Situation Ethics


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Situation ethics
Fletcher quoted a St Louis cab driver who said "Sometimes you've got to put your principles to one
side and do the right thing". Rules (or principles) aren't the same thing as doing what is right.
Some ethical theories suggest legalistic rules that mustn't be broken, this is wrong as it makes rules
more important than people, and doesn't allow exceptions. There are antinomians who reject rules
entirely. This is wrong as it leads to complete chaos with no laws at all, and no way of choosing
between two courses of action. The situationist has respect for the laws, may often follow the laws
and be informed by tradition. However, he is free to make the right choice according to the situation.
Best Interests
Agape - "... goodwill at work in partnership with reason" in seeking the "neighbour's best interest
with a careful eye to all the factors in the situation". Agape is concern 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.
The Four Working Principles
For a course of action to be right, it has to be practical. It must work. For example, in the case of Jodie
and Mary, conjoined twins, the Catholic church wanted to let both of the girls die. To kill one, saving
the other, would be an evil or bad act, they said. Fletcher would have disagreed. Letting both girls
die is not pragmatic. It would be of more use, more practical, to save one girl at the expense of the
other. Whilst this is not consequentialist - it is love that is good, not an outcome - in practice it makes
Fletcher's theory very similar indeed to Singer's utilitarianism.
`It relativizes the absolute; it does not absolutize the relative'.
This means that rules (absolutes) don't always apply, they depend on the situation. Absolutes like `Do
not steal' become relative to love ­ if love demands stealing food for the hungry, you steal.
However, it doesn't mean `anything goes'. He doesn't take a relative `Do whatever the situation
demands' and make it into an absolute [read the quote above again to check you understand this]
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?"
Situation Ethics puts people first. People are more important than rules. "Man was not made for the

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Six Fundamental Principles
Love only is always good Love is intrinsically valuable, it has inherent worth. Love is
good. Nothing else has intrinsic value but `it gains or
`Only one `thing' is intrinsically good; acquires its value only because it happens to help persons
namely, love: nothing else at all' (thus being good) or to hurt persons (thus being bad)'. A
lie is not intrinsically wrong. It is wrong if it harms people,
but may sometimes be right.…read more

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Situation Ethics has great appeal, especially when faced with the realities of deontological ethics. It
seems ludicrous that a Catholic might choose to remove a fallopian tube from a woman with an
ectopic pregnancy (thereby resulting in the termination of the pregnancy but also in an inability to
have further children) rather than simply abort the foetus. Abortion, Natural Law tells us, is a wrong
act.…read more

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Teleological ­ it focuses on the end or outcome of an Misguided ­ The end does not justify the means. Paul
action. "If the end doesn't justify the means, what said Christians should not do evil that good may come of
does?" it.
Situations ­ This is a great way for the Church to Isolates the Church ­ as the individual acts
reconcile strict rules in the Bible with Jesus' approach.…read more

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Utilitarianism, but doesn't rely on consequences that are probably only perpetuate his situation. Reason (not
immeasurable, unpredictable and incalculable. love) would tell me it is better to give to a charity for
the homeless that will look for long-term solutions.
Not limited to reason ­ Whilst rationality may play a Irrational - "By the 1970s, situation ethics had been
part in working out what is in the best interests of roundly rejected as no ethics at all...…read more


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