With the approach of the 21st century, nursing is having to respond to diverse influences which are remoulding the professional landscape. Not least of these is the changing status of western economies which underpins a drive towards evidence-based practice and an increased emphasis on multidisciplinary approaches to health care delivery. Certainty in health care is now a thing of the past. Central to the way the nursing profession embraces the future is its underlying philosophy: that which articulates professional values and shapes practice, research, education and management. In a time of change it is therefore essential to revisit the philosophical framework which underpins nursing. The debate in nursing research and theory appears to have stressed the polarization of viewpoints. It may be the case that feminist writers, ethnographers, positivist researchers and nursing theorists, in defending their own points of view, diminish rather than enhance professional dialogue. This paper reviews the nature of this debate within nursing and considers the implications that a dichotomous position may have for knowledge, theory and research method within the current context of health care. It then suggests a philosophical framework which could be relevant and accessible across the whole spectrum of nursing activity. In so doing, the paper aims to contribute to the discussion around epistemology and method in a way which encompasses the diversity found within the broad church of nursing.