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In the debate concerning the education of nurses that is currently taking place in Denmark, two widely differing views are apparent regarding the best way of training nurses such that the ethical aspect of their work is adequately considered. The first of these is based on the premise that practical care is fundamental to and justified by theories on nursing, care and ethics, which is why the theoretical part of nurse education deserves a higher priority. The second view is based on the premise that social care cannot be taught by means of theories, but can be learnt only through practice. The master—apprentice principle of ancient Greece is stressed in connection with this as being a viable alternative to the theoretical model of education. These two very different views can be traced back to Plato's and Aristotle's ideas on ethics and teaching respectively; indeed, those engaged in the debate make specific reference to these philosophers.In Denmark, a third fundamental viewpoint exists, known as ‘ontological ethics’. Phenomenologist KE Løgstrup is one of the best-known representatives of this view. Basing the line of argument on Løgstrup's ethics and the view of education associated with this, this article questions the relevance of ancient Greek thought to today's world by illustrating a number of problems that are connected with the theoretical model of nurse education and with the master—apprentice principle.Løgstrup associates ethics with the aesthetic principle that ‘the useless is the most useful’ in human life and with the view we also see in Kierkegaard's and NFS Grundtvig's writings that ethics can be imparted only by indirect means. Løgstrup bases his understanding of ethics on the Judaeo—Christian concept of Genesis and the view that human beings were created with an ethical potential that is best nourished by aesthetic impressions.