Abusing ethics: Recurrent uses of ethical fallacies among nurses

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This paper presents the result from our research on how nurse managers use and occasionally misuse inconclusive ethical arguments to engage their personnel in current reforms. The Danish health care system has undergone a series of reforms inspired by New Public Management theories, which have promised better services for lower costs. Despite the positive intention, such
reforms have not always been received as such by front line nurses, who often see an opposition between these processes with their focus on efficiency and the fundamental values of nursing. In this climate, nurse managers responsible for implementing the reforms, struggle to find ways to reconcile the conflicting interest of nurses and reforms, in order to engage their personnel in this process of change. Based on observation, individual and focus group interviews we collected and analyzed the arguments given by managers, paying special attention to the way in which ethical arguments are used in relation to engagement. Our research shows that ethical arguments are extremely common, and they are used either to elicit engagement, or to demand engagement considering the result of a duty. However, most interestingly it was possible for us to find recurrence of fallacious arguments of different kinds.
Based on these findings, I will argue that the use of fallacious arguments in order to generate engagement is in reality an abusive use of ethics, which raises important questions. I argue that depending on the degree of awareness of the use of a fallacy, eliciting engagement with fallacious arguments can be in itself and unethical action. I will also like to point out the potential conflict that
can arise from abusive argumentation methods. Finally, I will focus on how paying attention to the structure of arguments used in reform processes can be an important tool for promoting dialogue in situations, which are otherwise often perceived as power struggles.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event“Present and Future Challenges and Opportunities for Ethics in Nursing and Care” - Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Duration: 15 Sept 201716 Sept 2017


Conference“Present and Future Challenges and Opportunities for Ethics in Nursing and Care”
LocationCentre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, KU Leuven


  • disease, health science and nursing
  • ethics


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