Philosophy of Science:
• Philosophy of science is the perspective the
nurse utilizes in every patient, family, or group
• Each individual has his or her own philosophy
that determines the ideas he or she is or is not
• It is important for nurses to examine their
philosophy and question the assumptions they
What Is Science?
• Science is from the Latin word scientia, which
• It refers to both processes and outcomes of
processes, such as general laws and
• Laws are utilized in systematic ways to create
a body of knowledge about a topic.
Natural Hard Sciences
• Physics, mathematics, and chemistry are examples of
• Considered “pure,” or stand alone, unique bodies of
• Based on the assumption that reality is objective and,
therefore, reproducible and reliable.
• Explanations are reasonable, constant and consistent,
accurate, objective, discoverable, and understandable
• In medicine, they assume a disease focus rather than a
Soft Applied Sciences
• Sociology, psychology, and anthropology are
examples of applied sciences.
• Focus is on the application of bodies of knowledge to
meet human needs.
• Rely on inherent assumptions of natural sciences but
do not assume that reality is objective.
• In medicine, soft applied sciences are found in social
work, psychotherapy and examination of healthcare
• Emphasizes the importance of individual scientists on
the scientific process.
• Posits that the nature of science and role of the
scientist are different when a subject is viewed as
human science rather than natural or applied
• The scientist and the subject cannot be separated
from each other
• In medicine, human science is the nurse’s
recognition of himself or herself as a scientist
involved in providing care.
Scientific Method: Physical Science
• Natural science relies on a linear problem solving
process, or the scientific method.
• Method is base on the assumption that observation
• The goal is accurate, reproducible events that do not
take researcher individuality or consciousness into
account (control through prediction).
• Decisions scientists make impact results, which
introduces a subjective element.
The Aim of Science
• Natural sciences aim to develop knowledge
for the sake of developing knowledge and
search for truth.
• Applied sciences aim to utilize knowledge by
applying it to a specific purpose.
• Human science aims to improve quality of life
and highlight individual importance by
understanding what helps people maximize
their functional abilities.
Scientific Method: Human Science
• Due to its concrete rather than abstract
nature, human science utilizes different
methods than natural sciences.
• Scientists and subjects are treated as parts of
the same whole and methods are dynamic
while still being rigorous.
• Contextual consistency, purposive sampling,
question validity, and message validation are
Criteria for Science (1 of 2)
• Science must differentiate itself from non-
science or pseudoscience; this is particularly
true of natural sciences and relies on five
– Intersubjective testing: Two people observing the
same entity the same way should obtain the same
– Reliability: The same result is achieved time and
again under the same conditions
Criteria for Science (2 of 2)
– Definiteness and precision: Creating identical
circumstances for repeat experiments leads to the
– Coherence: A focus on the connectedness of the
parts of an experiment and their relation to one
– Comprehensiveness and scope: The ability of an
outcome to be used for something other than its
Questions for the Practitioner
• Is nursing pure or applied science?
• Is care provided for the purpose of prediction and
• Are there universals in patient care provision?
• Does an external world independent of human
consciousness color patient care?
• Does nursing satisfy the five science criteria?
• Is nursing practice objective?
• Philosophy comes from the Greek philosophia which
means “love of wisdom.”
• Involves the search for meaning and represents a
perspective and its set of beliefs.
• Is both a process and an outcome.
• It is the application of a belief to situations known
• Relies on epistemology and ontology in the
application of a belief to situations.
Philosophy of Science
• Philosophy of science is where the two disciplines
meet to examine a body of knowledge and the
approaches used to study it.
• In nursing, it is an examination of concepts, theories,
and laws as they relate to practice, understanding,
deliberate thought, and evolution of praxis.
• Requires mindfulness of objective and individual
perspectives and comfort with the assumptions and
underpinnings of the various philosophical
How Do We Know?
• Key Question in philosophy of science
• Authorities (institution, police, professor, church)
• Common sense
– Knowledge derived from methods that may be linear or
complex (chaotic) depending on the view and approach
Analytic Philosophy (1 of 3)
• Focuses more on the use of the process of logic and
rational discourse than on the subject itself.
• Focuses on the search for a single truth through
• Closely associated with logical positivism, rigid
adherence to the scientific method, and the belief in
external world structure.
• Based on the belief that a statement is meaningful
only if it is proven true or false through
Analytic Philosophy: Logical Positivism (2 of 3)
• Four rules of logical positivism
– The denial of cognitive value in value judgments and
– The essential unity of the scientific method
• Requires a rigid adherence to the scientific method,
a belief in cause and effect, replicability, and an
unwavering belief in an external world structure that
remains independent of self.
• Belief in verifiability principle.
Analytic Philosophy (2 of 3)
• Criticized as too rigid, too deductive, and lacking
recognition of the human experience.
• Logical positivism segued into empiricism.
• The scientific method is paramount, but truths must be
generated by experience
• Both logical positivism and empiricism were
incorporated into the received view (realism).
• Theories are either right or wrong and must be formalized
• Based on the search for a single truth
Continental Philosophy (1 of 3)
• Focuses on the connection of an idea to the
world and historical context around that idea.
• About the relationships among people, ideas,
meaning, and historical connectedness rather
than theories or truths.
• Human science is dominated by continental
philosophy and is based on connectedness, not
cause and effect.
• It examines lived experiences in the past as well
as the present and historical context.
• Phenomenology: There is value in universal experience.
– Focus on examining phenomena that appear in the consciousness of the
– From an examination of personal experience, the essences of the
phenomena are drawn
• Hermeneutics: deals with the interpretation of a message that
is being delivered.
– Meaning and understanding are the aims of philosophical inquiry
– Assumes that people are social and dialogical beings; that culture,
language, skills, and experiences create shared understandings; that
there is a continual circle of connectedness and understanding; that
understanding precedes interpretation; and that the interpreter and the
interpreted are seen as one
Continental Philosophy (2 of 3)
Continental Philosophy(3 of 3)
• Post-structuralism: The message’s meaning is determined
by the recipient’s perception and the vehicle for delivery is
not significant to the message.
– The study of structures is a cultural phenomenon open to
– Equalizes the imbalance of power between providers and patients
• All varieties evolve around context, meaning, and the
knowing of the subject.
• Collectively, continental philosophies may also be called
the perceived view, antirealism, or idealism.
• A continental philosophy suggesting that theories are
neither right nor wrong and that observation leads to
• Observation involves utilization of the senses and the
mind and is subjective due to the physical and
mental components involved.
• Many different methods and kinds of theories must
be used to obtain either truth or understanding.
• Use methods appropriate to the question which may
be either quantitative, qualitative, or both.
Chaos and Complexity
• Contemporary philosophers synthesize analytic and
continental philosophy into a new and emerging philosophy
• This philosophy incorporates chaos and complexity science to
bring together truth and understanding in a dynamic way.
• Posits that the universe is a whole made of interrelated parts.
– Complex adaptive, dynamic systems are connected to the
environment and influenced both by what comes before and what
• Assumptions include embeddedness, distributed control,
multi-directionality, coexistence of order and disorder, and
Question the Assumptions
• Philosophy of science is complex and many schools of
• When reflecting on your philosophy, it is important to
consider several questions:
– What are the assumptions of each philosophy?
– Do you aim to control or understand?
– Is there only one way to resolve a problem?
– What is your praxis wedded to?
– How can you be the best practitioner possible?
– What do patients, families, and communities need?
– Are you the nurse you want to be?
• Science and philosophy require examination of
both knowledge and understanding.
• It is important to understand the ideological
differences of different scientific and
philosophical schools and incorporate portions of
each in your individual philosophy.
• Utilizing a philosophy that constantly questions
assumptions will help you evolve as a nurse.