As a first year PhD in Nursing Science student, I was extremely pleased to see an article stressing the importance of philosophy in the discipline of nursing. Pesut’s & Johnson’s JAN paper titled ‘Reinstating the ‘Queen’: understanding philosophy inquiry in nursing’ provided an excellent introduction to the characteristics of philosophy inquiry. One of the first required classes in the PhD programme at the University of Washington is ‘Philosophical Basis of Nursing Inquiry’. The purpose of the course is to provide an overview and critical analysis of historical and contemporary views of knowledge development and of science, with particular emphasis on the way these views influence approaches to nursing inquiry. The focus of the course is on analysing underlying epistemological and ontological assumptions and the implications of diverse approaches to knowledge generation in nursing.
Unfortunately, I feel the authors are undervaluing the efforts currently being done by nurse scientists because their work is labelled as theory-focused and not philosophy-focused. The authors focus on the ‘tools’ of a philosopher as a way to examine philosophical issues in nursing, as if these ‘tools’ are novel methods unique to philosophy and currently absent in the discipline of nursing. But that is simply not the case. Chinn and Kramer (2008) define philosophy as ‘a form of disciplined inquiry that discerns the nature of reality and of knowledge and knowing’ (p. 184). The hallmark of philosophical thinking is the use of logic and reasoning, rather than empiric evidence, to create knowledge (Chinn & Kramer 2008). That is exactly what the early nurse theorists did.
The intellectual questions a nursing scientist must ask while conducting a concept exploration, concept analysis, concept development and theory development are the same questions asked while attempting explore philosophical issues in nursing. In both the sitiuations, nurse scientists examine the nature of the problem, look to reveal assumptions or potential distortions, and attempt to clarify views. If the end product is reached through the use of logic and reason, then what difference does it make if it is labelled as a ‘nursing theory’ and not as a ‘nursing philosophy’?
As William Shakespeare (2004) wrote in 1595,
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.