28th July 2017

Another critical review, by Brian Sohn, has been published in Issues in Mental Health NursingBrian Sohn.

Max van Manen’s review article will be published in the Indo-Pacific Journal of PhenomenologyMax van Manen

Amedeo Giorgi’s will be published in the Journal of Phenomenological PsychologyAmedeo Giorgi

Martin Lipscomb’s review is on Early View at Nursing PhilosophyMartin Lipscomb 

Roger Watson’s review is also on Early View at Nursing Philosophy.  Roger Watson

For very brief remarks on the review articles by van Manen and Giorgi, see below.  I’m writing a separate response to each one, as it’s impossible to squeeze everything I want to say into just one paper. I will comment on both of them (a bit less brief, but still pretty sketchy in view of the time constraints) when I give my paper at the IPONS conference in Worcester (Friday, 1st September). Draft programme here:  IPONS conference




27th June 2017

Another change of plan. I’m finding it impossible to confine myself to a summary, or to present what I want to say in note form. I’m several thousand words in, and still talking about Giorgi. Barely mentioned van Manen yet. The problem is, you can’t untangle the arguments – and they are seriously tangled – without a fair amount of explanation. For example, consider Giorgi’s appeal to incommensurability, and his view that ‘to criticize the work of a scientific community from outside the perspective that the community adopts is, at best, risky, and most usually leads to fallacious conclusions.’ It’s impossible to say what’s wrong with that in a few quick soundbites. Apart from anything else, you have to present some fairly detailed stuff on developments after the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I could, I suppose, cite authors like Howard Sankey: ‘Returning to the topic from a perspective of the contemporary scene in the philosophy of science is like visiting a battlefield from a forgotten war. The positions of the warring sides may still be made out. But the battlefield is overgrown with grass. One may find evidence of the fighting that once took place, perhaps bullet marks or shell holes. But the fighting ceased long ago. The battle is a thing of the past. The problem of incommensurability is no longer a live issue.’ Or I could quote Kuhn himself: ‘Most readers of my text have supposed that when I spoke of theories as incommensurable, I meant that they could not be compared. But “incommensurability” is a term borrowed from mathematics, and it has no such implication.’ (The Road Since Structure) But this would be too quick, too glib. The matter demands a much fuller examination. And incommensurability is just one of the things Giorgi talks about that I want to dissect. Then there’s van Manen, and his account of Heidegger’s discussion of boredom (among other things). Explaining how that goes badly awry is another non-soundbite task.

So what I initially thought of as a ‘summary’ is effectively on its way to becoming the ‘comprehensive response’. I also have to finish my paper for the IPONS conference in Worcester, realistically by the end of July when I’m off to Italy.  So, this time, I won’t try to predict when I might post a longer response. However, I’ll probably provide occasional updates over the next few weeks, and/or comments on aspects of the two review articles that I find particularly interesting.




16th June 2017

The link to Giorgi’s review article has been added below.

I was tempted to post a progress report on my response to both review articles, Giorgi’s and van Manen’s. But I’ll wait till I’m properly ready, which will be some time in the next week or two.  I’ve given myself a bit more time, because I have spent the last few days re-reading Heidegger’s The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, a book I haven’t looked at for a number of years. It includes a lengthy discussion of boredom, which Professor van Manen cites in his article.  Van Manen thinks Heidegger’s “phenomenological question is, ‘what is it like to be bored?'”, and he quotes several passages from Heidegger’s analysis in support of that view. I don’t think van Manen’s interpretation of these passages is correct, but I wanted to read the book again before commenting further. I’ve also been catching up with some of the secondary literature.

Anyway, a more detailed response will have to wait. The plan is to write a rejoinder to the two articles, in summary form, and post it here by the end of June at the latest. After that, I’ll have to concentrate on my paper for the IPONS conference in Worcester. Then, in the early Autumn, I’ll draft a comprehensive response to both van Manen and Giorgi.

Sorry for the delay… but watch this space!




26th May 2017


I’ve just received reviews of PQR by Max van Manen and Amedeo Giorgi. Needless to say, they are highly critical. No surprises there. Actually, they’re not reviews, they’re review articles (Giorgi’s runs to over 25,000 words). I have read both of them a couple of times so far, but am now starting on the slow-and-careful, taking-notes reads.  I will be posting informal replies on this site during June, and at some point I will submit more formal responses to the relevant journals. There is a general sense in the academic world that one doesn’t reply to book reviews. But, as I say, these are review articles. They count as scholarly contributions, and are as susceptible to challenge and critical engagement as any other type of academic paper.

In the meantime, here is the link to van Manen’s article, which will be published in the Indo-Pacific Journal of PhenomenologyMax van Manen

And the link to Giorgi’s, which will be published in the Journal of Phenomenological PsychologyAmedeo Giorgi

Two other reviews are in the works. One, by Martin Lipscomb, is online early at Nursing PhilosophyMartin Lipscomb   Another, by Roger Watson, will be appearing in the same journal.

I’ll post a link to the Watson review as soon as it appears. Links will also be available on the IPONS website.  IPONS book reviews

I would suggest that anyone who reads the articles by van Manen and Giorgi (or those by Lipscomb and Watson, for that matter) should have a look at the book as well, and not take it for granted that their accounts of what it’s about, what’s in it, and what kinds of arguments it contains, are necessarily accurate. Reading the essays by MvM and AG, I was reminded of Paul Feyerabend’s comments in Part Three of Science in a Free Society (responding to reviews of Against Method).

“There are three things which never fail to amaze me when reading reviews of my book: the disregard for argument, the violence of the reaction, the general impression I seem to make on my readers…  I am very grateful that you are so deeply concerned about my book, and that you have put so much time, energy, and especially imagination into the review.”

I should add that Feyerabend’s reply to Agassi, along with his other “Conversations with Illiterates” (the title of SIAFS Part 3) is a very caustic piece of writing, which I will not of course be trying to imitate.




20th August 2016


The book is finally out, and available on Amazon in hardback and e-book formats.

Have spent the last couple of weeks compiling a distribution list, and sending out an announcement to several hundred people, mainly in nursing and other health disciplines, who have (or possibly once had) some sort of interest in phenomenology as a qualitative research method.

Am now relaxing in Italy, starting to think – intermittently – about my next project. Although I’m not going to make any kind of decision till I return to the UK, the current front-runner is something (possibly another book) on concept analysis. I’m reading stuff on cognitive linguistics, the philosophy of language, and the theory of argumentation and definition, as well as classic statements in the nursing literature of what concept analysis involves: Walker & Avant, Rodgers, Morse, Penrod & Hupcey, and so on. I’m starting to think about a radically different approach which abandons or reverses some of the key assumptions made by nurse authors; and the book, if I actually write one, would be largely devoted to examples of this alternative in action, rather than to a lot of philosophical carping and criticism.

This train of thought was kicked off by the event on moral distress which I took part in during May (see below). The title of this event was “What is moral distress in nursing?”, and that got me wondering about the nature of “What is X?” questions. I have no idea if anyone reads this, but I’ll report back on where I’ve got to, and perhaps indicate the direction the project is moving in, later in the year.




8th June 2016


Derek is modifying his neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics in response to situationist considerations. Doing “the right thing” is not just a matter of individual moral agents (nurses) acting virtuously. He is now interested in the idea that institutions can make it easier for practitioners to do the right thing, or make it more likely that they will do so. It’s not fully clear how they will achieve this, but one example he gave was  adopting policies that encourage whistle-blowers, rather than deterring and penalising them.

There are two levels which an institution can aspire to: (a) the “enabling organisation”, adopting structures and policies which increase the likelihood of nurses doing the right thing; (b) the “virtuous organisation” whose aim is to go beyond the minimalist target of the enabling organisation – acting ethically, or at least acting not-unethically –  and encourage nurses to become virtuous. Type (b) is desirable because under an (a) regime, people might act correctly in a minimalist, utilitarian sort of way, but won’t necessarily be virtuous. An organisation adopting  (b) will encourage people to cultivate virtue, cultivate the habit of virtue, and make it possible for them to do so. Becoming virtuous will make acting ethically part of someone’s character: they won’t just be responding to conducive situational factors.

Again, however, the details of how an organisation achieves “virtuous” status are not fully clear. This is work in progress.

Personally, I have two related worries about this picture (putting aside my general scepticism about the idea of moral agency and virtue in nursing). First, it’s all a bit abstract and utopian (Derek admits to being an idealist). The idea of an organisation that makes “doing the right thing” more likely is not really something one can oppose… any more than one can oppose better education, a stronger economy, or world peace. But the problem is: how to get there. In the absence of further details about that, the proposal is not much more than utopian rhetoric.

Second, I think it over-generalises. “Doing the right thing” or “acting virtuously” covers a very wide range of different circumstances. This is where the discussion links up with what I said about moral distress (see below). Doing the right thing (DTRT) when faced with severe understaffing is one sort of situation; DTRT when expected to follow the instructions of a particular doctor who you think has got it wrong is another sort; DTRT when there is a clash of legitimate perspectives among patients, families and health care staff is another; DTRT when complying with restrictive hospital protocols is another; DTRT when trying to balance the needs of the individual patient and a wider population of patients is another; DTRT when certain services and/or interventions are being rationed is another; and so on. I’m not sure how you design organisational structures capable of promoting DTRT in all these different types of situation. Approaching the matter in a more piecemeal and problem-solving way – here’s a specific problem we need to sort out, what can we do about that? – looks more promising to me. Still very difficult, but more manageable.

In any case, I don’t think there’s much evidence for cross-situational virtue: that a tendency to act ethically or virtuously in one sort of situation is associated with a tendency to act in a similar way in other sorts of situation. In fact, there’s a certain amount of evidence to suggest that this sort of cross-situational consistency may be rather rare. To that extent, designing “generically” DTRT organisations (so to speak) does not look like a viable project – less so than addressing specific kinds of situation on a problem-solving basis.

But I suppose that brings us back to the more general issue of the situationist challenge to concepts of character and virtue… and that is a continuing, undecided debate in moral philosophy and moral psychology.




6th June 2016


Off to the University of Worcester on Wednesday to attend a seminar given by Derek Sellman, Professor at the University of Alberta and Editor of Nursing Philosophy. Synopsis: Derek’s abstract.

A report on this event later in the week.




20th May 2016


Moral distress

Enjoyed the debate at the Wellcome Collection last night. The four speakers each had ten minutes to summarise their thoughts, and then the audience joined in for the second hour. It was an engaged and lively discussion.

My own ten minutes’ worth was based on this Outline. At the invitation of Ann Gallagher, I’ll be working the outline up into a full paper, for submission to Nursing Ethics.

My thanks to Georgina Morley for inviting me, and to the sixty or so people who turned up and made the evening so interesting.

Thanks, too, to Michael Traynor for sending the photo! Next to me, in order, left to right: Deborah Bowman, Jill Maben, and Lesley Baillie. Ann Gallagher is on her feet, out of shot, giving her talk.




23rd April 2016


This is a debate to be held in the Burroughs Room at the WellcomeCollection (183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE) on Thursday 19th May from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. It has been organised by Georgina Morley of the University of Birmingham.

I’ll be taking part, along with:

Jill Maben OBEProfessor of Nursing Research, King’s College London

Ann Gallagher, Professor of Ethics and Care, University of Surrey, and Editor of international journal ‘Nursing Ethics’.

Lesley Baillie, Professor of Nursing, London South Bank University and Florence Nightingale Foundation Chair.

The debate will be chaired by:

Deborah Bowman, Professor of Bioethics, Clinical Ethics, and Medical Law at St George’s University

Moral distress debate