Empathy in Nursing: A Phenomenological Intervention

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTetsugaku: International Journal of the Philosophical Association of Japan
Pages (from-to)23-39
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


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