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Gadamer and praxis : towards a dialogic praxis in nursing curriculum Hadfield, Janine


This study explores the meaning of praxis in nursing programs at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. My inquiry arose from teaching praxis seminars, where I discovered that there was little consistency in its meaning by consulting colleagues, by researching university archives, and by reviewing the nursing literature. Through a philosophical exploration, however, I learned that praxis involves making moral decisions about how to act well in the world, making praxis a key concern for nursing educators in their efforts to foster such conduct. Praxis, so understood, involves embracing the particulars of the situation and their relationship to universals. My confusion about praxis was, in part, explained by the 2400-year history of the concept. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all concerned with ethical action and the relationship between knowledge and experience (the general and particular), but each with a different emphasis. Plato emphasized the acquisition of certain forms of knowledge in helping people to act well; Aristotle claimed that ethical conduct (understood as praxis) depends partly on experience in the world. Over the centuries either Plato or Aristotle’s formulation has been preferred at different times. I have relied largely on the work of the neo-Aristotelian Hans-Georg Gadamer who develops a philosophical hermeneutics circle for praxis, especially the idea of how the general, shaped by our history and traditions, can be dialectically connected to the particular, that is, our experiences, by dialogue. I have critically analyzed dialogues from my practice using the concepts and conditions of understanding proposed by Gadamer. Gadamer provides important resources that can assist nursing educators and nurses in understanding nursing practice as moral action. A Gadamerian approach encourages nurse educators to be alert to the differences in our students and their prior experience and knowledge as they approach interpretive encounters. It requires operating in the space between the particular and the general through dialogue. We can create this space and the curiosity to address moral issues that nurses confront in their practice of praxis by asking questions that support students’ understanding, motivations and prejudices, and by being humble about our conclusions.

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