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Background to Situation Ethics
Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics, 1966
Ordained as an Anglican Priest but later
identified himself as an atheist.
The 1960s saw the widespread challenge
of traditional morality based on Judeo-
Christian principles by a new age spirit
of atheism and personal choice.
Fletcher wanted to a new `Christian'
ethic which avoided the judgemental
problems of the past and avoided the
sinful excesses of the new age.…read more

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Situation Ethics
Fletcher's Situation Ethics was in part a reaction
against Christian legalism and antinomianism (which is
the belief that there are no fixed moral principles, but
that morality is the result of individual spontaneous
acts).
Fletcher argues that each individual situation is
different and absolute rules are too demanding and
restrictive.
The Bible shows what good moral decisions look like in
particular situations, but it is not possible to know
what God's will is in every situation.
Fletcher says: "I simply do not know and cannot know
what God is doing."
As it is not possible to know God's will in every
situation, love or agape is Situation ethics' only moral
`rule'.…read more

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Situation Ethics
So it is not just the situation that guides what
you should do, but the principle of agape and
the guiding maxims of the Christian
community: `Do not commit murder', `Do not
commit adultery', `Do not steal', `Do not lie'.
Situation ethics is midway between legalism
and antinomianism, and Fletcher's book, which
was published in 1966, reflected the mood of
the times ­ Christians should make the right
choices without just following rules and by
thinking for themselves.…read more

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Situation Ethics
Christians should base their decisions on one single
rule ­ the rule of agape.
This love is not merely an emotion but involves doing
what is best for the other person, unconditionally.
This means that other guiding maxims could be ignored
in certain situations if they do not serve agape; for
example, Fletcher says it would be right for a mother
with a 13-year-old daughter who is having sex to break
the rules about under-age sex and insist her daughter
uses contraception ­ the right choice is the most
loving thing and it will depend on the situation.
However, the situation can never change the rule of
agape which is always good and right regardless of the
circumstances.
According to Fletcher's Situation Ethics, this ethical
theory depends on four working principles and six
fundamental principles.…read more

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The four working principles
Pragmatism ­ what you propose must
work in practice.
Relativism ­ words like `always', `never',
`absolute' are rejected. There are no
fixed rules, but all decisions must be
relative to agape.
Positivism ­ a value judgement needs to
be made, giving the first place to love.
Personalism ­ people are put in first
place, morality is personal and not
centred on laws.…read more

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