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Situation Ethics is a teleological and casuistry theory. Casuistry means the application of
general principles to specific examples. In this case, it is applying love, the principle, to any
example, such as euthanasia. It was advocated by Joseph Fletcher, who was a philosopher
and ethicist who wrote the book `Situation Ethics' in 1966. He wrote the book to oppose
the deductive method of ethical reasoning; he felt that it was unwise to start from fixed
rules and then deduce from them what should be done in any particular situation. It followed
the widespread reaction against what was seen as the narrowness of traditional morality. In
the 1960's it was a time of social change and of a quest for freedom and self-expression.
Fletcher was influenced by a throw away comment made by a cab driver who said
"Sometimes you've just gotta put your principles to one side and do the right thing." This is
a teleological quote, because it is saying to follow what you believe is the right thing, rather
than follow laws and rules.
On the other hand, Fletcher wanted to maintain what he saw as the
fundamental feature of Christian morality, the law of love. He claimed that the only absolute
rule was that of love. In any given situation, the right thing to do was that which love
required. Situation ethics is `the idea that people should base moral decisions on what is the
most loving thing to do' and it `relativises the absolute, it doesn't absolute the relative'
(Fletcher). So, in each, different situation, you apply only one rule; love. However, he
recognised that people wouldn't always be able to decide what was right without help, and
he conceded that rules could help someone make a decision. Nevertheless, it was the
principle of love that counted, not rules. Thus, where love demanded that a conventional
moral rule should be set aside, it was right to do so. Rules could not be absolutely or
Fletcher proposed that moral laws should be taken into consideration only with other
greater rules, in mind. These are Fletcher's four working principles for situation ethics;
1. Pragmatism: The `pragmatists' were philosophers who argued that the truth of a
statement should be judged by whether it `worked', in other words whether positive
results were produced if it were taken to be true. This is similar to Fletcher's first
working principle, as he believed every situation needs to be judged according to
whether it can produce good practical results.
2. Relativism: His theory is not a fully relativist system but argued that the basic law of
love should be applied in a way that is relative to each individual situation. It
`relativises the absolute, it does not absolute the relative'.
3. Positivism: Fletcher accepted that moral choices themselves cannot be verified but
said that they could be vindicated (proved right). So, they can be shown to work and
put into effect the basic commitment to the law of love. Situation ethics disagrees
with Kant and Natural Law because they are based on reason and logic whereas
Situation ethics says you must start with a positive choice which then becomes the
starting point to find the right action.
4. Personalism: Situation ethics puts people first. People are more important than rules.
A strictly legalist approach such as Kant's theory can be impersonal in its application
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Fletcher wants to look at each situation and ask who needs to be
Fletcher further stipulated six `Fundamental Principles';
1) Love is the only intrinsic value. Only love is intrinsically good, nothing else.
2) The norm for Christian moral decision-making is to put love first. The basis of every
Christian decision is to put love fist, nothing else.
3) Love is the same as justice-because justice is `love distributed'. Justice leads to what
is right and injustice is wrong.…read more
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They are exactly
anarchic-i.e. without a rule'.
3) Situationism: Fletcher saw his own approach as a balance between the two. It is not
to be followed strictly by rules (so it is not the legalistic approach); however it is
complying with rules unless they disagree with love (so it isn't the antinomian
approach either). Situationism agrees that `reason is an instrument of moral
judgement' but would not agree that there is a natural law to suggest the good in
every situation.…read more
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It gives a person freedom to differ from the decisions of others without feeling that
they have thereby done anything wrong, or that they need to give a full justification
for that decision; therefore it is flexible.
It enables an emotional and rational response to determine what is right in any given
situation. In other words, you don't have to follow a conventional moral rule, if that
goes against your deepest sense of what love requires.…read more
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So, proportionalism was
considered. Whilst situation ethics was seen as a middle road between legalism and
antinomianism, proportionalism is seen as the midway between situation (teleological)
ethics and natural (deontological) law. Proportionalism holds that there are certain moral
rules that can never be broken unless there is a sufficiently proportional reason for doing so.
This reason is situationally based- it must be sufficiently serious to merit the overturning of
a normally definitive rule.…read more