What is it about?

During my recent career, I have developed and published a number of theoretical perspectives and models in my chosen speciality of health promotion and several have been published in the pages of JCN (i.e. Whitehead 2001a–c, 2003a–e 2004a–d, Whitehead et al. 2003, Whitehead & Russell 2004). Following on from their publication, I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of positive individual feedback from health professionals around the world. This feedback serves as part of my personal motivation to continue developing and refining these theoretical perspectives. Many of the theoretical perspectives and models that I have developed, like others, have arisen from personal constructs and a wide‐ranging clinical and academic experience. Tacit, implied or implicit knowledge, if you will, is what underpins their construction. Polanyi (1967) is just one of many who hail the importance of the ‘tacit dimension’ and the place of intuition in developing scientific knowledge.

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Why is it important?

Empiricism or any other ‘ism’, in my mind, is merely a philosophical position that is open to all sorts of interpretations. Reading through the meanderings of the texts cited here, they have merely served to transport me to a sometimes ethereal place where nothing eventually seems to be ‘true’. Coming back from this place, the only truth that I can cling on to is ‘what I do and what I know’. This brings me back to where I started. Tacit knowledge deserves the same recognition as any other knowledge position. It certainly is the most important, although not only measure, for validating where I am and what I do.

Perspectives

It strikes me then that the real reality is that there is no single reality or truth in nursing practice and, subsequently, no one method prevails over the next. How difficult, therefore, is it to embrace the notion that all knowledge (including empirical) does not exist in a vacuum, is relative and essentially a matter of choice depending on the standpoint of whatever is the present state of reason within the individual? Where a dangerous precedent is set, I believe, is when we close our eyes to this and use our personal experience to reject out of hand what we think is rejectable. In the meantime, I can, perhaps, legitimise the status of my theories to all by putting them in my ‘empirical test pending’ box.

Dr Dean Whitehead
Flinders University

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This page is a summary of: Guest editorial: Empirical or tacit knowledge as a basis for theory development?, Journal of Clinical Nursing, February 2005, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2004.01066.x.
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