Situation ethics

  • Created by: Emzhip16
  • Created on: 04-05-21 12:31

Situation ethics

Joseph Fletcher- 1905-1991, an American Episcopalian priest and professor. 

  • he lectured in Christian ethics and medical ethics 
  • wrote: situation ethics: the new morality in 1966
  • writing post war when society was rejecting the rigidity of legalist systems. like natural law 
  • his response of situation ethics was the inbetween of legalism (a strict set of laws or rules that cannot be broken) and antinomianism (lawless: lack of any rules or guidence) 

fletcher rejects leaglsim becuase it was:

  • too restrictive, lacked compassion, put laws before people

fletcher rejects antinomianiam becuase 

  • it was 'ad hoc' or random, lead to chaos, inconsitant and unprincipled
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the role of conscience

-Fletcher felt that conscience was valuable in moral decision-making, but rejected the definitions given by over thinkers

- our conscience does not direct us, instead it is a process that we go throuh when we apply our reasoning to a spefic problem that needs to be solved. 

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agape love

agape allows the flexibility to approach moral situations without having to stick to ridgid outdated laws. it gives guidence and protection. when making decisons about how to behave, people should: 

  • stick to society's laws unless it seems more loving to break them
  • have love as the main goal of every moral action 

Agape- action of care or concern for another being that is not dependent upon whether they are a nice person or not. It is more like our understanding of the word charity. 

Fletcher felt that agape was the best way to make moral decision becuase: 

  • it does not discrimante agaisnt people 
  • it shows compassion to all people equally 
  • it is a firm principle upon which to base all behaviour, so avoids the choas of antinomianism 
  • it is felxible, showing love to poeple in diffrent ways, depedning on who they are and what thier situation is. This avoids the rigidty of legalism. 
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bible evidence

New Testament evidance for agape is plentiful. Good examples of Jesus shwing agape could be as follows:

  • Jesus rescues a woman caught in adultery from being stoned. he forgives her.- John 8:1-11
  • Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath when it is forbidden to work. -Mark 3:1-6
  • Jesus teaches we should love our enemies. Luke 6:27-36

the teachings of Jesus (Luke 10:25-37). a parable of the good samartian. he uses this story to show that true obidence to this law of love may be unconvential in its application. 

the teachings of St Paul (1 Corinsthians 13) 

this passage on love is often read at weddings, but it is talking about more than romantic love. pual lists the qauilties required by agape love. 

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Situation ethics

moral relavtivsim is the stance that there are no absloute moral rules or laws, but that all desicions should be made in relation to the extent to which love is achieved. 

situation ethics is a consequentialist thoery- assesses the moral outcome based on thier outcome or reslut rather than the act itself. Siuation Ethics, as a consquentlist thoery, works out whether the reslut of an act will be loving. if it is, then it is a good act. an act, such as sex between memebers of the same gender, is neither intrinsically bad. It is dependent upon the outcome of the act in each seprate case. 

a teleological theory: teleolgoical theories focus upon an act's purpose or goal. situation ethics is teleological becuase it aims for love in its decision-mkaing process. 

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the boss principle

  • agape is the unconditional care or conern for other s behaviour 
  • The boss principle is the leading or fundamnetal principle 
  • Agape is the overriding principle that has priority over all other laws. 
  • any law that does not serve love can be broken
  • this principle is sometimes called the agapeitstic calculs- greatest love for the greatest number 
  • sometimes situation Eithics is called Christian Utiliarism 
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the four working principles

1. PRAGMATISM- any action must be practically possible in working to serve a loving outcome

2. PERSOALISM- the indiviaual person is the priority and love for them is more important than the detail of any law

3. POSITIVISM- you cannot prove that love is the most important thing. We must just have fiath that it is and then apply our reason aftrwards to see how best to be loving 

4. RELATIVSIM- all acts must be relative to  a loving outcome. there no fixed laws that apply universally execpt for love. 

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the six fundamental principles

1. ONLY LOVE- the only intrinsically good thing is love and nothing else. 

2. RULING NORM- love is the ruling norm of Christian decision- making. for a christian to make a moral desicion, they must always assess whether it will produce love before they worry about whether it obeys alws like the 10 commandments 

3. JUSTICE- love and justice are the same thing, Justice is love shared out fairly 

4. NEIGHBOURLY- love your neighbour as you love yourself 

5. ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS- if the outcome is loving, any action at all is permitted 

6. SITUATION- acts should be decided situationally not perscriptively. this means we look to the situation and decide each indivuial case, rather than looking to a prefabricated set of rules and trying to make them fit the circumstances. 

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examples given by Fletcher

Sacrifical Adultery 

During the Second World War, a married German woman with three children was captured by a Soviet patrol and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in the Ukraine. Once the war ended, she learned that her family were trying to stay together and find her. According to the rules, she could only be released from the camp if she was pregnant. After considering her options, she asked a Volga German camp guard to impregnate her. She was sent back to Germany and her family welcomed her, even when she told them how she had done it. They loved the child because of what he had done for them. 

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strengths of theory

  • regarded as tutrly chritisan ehtic, becuase based on the teachings of Jesus
  • love seeks well-being of others, even if the course of action is not one or prefrence 
  • indiviuals are not subject to rules that bind them- nothing is more intrinsically right or wrong, expect love
  • indiviual cases are not judged on thier merits, irrespective of what has been done in simiar situations in the past
  • consequences have  real effect upojn our lives single rule, therfore very simple/easy to use
  • compatible both with secular society and religions 
  • middle way between antinominism and legalism 
  • based on agapeisitic love, which most people would say was a good thing. 
  • situational- Focuses on humans and concern for others (agape)
  • It’s simple
  • It’s flexible
  • Allows people to take responsibility for their own decisions and make up their own minds about what is right and wrong.
  • It is a teleological system and is not tied to the observance of rules unlike deontological ethics. This makes it flexible and allows adaptation to different circumstances.
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weakness of the theory

  • impossible to predict consequence
  • most situations are mutli-faceted, but thoery does not specify who we should show love
  • It’s too individualistic.
  • It’s subjective. So two people might disagree about what the most ‘loving thing’ is.
  • It’s not easy to determine the consequences/outcome of an action. Easier said than done
  • Perhaps Situation Ethics bring us to the brink of a “slippery slope”. If, say, euthanasia can be justified in some circumstances why not all?
  • It is a religious ethical system and therefore will not appeal to all, unlike Utilitarianism, which is secular.
  • This theory has been rejected by many Christians. Roman Catholics who adhere to Natural Moral Law do not see consequentialist ethics as valid. Much of Christianity appears to be deontological: Jesus said that he had not come to erase the Jewish (deontological) law.
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