Empathy in Nursing: A Phenomenological Intervention

Tetsugaku 5:23-39 (2021)
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Today, many philosophers write on topics of contemporary interest, such as emerging technologies, scientific advancements, or major political events. However, many of these reflections, while philosophically valuable, fail to contribute to those who may benefit the most from them. In this article, we discuss our own experience of engaging with nursing researchers and practicing nurses. By drawing on the field of philosophical phenomenology, we intervene in a longstanding debate over the meaning of “empathy” in nursing, which has important implications for nursing research, training, and practice. However, our intention is not only to introduce and discuss this philosophical intervention. Rather, we present this intervention as a model for how philosophers might successfully engage with the field of nursing, and perhaps with other fields as well, with the aim of effecting positive change in research or practice. The article proceeds in five parts. First, we introduce the problem of conceptual clarity in nursing and explain why many nursing concepts are still in need of refinement. Second, we discuss the origins of the concept of empathy in nursing and outline the challenges associated with borrowing theory from other fields. Third, we explain how nurses tend to conceptualize empathy today, drawing upon the psychological distinction between cognitive and emotional empathy. Fourth, we discuss our intervention in this debate and explain how we attempt to resolve existing conceptual confusions by developing the concept of empathy from the ground up. Fifth, we conclude by briefly reflecting upon some of the challenges of interdisciplinary engagement and providing some recommendations based upon our own experience.



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Author Profiles

Anthony Vincent Fernandez
Kent State University
Dan Zahavi
University of Copenhagen

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