Situation Ethics Revision Guide

All you need to know about Situation Ethics for the exam.

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Situation Ethics
A summary of the moral decision making theory of Situation Ethics:
Situation Ethics can be described as a `theory of love,' for it holds that, in a moral dilemma,
the course of action that is morally right is the one which is the most love-filled. The kind of love in
this context is `agape' love. Agape is a Greek word signifying unconditional, non-reciprocal love. It is
not emotional or passionate, but is a means of doing good to others, driven by the will.
Situation Ethics was born in the 1960's--a time of questioning and doubt for many
people--and was the result of Reverend Joseph Fletcher--an American Anglican theologian--and his
ideas, as presented in the book Situation Ethics, the New Morality (1966). He was not the first,
however to come up with the idea of a perfect Christian ethical system, and was greatly influenced
by many others in the writing of this work. Three years earlier, in 1963, the Bishop John A T Robinson
wrote a book entitled Honest to God. In this he stated that "...there is no one ethical system that can
claim to be Christian." Rudolf Bultmann--another man whom Joseph Fletcher talks about in the
opening chapter of his book--declared that Jesus did not put forward any moral theory except the
principle that one should " thy neighbour as thyself."
In his book (Situation Ethics, the New Morality), Reverend Joseph Fletcher professed that
"...the morality of an action depends on the situation." This quote can be taken as the founding
principle of Situation Ethics, as it clearly states the main idea of the theory. To Mr Fletcher, the action
in itself is not right or wrong, but it is the motive behind that action that may be good or evil.
Therefore, as long as one takes the course of action that is the most love-filled towards others, the
actions that are employed in order to fulfil it are permissible.
Fletcher explained that there are only three possible ethical approaches to the making of
moral decisions. These are antinomianism, legalism, and of course, Situation Ethics. Antinomianism
maintains that there should be no rules, laws, or codes of conduct whatsoever. The problem with this
approach is quite clear. One can do what one wants, and, as people in this world are corrupt, much
evil would result from utilising this means of determining morality. To Joseph Fletcher, this ethical
approach--which literally means "anti-law"--is one extreme to be avoided. The other is legalism. A
legalist is someone who follows the law, whatever happens and in every context. This absolutist
view would not put the law aside in a particular circumstance, as does the Situationist, and therefore
it is too rigid to be pragmatic. Finally, we have Situation Ethics--the `middle way'--in which the law of
"love thy neighbour as thyself" is the guiding influence in every situation.
Situation Ethics as the `Happy Medium' or `Middle Way':
Antinomianism Situation Ethics Legalism

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Key Books in relation to Situation Ethics:
Title: Date: Author:
Honest to God 1963 Bishop John A T Robinson
Situation Ethics, the New Morality 1966 Reverend Joseph Fletcher (1905-1991)
Ethics in a Permissive Society 1980 William Barclay
Ethics in a Christian Context 1963 Paul Lehmann (1906-1996)
Key Quotes in relation to Situation Ethics:
1. "...the morality of an action depends on the situation."
(Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics, the New Morality)
2. "...…read more

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The Four Presumptions:
The four presumptions (also known as the four `working principles') can be regarded as the
four foundational blocks of the theory of Situation Ethics. Without these, the ethical theory would not
be able to function.
Any ethical theory must be practical. Fletcher claims that Situation Ethics is exactly this, for it is
easy to apply in a moral dilemma.…read more

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3. "Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else."
4. "Love wills the neighbour's good, whether we like him or not."
5. "Only the end justifies the means, nothing else."
6. "Love's decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively."
A few key terms to know in relation to Situation Ethics:
1.…read more

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oAsked for a hysterectomy (removal of the womb) to be performed on her daughter
in order to prevent Katie from suffering the inconveniences and pain of menstruation
o "For my daughter this, I think, is the right decision and a decision that we have
thought long and hard about.…read more

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The opposing views of Bishop John A T Robinson and William Barclay:
Bishop John A T Robinson (1963): William Barclay (1980):
Jesus' teachings as in the Bible are not Situation Ethics is wrong in saying that
binding laws, they are just accounts of nothing is `black and white' in terms of
specific situations (a liberal morality
interpretation of the Bible) It is a highly dangerous idea to remove
Love is more important than a literal all set moral values, as…read more


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