Caring in nursing: a different interpretation

J Adv Nurs. 2001 Sep;35(6):926-32. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.2001.01930.x.


Aim: To apply Habermas' (1995) Theory of Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action to the nurse-patient relationship, offering a different interpretation to the nurse-patient relationship that is caring in nursing.

Rationale: Many authors have described the nurse-patient relationship, but Habermas' theory synthesizes the components into a complex matrix that is caring in nursing.

Findings: The theory offers three claims to normative validity: the claim to truth which is the factual objective knowledge; the claim to truthfulness which refers to the intrasubjective self; and the claim to right which is the intersubjective interaction. The validity claims explain the patient's personal and illness self, the nurse's personal and professional self, and the interaction/discourse. The interaction is situation specific, and is identified as moral because dialogue/discourse requires a 'considerateness' of each for the other. 'Considerateness' in discourse requires certain rules, including that each participant has an equal voice, be followed in order for the Principle of Universalization to occur. Habermas draws on Kohlberg's (1981), and Selman's (1980) work to develop three levels of moral maturity of communication. These are preconventional, conventional, and postconventional. Initial moral maturity is egocentric, subjective, and obedient to authority. Maturity develops with recognition of other and reciprocity. At the postconventional level there is mutuality and the ability for abstract reasoning. There is a third person objectivity combining speaker and addressee/listener perspectives. Norms are not just accepted, they are reasoned through. This leads to justification of the norm, which is then accepted as valid. When the three validity claims are met and there is genuine 'considerateness' in the interaction there is communicative action. The reverse is strategic action, where the communication is coercive. When there is communicative action both patient and nurse are validated with a sense of fulfillment or <physis>.

Conclusion: Habermas' (1995) theory offers a new paradigm for caring in nursing.

MeSH terms

  • Consciousness
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nursing Care / psychology*
  • Nursing Research
  • Truth Disclosure