Carper's Patterns of Knowing Theory

4 Principles of Carper’s Pattern of Knowing Theory

Posted: July 23rd, 2022

Barbara Carper, a nursing Professor, is the nurse behind Carper’s Pattern of Knowing. Carper first published the science of Knowing in 1978. She believes that the discovery of self and others comes with reflection, synthesis of perception, and connecting to existing knowledge.

The theory is essential in the nursing career. It shapes the experiences of a nurse and helps them in their day-to-day work. Carper has been a nurse, a trainer and a professor at the Texas University. She has extensive knowledge and experience as a nurse anesthetist. 

Carper's Theory diagram
Carper’s Theory of Knowing Diagram

The pattern of Knowing Theory

Carper’s Pattern of Knowing is a theory that describes the different ways in which nurses gain knowledge. There are four main patterns: empirical, personal, ethical, and esthetic.

Empirical Knowledge

Empirical knowledge comes through observation and experimentation. It is the type of knowledge that is most often associated with science. Empirical knowledge comes through experience rather than deductive reasoning and innate ideas. 

Empirical knowledge encompasses models of human nature. It also includes behaviors and traits that particular people have in common.

Personal Knowing

Personal knowledge comes through our own experiences. It can be both positive and negative experiences. It is this type of knowledge that helps us to decide based on our personal values. Through personal knowing, we understand self.

Understanding self includes the knowledge that other people have changing personalities. No single person has a particular identity, it varies with time as people are constantly becoming. Understanding self helps understand what is right and wrong based on personal principles and beliefs.

Ethical Knowledge

Ethical knowledge comes through our understanding of right and wrong. This type of knowledge is vital in making sure that we act in a way that is morally correct.

Ethical dilemmas on right and wrong are common in the day and life of a nurse. A nurse can use the ethical knowledge to make tough calls regarding patient care at work. Nurses also face moral dilemmas where they may struggle to

Esthetic Knowledge

Esthetic knowledge comes through our appreciation of beauty. It can be as art, music, or nature. It is this type of knowledge that helps us to find meaning in life. 

Carper’s Pattern of Knowing is a helpful way to think about the different knowledge that nurses use in their everyday practice.

An image of a hand with a mask and stethoscope and little hearts.
Courtesy of

Carper’s Pattern of Knowing Application to Nurse Practice

Carper’s Pattern of Knowing is a helpful tool for nurses’ everyday practice. It can help nurses notice how they gain knowledge and ensure they use it in promotion of health and patient care.

Doctors and nurses make ethical decisions daily. An ethical decision is when a nurse washes hands before entering a patient’s room. Also, deciding what patients gets a ventilator when COVID-19 was at its peak.

Empirics help nurses make informed decisions through scientific findings. Based on research, one can make a sound call that reflect

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