A Rationalist Critique of Sally Gadow’s Relational Nursing Ethics

  • Uche S. Odozor
  • Helen N. Obilor
  • Olasupo O. Thompson
  • Ngozi S. Odozor
Keywords: Care, Ethics, Gadow, Relational Narrative, Universalism


The ethic of care proposed by Carol Gilligan in late twentieth century instantly elicited a wide range of adaptations and elaborations in numerous disciplines, under the banner of ‘relational ethics’. Sally Gadow’s ‘relational narrative’ is one of these adaptations. Like Gilligan, Gadow aims to dismantle ethical rationalism or universalism, wherein the foregoing mainstream nursing practice had purportedly focused on applying existing philosophical theories of ethics to all conceivable clinical situations. For Gadow, every moral engagement, such as that between a nursing professional and a patient, comes with inherent unique features that render impotent any attempt at universalisation. Each clinical encounter is rather defined by the ability of the professional to engage the client in an intimate, caring relationship that enables healing to take place. Against this backdrop, this paper argues that the theory of Relational Narrative, particularly as  conceptualised and articulated by Sally Gadow, cannot be carried through without making some rationalist assumptions, because professionalism in nursing practice is by definition, a deeply embedded ingredient of rational reflection. Furthermore, nursing professionals can make progress or impact only by having recourse to the code of ethics; also, direct application of Gadow’s theory puts the nurse in a dilemma when it comes to dealing with patients suffering from chronic contagious diseases, such as the Ebola or the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Finally, juxtaposing Gadow’s work with the ideas of the earlier scholars she criticises unsparingly, the paper found that traces of universalist, rationalist assumptions abound in her thought precisely because of the wealth of influence she has garnered from philosophers and psychologists; influences going as far back as Descartes and Kant, down to Rawls and Kohlberg. The data used for this study came from library and archival materials, as well as from internet resources.



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eISSN: 1595-1413