Situation Ethics

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  • Situation Ethics
    • 6 fundamental principles
      • 1. Love is the only absolute (it is intrinsically good)
        • "Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love: nothing else"
      • 2. Christian decision making is based on love
        • "The ruling norm of christian decision is love: nothing else"
      • 3. Justice is love distributed
        • "Love and justice are the same for love is justice distributed: nothing else"
      • 4. Love wants the good for anyone, whoever they are
        • "Love wills the neighbour's good, whether we like him or not"
      • 5. Only the end justifies the means
        • "Only the end justifies the means, nothing else"
      • 6. Love is acted out situationally not prescriptivally
        • "Love's decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively"
    • four working principles
      • 1. Pragmatism (it has to work in daily life - it must be practical)
        • For a course of action to be right, it has to be practical.  It must work.
      • 2. Relativism  Rules don’t always apply, they depend on the situation.
        • It relativizes the absolute, it does not absolutize the relative’. E.g ‘Do not steal’ if love demands stealing food for the hungry, you steal.   He doesn’t take a relative ‘Do whatever the situation demands’ and make it into an absolute
      • 3. Positivism (it must put faith before reasoning – "I am a Christian, so what should I do?")
        • Kant and Natural Law are based on reason – reason can uncover the right course of action.  Situation Ethics disagrees,  You have to start with a positive choice – you need to want to do good.  There is no rational answer to the question “Why should I love?”
      • 4. Personalism (people should be at the centre of the theory)
        • Situation Ethics puts people first.  People are more important than rules.  “Man was not made for the Sabbath”.
    • four types of love
      • Agape - compassion/ selfless love e.g the love Jesus had for us
        • cern for others.  Fletcher uses the term ‘best interest’, so this seems much the same as Singer’s utilitarianism.  We act out of love for others, trying to do the best to serve their interests.
      • Eros - ****** love / lust
      • Philos - Friendship love / family
      • Storge - the love between parent and child
    • Background of situation ethics
      • Joseph Fletcher 1905-1991
      • In situation ethics, right and wrong depend upon the situation.
      • Moral judgments are decisions, not conclusions
    • Evaluation
      • Strengths
        • Personalist – puts people before rules. Jesus said, ‘Sabbath was made for man not man for Sabbath’
        • Relativist – flexible, allowing individualised responses to different contexts. Rules are useful, but there are exceptions. “Sometimes you have to push aside your principles and do the right thing.”
        • Pragmatic – Situation Ethics suggest solutions that work. It is a useful ethical theory.
        • Teleological – it focuses on the end or outcome of an action. “If the end doesn’t justify the means, what does?”
        • Situationist – This is a great way for the Church to reconcile strict rules in the Bible with Jesus’ approach. Jesus criticised the Pharisees for being legalistic. On the other hand, it would be wrong to be antinominal. Situation Ethics is midway between the two, allowing Christians to consult the Bible and Church tradition, but put these aside if love demands it, just as Jesus did.
        • Up to date – Situationism allows you to change with the times. This includes ideas about marriage, sexuality, medical ethics etc.
        • Autonomous Acting out of love frees us from having to follow established authorities of which we have become distrustful. Paul said that Christians have died to the law and “are not under the law but under grace”. Robinson: “The only ethics for the man come of age.”
        • Social Justice – Agape motivates people to change things for the better, to get rid of discrimination, help those who are poor etc. Change is needed, and a system of rules doesn’t help bring about change.
        • Positivist – Focuses on love, which is “patient, kind, not self-seeking, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” What better motive to act on?
        • WWJD? – It follows Jesus’ teaching. He said that we should love God and love our neighbour. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 
        • Focuses on motive – Utilitarianism focuses on consequences, but these are out of our control. Situation Ethics has most of the strengths of Utilitarianism, but doesn’t rely on consequences that are immeasurable, unpredictable and incalculable.
      • Weaknesses
        • Rules – We are supposed to follow rules. “They weren’t called the ‘ten suggestions’.”
        • Vague – It’s impossible to say what you’re supposed to do. How do you work out what the most loving thing is, if it changes from situation to situation?
        • Evil – Allows terrible things (adultery, theft, lying, murder) in the name of love.
        • Misguided – The end does not justify the means. Paul said Christians should not do evil that good may come of it.
        • Isolates the Church – as the individual acts independently, the Church has no place in moral decision making. The situationist approach ignores thousands of years of Church tradition, throwing away the wisdom of the greatest teachers. Wise men have debated important topics for generations, and yet the individual can make a more informed decision on the spur of the moment?
        • Lacking in standards – Biblical principles hold true for all societies at all times. The same is true of the Natural Law that is universal.
        • Idolises the individual – It gives each person more authority than the Bible or the Church. Our Post-modern society focuses too much on the individual. When others are free to lie, steal, even kill, this doesn’t amount to autonomy, but a dictatorship of individuality. Robinson “It will all descend into moral chaos.”
        • Unfair – Justice requires us to follow the law, and treat all people equally. Situation Ethics allows us to treat people differently, break the rules, lie and steal in individual circumstances, and this is not fair.
        • Baseless – There is no justification for basing ethics on love. No defence is given. We are just supposed to accept as obvious the idea that there are no fixed rules and ethics=love.
        • We’re no angels – If we were all like Jesus, this might work. Barclay believed we can’t be trusted to do the right thing, and it would only work ‘if all men were angels’. 

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