Humanism and positivism in nursing: contradictions and conflicts


  • John F Playle BSc(Hons) Dip Research Methods Dip Counselling RMN CPN

    Corresponding author
    1. Nurse Tutor, Manchester College of Midwifery and Nursing, Stockport, and Part-Time Lecturer, Department of Human and Health Sciences, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, England
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John F Playle, Nurse Tutor Manchester College of Midwifery and Nursing Nurse Education Centre Stepping Hill Hospital Stockport, Cheshire SK2 7JE England


Nursing and nurse education have been influenced by a shift towards a broadly humanistic philosophy as a basis for practice At the same time, in attempts to develop a knowledge base and credibility as a profession, the vital importance of research has been acknowledged Both these aspects of nursing are increasingly forming the basis for all nursing courses However, in this paper, it is argued that the implicit adoption of notions of science based in a positivistic paradigm gives rise to conflicts with a humanistic philosophy It is contended that nursing has inherited a ‘legacy of positivism’, which promotes objectivity and reductionism and which excludes subjective meaning and the personal from the research process In part this has been due to the powerful influence of medical hegemony, which has defined the nature of legitimate knowledge and controlled nursing research through the gatekeeping function of doctors If nursing is to make progress in the development of a knowledge base, the contradictions between humanism and positivism must be acknowledged as a barrier to an integration of the art and science of nursing This paper suggests that what is required is a paradigm shift, a redefinition of nursing science, which not only rehumanizes the nature of research, but also refutes and challenges the notion of objectivity and the objective attitude