My thesis is that the task of nursing ethics is an eclectic one: to develop a pluralist moral vision. In defending my claim, I sketch and reject, two perspectives of nursing ethics that are currently debated in the literature – the Traditional View and the Theory View.
On the Traditional View, it is argued that nurses, like other health professionals, must draw insight from ethical frameworks such as utilitarianism or principlism in order to negotiate the ethical challenges they meet with in the course of their work.
On the Theory View, nurse ethicists, concerned that traditional frameworks fail to address issues specific to nurses, argue in favour of the development of an independent and comprehensive theory of nursing ethics. Such a theory, it is argued, must either be grounded in a nursing philosophical framework, or, appeal to an ethical framework such as virtue ethics which is seen as particularly compatible with nursing interests. A comprehensive theory of ethics developed along these lines is considered to hold out the promise of capturing and articulating a, specifically, nursing ethical focus.
My paper takes issue with both of these views of nursing ethics. While I agree that traditional ethical frameworks are limited, I also suggest that the search for a more comprehensive theory of nursing ethics ought to be abandoned. My alternative, inspired by feminist and postmodernist approaches to nursing, is the Eclectic View which acknowledges the heterogeneous nature of nursing practice and attaches significance to the socio-cultural context within which that practice takes place. On this view, neither moral truth, certainty nor a unique moral perspective are achievable, but meaning, and living with uncertainty and diversity are. I conclude by indicating a set of learning objectives that a nursing ethics syllabus based on this view, might adopt