Abstract In the last few decades, a growing number of commentators have questioned the appropriateness of the ‘justice view’ of ethics as a suitable approach in health care ethics, and most certainly in nursing. Essentially, in
their ethical deliberations, it is argued that nurses do not readily adopt the high degree of impartiality and objectivity that is associated with a justice view; instead their moral practices are more accurately reflected through the use of alternative approaches such as relational
or care‐based ethics. Yet, it has also been argued that this viewpoint does not necessarily ‘do justice’ to the broader moral responsibilities of nurses towards humanity in general, i.e. to the wider socio‐cultural and socio‐political issues in society,
and to the concept of social justice in particular. This criticism has triggered a much closer examination of relational and care‐based ethics in nursing at levels beyond individual responsiveness within relationships and brought into the spotlight the need for a more ethically
refined nursing response to an increasingly complex set of socio‐cultural inequalities. This article explores a relational ethic within nursing practices with contemporary ideas regarding social justice. In particular, it is argued that the synergy between the two actually produces
an ethic that is capable of not only challenging the continuing predominance of justice‐based ethics within health care, but of replacing it. Subsequently, in the discussion that follows, it is suggested that a combined social justice and relational care‐based approach,
as a social ethic, should guide the moral deliberations and actions of nurses. It is maintained that such an approach is not only possible, but crucial if nurses are to realize their full potential as ethical agents for individual and social good.