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Nightingale's realist philosophy of science

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This paper examines Florence Nightingale's realist philosophy of science by comparing it to the contemporaneously dominant philosophy of positivism. It starts by adumbrating the tenets of positivism and continues by assessing the degree to which Nightingale accepted or rejected those tenets. It is argued that while she accepted much of positivism, on realist grounds she opposed its belief in phenomenalism, its rejection of speculative philosophy, its separation of fact and value, and its rejection of religion. Following an examination of how Nightingale's philosophy impinged on her approach to nursing and health care, the paper concludes with a comparison of her ideas with those of modern realism and a discussion of the contemporary salience of her ideas. It is argued that while some aspects of her approach may no longer provide an appropriate basis for modern nursing, her environmental approach, her transcendental realism, and her adherence to caring values may still be of use to contemporary nurses.

Keywords: Florence Nightingale; determinism; phenomenalism; positivism; realism; science

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Professor of Nursing Research, School of Nursing and Midwifery, The Queen's University of Belfast, Medical Biology Centre, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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