Ethics - Situation Ethics

What is Situation Ethics?

Teleological - looks at the consequences of an action

Joseph Fletcher - there are 3 different ways of making moral decisions: Legalism, Antinomianism & Situationism.

'The morality of an action depends on the situation'

The Law of Love 'agape' is the ultimate Law - in every situataion - you ask what is the most loving thing.

'agape' - is the type of love Jesus referred to when he said 'Love your neighbour'

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Christian Morality

Fletcher believed that Christian Morality needed to be reassessed. As:

  • Church Membership was declining
  • The increase of unsureity for the existence of God
  • How Science has caused a displacement of God within society
  • The weakening of religion within the family through the media

Fletcher's perception was that traditional Christian ethics needed to be given a new focus - He didn't agree with Natural Law or Divine Comand Theory (must follow God's absoulute command, laid out in scripture)- He approached ethics with the view that morality is not about rules - except for the rule of love.

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Fletcher's 4 Presuppositions

Pragmatism - Something that works - does it work and maximise love otherwise what's the point.

Relativism - Everything is relative to the situation - there are no fixed rules, but link in with love.

Positivism - Faith has to come first but God and love have to be freely chosen

Personalism - Puts people at the centre of concern - we are made in God's image

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Fletcher's 6 Propositions

  • Love is always Good - the only intrinsic good is love - Love is a predicate (it describes an action in a situation and is not a thing itself) - it is the only principle that is good and right in every situation.
  • Love is the only norm - 'the ruling norm of christian decision is love' - love replaces the law
  • Love and justice are the same - love becomes justice - justice is love distributed - when combined with Utilitarianism - the ultimate goal is happiness and pleasure - which is a combination of agape.
  • Love is not liking - Love is not sentimental - based on emotions like sympathy and affection - instead love is cognitive (about will) - love wills good deeds
  • Love justifies the means - if the end does not justify the means, what does - unless there is an end to the action it is meaningless. Only the most loving actions has a justifiable end.
  • Love decides there and then - decisions are made situationaliy not prescriptively.
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Strengths of Situation Ethics

It's easy to understand and can be constantly updated when new problems and issues arise.

It's flexible and can take different situations into account - based of the Christian concept of love. 

It focuses on human concerns

It allows people to take responsibility for their own decisions and make up there mind about what is right and wrong.

The view is supported by the Catholic church who have come up with answers to many situations, and which they feel will result in the most loving action.

It can be adapted with new technology, especially in medical science -  and is ever changing with society.

It promotes social justice and helping people- it forces people to analyse situations in terms of the desired end.

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Weaknesses of Situation Ethics

SE places a large amount of responsibility upon a person - the individual may be put under alot of pressure - as you can't see into the future, so you don't know what the most loving action will be.

There is no consensus on what ost loving action may be - what one person says is the most loving, migthe mht not be the same for someone else.

It puts alot of emphasis on motivation and appears to argue that doing something sincere justifies what you do - however obsessive love is no agape e.g. parents loving children or people may love their country so much that they will fight and attack - this isn't loveable.

This shows that a valid ethical theory needs to be consistent, coherent, rational and objective to stand the test of time.

The majority would agree the weaknesses do outweigh the strengths of situation ethics, the weaknesses show why it has not been adopted by mainstream moral thinking in any of the major Christian churches.

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