Practical wisdom in health and social care: teaching for professional phronesis

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The purpose of teaching ethics to nurses and other health and social care practitioners is not always clear. At the extremes of the continuum of aims sit (i) the teaching of ethics as a subject just like any other subject; and (ii) the teaching of ethics as a form of moral education. In this article, I outline the pedagogic tension this uncertainty creates before offering some insights into the educational implications of teaching ethics from the perspective of the ethics of Aristotle. In this conception, ethics is the pursuit of character development and specifically the development of practical wisdom, or what I have termed professional phronesis. I argue that while learning to approximate practical wisdom for nursing is possible, from the perspective of the ethics of Aristotle it is problematic for higher education. An Aristotelian approach has the potential to undermine the demarcation of teacher role as this is usually understood in higher education at the present time because, as I suggest, the best teachers of professional phronesis may turn out to be those practitioners (including practitioners of teaching) who exemplify the professional phronimos (or professionally wise practitioner).

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