Refining moral agency: Insights from moral psychology and moral philosophy
Nursing Philosophy: An International Journal for Healthcare Professionals 19(1)
ISSN/ISBN: 1466-769X PMID: 28799199 DOI: 10.1111/nup.12185
Research in moral psychology has recently raised questions about the impact of context and the environment on the way the human mind works. In a 2012 call to action, Paley wrote: "If some of the conclusions arrived at by moral psychologists are true, they are directly relevant to the way nurses think about moral problems, and present serious challenges to favoured concepts in nursing ethics, such as the ethics of care, virtue, and the unity of the person" (p. 80). He urges nurse ethicists and scholars to evaluate the impact these findings may have for moral theory. In this paper, I review some of Paley's (Nursing Philosophy, 13, 2012, 80) critique, focusing on the argument that theories of nursing ethics have failed to account for the role of context; both in terms of its impact on the way nurses make moral judgements and in terms of the environment's influence on the way the mind works. I then examine nursing literature on moral agency, and focus on the role of the environment and context play within existing theory. I argue that theories of moral agency have often accounted for the role of context on the way nurses make decisions; however, less attention has been paid to its impact on the mind. With this background, I use insights from the fields of moral philosophy and moral psychology to refine the conceptualization of nurse moral agency in a way that is reflective of current cognitive, philosophical and nursing practice-based science.