980s, the biennial conferences sponsored by the Institute and held at the Banff Center since 1989, published articles and books on particular aspects of philosophy of nursing, and a new journal entitled The Philosophy of Nursing. Thus, it is only appropriate that contributions to this field of inquiry be collected in one issue to: (a) identify the ontological, epistemological, and ethical issues that comprise the field of inquiry, (b) provide an overview of current work in the philosophy of nursing and the issues that are being addressed, and (c) anticipate the areas of discourse that will require further development in the 21st century.

From the outset, we have to understand that the philosophy of nursing is not a well-defined field of inquiry with an underlying or coherent structure. Philosophy itself is a type of inquiry that uses critical analysis to describe, evaluate, and understand various phenomena in the universe or the world of human affairs. The forms of the inquiry can be speculative, normative, or logical. Nursing, on the other hand, can be defined differently depending on whether one focuses on its social construction, purpose, activities, or outcomes. Regardless of how nursing is defined, most people understand that nursing includes activities that are supported by the sciences and the humanities, and is oriented "to the provision of care that promotes well-being in the people served" (American Nurses Association [ANA], 1995, p. 6). Unlike medicine, which is concerned with diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease, nursing is concerned with promoting health, preventing illness, restoring health, and alleviating suffering (International Council of Nursing [ICN], 1973). In addressing these concerns, nursing focuses on "human experiences and responses to birth, health, illness, and death" (ANA, 1995, p. 8).

With these definitions of "philosophy" and "nursing" in mind, philosophy of nursing can be understood as philosophical inquiry about nursing's social and humanitarian roles, its forms of thought, nature, scope, purpose, methods, language, moral presuppositions, and knowledge claims. Philosophy of nursing is an activity that one carries out. It is not an entity that is created by one type of investigation or another. It is a type of inquiry that uses philosophical methods and raises questions about the aspects of nursing listed above. This is a broad view of the field of inquiry and is influenced by my own study of the philosophy of medicine as well as discussions with colleagues over the years. It is inclusive rather than exclusive. Other views of the philosophy of nursing probably exist and may or may not be in agreement with this view. But for our purposes in this issue of Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice, this is the view that will be used.

ONTOLOGICAL ISSUES

The authors of the articles in this issue are doing the philosophy of nursing.

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