The emotion of compassion and the likelihood of its expression in nursing practice

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Philosophical and empirical work on the nature of the emotions is extensive, and there are many theories of emotions. However, all agree that emotions are not knee jerk reactions to stimuli and are open to rational assessment or warrant. This paper's focus is on the condition or conditions for compassion as an emotion and the likelihood that it or they can be met in nursing practice. Thus, it is attempting to keep, as far as possible, compassion as an emotion separate from both moral norms and professional norms. This is because empirical or causal conditions that can make experiencing and acting out of compassion difficult seem especially relevant in nursing practice. I consider how theories of emotion in general and of compassion in particular are somewhat contested, but all recent accounts agree that emotions are not totally immune to reason. Then, using accounts of constitutive conditions of the emotion of compassion, I will show how they are often likely to be quite fragile or unstable in practice and particularly so within much nursing practice. In addition, some of the conditions for compassion will be shown to be problematic for nursing practice. It is difficult to keep ideas of compassion separate from morality, and this connection is noticeable in the claims made of compassion for nursing and so I will briefly highlight one such connection that of the need for normative theory to give an account of the value that emotions such as compassion presume and that compassionate motivation is separate from moral motivation and may conflict with it. The fragility or instability of the emotion of compassion in practice has implications for both what can be expected and what should be expected of compassion; at least if what is wanted is a realist rather than idealist account of “should.”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalNursing Philosophy
Issue number3
Early online date16 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2017


  • compassion
  • Emotions
  • morality
  • psychology
  • states


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