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Joseph Fletcher's Situation Ethics
Joseph Fletcher was a US philosopher in the 1960's who was angry at how legalistic religions
were being taught and presented. He believed that any religion with strict rules that could not be
broken were wrong. For example. in Christianity, Christians must keep the Sabbath day holy and are
told not to do any kind of work on this day. People then took this literally and made sure people didn't
do anything which was even slightly related to work on the Sabbath. But Fletcher believes, like Jesus
said, "the Sabbath was made for man, not man made for Sabbath." Fletcher was very keen on making
a decision on individual situations. When somebody asked him, "Is adultery wrong?" he replied, "I
don't know, give me a situation." He spoke out against the strict rules in Christianity and believed in
the spirit of Christianity "Love God with all your heart as you want to be treated." Fletcher discussed
"The Middle Way" which was an approach to religion in between legalistic rules and antinomianism.
He then also created the "6 Key Propositions" and the "4 Key Principles."
Fletcher created Situation Ethics which makes every situation unique an act is either right of
wrong depending on the situation and consequences. This makes his theory teleological because it's
concerned with the ends and consequences. No act is right or wrong in itself, it only takes on moral
quality when its consequences are analysed. He wanted people to do the most loving thing, as this is
the main aim of Christianity. He knew people would view love differently, so he used "Agapé" love.
This love is unconditional. self sacrificial, practical and divine like. Therefore, in Situation Ethics, he
wanted people to do acts which are morally right. An a morally right act is by giving the maximum love
for the majority of people affected.
Situation Ethics stands between legalism and antinomianism. Legalism is all for laws it's an
ethical system that contains rules for every situation. In Judaism a fence around the law was created
because people were so scared of breaking the rules. Once murder is prohibited, one must clarify
killing in self defence, killing in war and killing an unborn baby. This produces a web of laws, where
people are constantly checking in a book to see whether their act is moral or immoral. Legalistic Ethics
runs into problems when life's complexities require additional laws. People's morals are dictated by the
rules that follow. It is an absolute theory where the rules can never be broken.
Antinomianism is a way of life where there are no moral principles or rules at all. Hence, the
word antinomianism literally means against law. Simon de Beauvoir stated that "There is no connective
tissue between one situation and another, no basis for generalising priniciples, no fabric or web of life."
A person using antinomianism doesn't really use an ethical system at all. He or she enters decision
making as if each occasion was unique. Meaning that a moral decision is spontaneity. There is no
rational basis to it and so its results are unpredicatable with no firm rational basis. It produce
unprincipled and immoral outcomes as Sophia is completely ignored.
Situationism, The Middle Way, is a way of thinking about ethics, concerning love and people
rather than rules for rules sake. Eg in Situation Ethics, if a murderer asks where their next victim is,
this person should lie to the murderer to save this mans life. Whereas in Legalism the man should tell
the truth. This is because love is put in the front seat and Sohpia (Christian rules and traditions) is put
in the back seat. Situationism is called "The Middle Way" because it has a bit of freedom (like in
Antinomianism) and it follows Christian Traditions (just not literally). This theory means that the person
must think for themselves and they don't need to carry a book around with them to check if they're
breaking any rules. It therefore allows uniqueness to each situation.
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Fletcher created 6 Key Propositions. The first proposition stated that "Only one this is
intrinsically good: namely love, nothing else at all." Love alone when well served is always
good and right in every situation! Love is the only universal. What is right in one case may be
wrong in another stealing a gun from a somebody who is about to kill someone/somebody is
right, but stealing in most other situations is wrong.…read more
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If you understand adapé you must carry out the medical genius.
We choose what is most useful for the most people.
The fifth proposition wrote, "Only the end justifies the means noting else." Wherever rules
do not have loving consequences then you should break the rules. Situation ethics states than acts
are right or wrong, according to the situation. E.G Isaiah 4v.1 foresees a day when 7 women will
be with 1 man to even things out.…read more