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Nurse Educ Today. 1990 Feb;10(1):3-9.

Conscience and courage--a critical examination of professional conduct.


The roots of professional power and authority lie in the claim to a specific kind of knowledge, the 'knowledge that' and the 'knowledge how'. These kinds of knowledge are included in the notion of 'science'. 'Knowledge why'- the justification for a professional action - demands a moral argument in terms of what is known and can be done (taking 'scientific' knowledge into account) but most importantly asking whether it ought to be done. It is important to ask how a nurse acquires the 'knowledge why' and thereby the means to justify his/her conduct in moral terms. This paper considers the norms of professional conduct, the professional mandate and the determination of what is, to the best of the professional's knowledge and conscience, the right act. The question is raised whether an appeal to the individual conscience can be a reliable guide to a morally justifiable action. An exploration of moral perceptions, moral reasoning and moral argument needs to be part of a professional education which requires a certain kind of courage on part of both teachers and students.

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