Situation Ethics

  • Created by: Martyjr
  • Created on: 20-05-19 10:06

Three ways of making moral decisions

Legalistic Ethics - conventional rule based morality

Antinomian Ethics - There are no rules

Situation Ethics - There is one rule - follow the most loving action (love)

Extra information...

  • Key proponent is Joseph Fletcher
  • Main focus on Agape Love= Godly Love
  • “Morality of an action depends on the situation” (JF)
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Two Principles

Fletcher divided his theory into two categories...
1. The four working principles (4 WP)
2. The six fundamental principles 6FP)

4 WP
1. Pragmatism - your strategy must work
2. Positivism - have a positive attitude
3. Personalism - place the needs of human beings above a situation
4. Relativism - the action which is right for that situation (there are no fixed rules)

6 FP
1. Only one thing is intrinsically good - love
2. The ruling norm of Christian decisions is love
3. Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed
4. Love wills the neighbour’s good, whether we like him or not
5. Only the end justifies the means
6. Love’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively

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Key influences

1. Vietnam war
2. WW2
3. The fear of There being another war
4. Flower power (protest for peace)
5. Contraception (more choice)
6. Mini skirts (rebellion)
7. Baby bloom (new generation)

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Paul Tillich

  • It is a flexible theory as love should be maximised
  • The laws of love defies all laws (love is the ultimate law)
  • Love will always guide you in the right direction

William Temple

  • Do things to benefit others and the most loving thing
  • How to act depends on the situation
  • Used ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self’ to justify an ethical idea

J.A.T Robinson (Book = Honest to God)


  • If you do good simply out of obedience to God, some people would question if you are being good for the right reasons. Some argue ‘we are simply obeying a tyrant who commands us to obey’
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Pope Pius XII

  • Condemned situation ethics as it rejects the guidance of the magisterium, natural law
  • “An individualistic and subjective appeal to the concrete circumstances of an action that attempts to justify decisions in opposition to the natural law or God’s revealed will”


  • Fletcher offers no definition of love
  • Gives no guidance as to what a situation is
  • Different people would perceive the situation differently

William Barclay

  • Fletcher’s cases are extreme
  • Fletcher overestimates the value of being free from rules
  • Fletcher is unrealistic about the degree to which humans are truly free to make choices without the guidance and control of the law
  • Overall... Barclay argues that Fletcher was overly optimistic about the capacity of human beings to make morally correct choices and not be influence by personal preferences
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1. Provides a clear alternative to Christian ethics that is consistent to Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels
2. Flexible and practical
3. Easy to understand
4. Takes circumstances into account
5. You don’t have to follow a conventional rule if it goes against love

1. Subjective
2. Individualistic
3. Allows any action so long as the outcome is love
4. Inconsistent with some teachings in the Bible
5. People need laws and rules to maintain order

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