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Philosophic inquiry for nursing: a crucial connection

Because nursing is a very “practical” endeavor, the crucial underpinnings of philosophy are sometimes difficult to recognize.  But in this article the authors, Pamela J. Grace, PhD, RN, FAAN and Donna J. Perry, PhD, RN, explain why this is such a critical connection.  Their article titled “Philosophical Inquiry and the Goals of Nursing: A Critical Approach for Disciplinary Knowledge Development and Action” is currently featured on the ANS  web site.  Dr. Grace and Dr. Perry provided this interesting background to their work:

From Pamela Grace: The idea for this paper had been germinating a long time and went through several iterations. It benefited from the critique and suggestions of many colleagues, doctoral students and the ANS reviewers but we are sure that there is much more that can be said and we look forward to an ongoing dialogue.

A very early version of the paper was presented as part of a 4-paper symposium sponsored by International Philosophy of Nursing Society (IPONS) members and accepted for presentation at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) 2010 Research Conference. IPONS is a forum for philosophical dialog and has among its aims: “to promote and establish philosophy of nursing, and health care in general, as a credible and important field of philosophical and critical inquiry” and that was the intent of the symposium to highlight the role and importance of philosophical thought for disciplinary purposes.

The shape of this version emerged as a result of co-teaching a doctoral seminar at Boston College with Donna Perry in the Spring of 2012. The course was focused on understanding philosophical and socio-political influences on health policy and ways in which nursing research can be use to inform and shape health policies. I used a much rougher draft of the paper as one of the assigned readings. Donna’s insightful and helpful suggestions on the manuscript, ideas about the hierarchical structure, and addition of Lonergan’s thoughts really helped refine the paper in a way that we believe makes it broadly useful to the profession.

The original and more personal reason for the paper is that, over my many years as a practicing nurse both in critical care settings and later in primary care as an ANP, I struggled with the healthcare environment – how it often and sometimes in subtle ways undermines good practice or fails to meet the needs of individuals and their communities. This struggle led me to doctoral studies in philosophy. I was hoping to learn ways of addressing practice problems. In this environment I was free and indeed encouraged to question everything. The skills and perspective gained I took with me into nursing academia only to discover that this sort of probing inquiry, that is not afraid to question how various projects and different levels of curricula meet nursing goals, seems to be losing ground as a valued a mode of knowledge development.

FYI the International Philosophy of Nursing Society  (IPONS) annual conference is in the US this year (Atlanta) Sept 7-9th.

From Donna Perry: My interest in philosophy stemmed from my undergraduate education at Saint Anselm College. The curriculum there was centered in an innovative and engaging humanities foundation which integrated scholars and scholarship from multiple disciplines. I took several extra courses in philosophy and found that it provided a helpful lens for all my future studies. When I started doctoral work at Boston College I purposefully sought out the philosophy department where I was introduced to the work of Bernard Lonergan, S.J. who had taught at BC. His cognitional philosophy provides a rich account of interior human consciousness. My own research focuses on transformative decision making around social issues that impact health. I found that Lonergan’s philosophy provided a deep and encompassing viewpoint from which to address issues of concern to humanity and to nursing.

When Pam extended an invitation to work with her on this manuscript I eagerly accepted. Not only was the topic of interest but I felt that it was critically important to address the importance of philosophical inquiry in nursing. It is important to note that this manuscript continued to evolve after submission. Reviewers who generously shared their time and thoughtful comments were instrumental to this process. The reviewers’ comments on the initial manuscript raised questions about the broad scope we had ascribed to philosophical inquiry. As all good questions do, these caused me to think critically about our paper. The different activities we had described were all important elements of philosophical inquiry. But clearly we needed to develop a way to differentiate and organize these different components. The process of bringing some clarification to this range of philosophical activities gave me the insight into developing a taxonomy for philosophical inquiry. Our hope is that this taxonomy might be helpful for scholarly development in the profession as we seek to address the many contemporary challenges to health and further the human good.

If you have not already, visit the ANS web site and download your copy of this very interesting article at no charge!

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