AN AFRICAN ETHIC FOR NURSING?*


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Abstract

This article derives from a doctoral thesis in which a particular discourse was used as a ‘paradigm case’. From this discourse an ethic set within a South African culture arose. Using many cultural ‘voices’ to aid the understanding of this narrative, the ethic shows that one can build on both a ‘justice’ and a ‘care’ ethic. With further development based on African culture one can take the ethic of care deeper and reveal ‘layers of understanding’.Care, together with compassion, forms the foundation of morality. Nursing ethics has followed particular western moral philosophers. Often nursing ethics has been taught along the lines of Kohlberg's theory of morality, with its emphasis on rules, rights, duties and general obligations. These principles were universalistic, masculine and noncontextual. However, there is a new ethical movement among Thomist philosophers along the lines to be expounded in this article.Nurses such as Benner, Bevis, Dunlop, Fry and Gadow — to name but a few — have welcomed the concept of an ‘ethic of care’. Gilligan's work gave a feminist view and situated ethics in the everyday aspects of responsiveness, responsibility, context and concern.Shutte's search for a ‘philosophy for Africa’ has resulted in finding similarities in Setiloane and in Senghor with those of Thomist philosophers. Using this African philosophy and a research participant's narrative, an African ethic evolves out of the African proverb: ‘A person is a person through other persons’, or its alternative rendering: ‘I am because we are: we are because I am.’ This hermeneutic narrative reveals ‘the way affect imbues activity with ethical meaning’ within the context of a black nursing sister in a rural South African hospital. It expands upon the above proverb and incorporates the South African constitutional idea of ‘Ubuntu’ (compassion and justice or humanness).

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