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Understanding Esthetic Knowing

The new featured article from the current ANS issue is titled “Reorienting Esthetic Knowing as an Appropriate “Object” of Scientific Inquiry to Advance Understanding of a Critical Pattern of Nursing Knowledge in Practice” by Miriam Bender, PhD, RN and Dina Elias, MSN, RN, CCSN.  Download your copy of this article at no charge while it is featured, and share your responses here!  Both authors have provided messages for ANS readers about their work:

Dina Elias: The act of providing nursing care, or the act of nursing, depends heavily on the nurse knowing the right action to take. Knowing, in and of itself, can manifest itself in many different ways depending on the context in which it is needed. In my first year of my PhD studies I took a Philosophy of Science class and it was in that class that I realized I had known so

Dina Elias

Dina Elias

little about what it means to really ‘know’. Foreign words like ‘epistemology’ and ‘ontology’ began to take on a whole new life of their own in my mind. I began asking and wondering about the ontology of nursing, and the type of knowledge that is necessary to make nursing the science that it is. But then to my dismay, I realized that nursing and its ways of knowing were not always ‘scientific’ enough for the positivistic worldview of healthcare science in which it belongs to. Yes, it is true that there are empirical and ethical ways of knowing that nursing draws from, but it was the aesthetic way of knowing that fascinated me the most. My naivety led me to believe that others would understand that the world cannot be possibly explained empirically; that the positivistic view of the world would not suffice. Einstein once said “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”, yet here I was being told that aesthetic knowing, since it cannot be counted and measured, must not count. I struggled with my inability to explain and objectify aesthetic knowing…that intuition that is so close and near to a clinician’s heart. It is in aesthetic knowing that a critical way of knowing emerges and manifests itself. But how do we objectify something that cannot be objectified or observed in the first place? Do I just relinquish the fight and submit to the idea that aesthetic knowing is nothing more than a ‘gut’ feeling that has no merit? I could not be convinced of that. It was here that the debates and discourse be,tween my professor and mentor began…how do we reorient aesthetic knowing so that it reveals itself as an object of scientific inquiry? When we can do that, we can begin giving aesthetic knowing the rightful scientific place it deserves. When we understand how aesthetic knowing is acquired and expressed, we can begin articulating it in an objective manner that can be translated into practice.

Miriam Bender: This article was born in a Philosophy of Science course that all University of California Irvine (UCI) nursing doctoral students must take in year one, as part of their core curriculum. I started as junior faculty at UCI in November 2014, and was slated to teach the course starting Fall quarter 2015. To ensure I was adequately prepared, I began a scholarly journey that I am still passionately engaged with. I created a syllabus based on 10 months of reading and

Miriam Bender

Miriam Bender

reaching out to esteemed faculty across the world. I am especially indebted to Janice Morse and Sally Thorne, to whom I reached out asking for guidance, and who gave me great feedback and insights. In this course the students read Susan Gortner, Mark Risjord, Jacqueline Fawcett, Thomas Kuhn, Larry Laudan, Donna Haraway, Paul Thagard, Sally Thorne, Janice Morse, and Patricia Benner, to name just a very small sample. We discussed the history of nursing science; the evolution of philosophy of science; prediction, explanation and the appropriate claims of science; and what it all means for nursing science and practice. Luckily for me, the students were as passionate as I was about the readings. Dina had a series of insights throughout the course that inspired this paper. She was truly engaged in identifying a philosophical orientation that “allowed” for what she began calling “prediction in practice.” As the weeks went by, Dina was able to synthesize the readings into a nascent argument for a philosophy of science that entailed systematic inquiry into the phenomenon of esthetic knowing. We took her final paper for the course and shaped it into the paper that is published. Dina took the lead in writing a thorough treatise on esthetic knowing, and allowed me to strengthen the philosophical section and develop the section outlining an esthetic knowing program of research. Dina set the bar in terms of the level of engagement and scholarship I now expect in the course, and I am excited to see what other articles will come from future students as they synthesize their learning into insights that influence the ongoing philosophy of nursing science discourse.


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