Situation Ethics was devised by Joseph Fletcher in the 1960s, and it is more concerned with love and people than rules for rule's sake. Fletcher said, "The situationist follows a moral law or violates it according to love's need." Flecther rejected the the two extremes of legalism and antinomianism. So, Fletcher's Situation Ethics is meant to be the middle way between the two extremes.
- Legalism is rigidly applying set principles and following laws as absolutes without considering the context of the situation.
- Fletcher found various problems with this ethical approach:
- Firstly, Fletcher saw legalism as wrong because it makes rules more important than people, it doesn't allow exceptions and is very inflexible.
- He also thought that it could easily become a very complicated web of rules, because each rule requires another one.
- He said, "The morality of an action depends on a situation. " And the problem here is that legalism doesn't look at the situation.
- People who are legalistic only go by the exact law and make no exception whatsoever. Fletcher believed that rather than just going strictly by the law, sometimes compassion is called for.
- For example, allowing embryology, despite placing instrumental value on innocent embryos, the potential of finding cures for deadly diseases is a very loving consequence.
- Antinomianism is at the opposite end of the spectrum, it is acting without reference to any rules and having total freedom to act as one pleases.
- Fletcher didn't agree with this because it leads to complete chaos with no laws at all, and no way of choosing between two courses of action.
- He believed that if there were no rules, the world would fall into anarchy.
The solution is...
- Fletcher's solution to these two extremes was Situation Ethics which is seen as a middle ground between the two.
- He argues that in order to make a meaningful ethical decision, the situation needs to be considered for each individual moral decision and action.
- This decision depends upon the practical application of agape love: "Only love is objectively valid, only love is universal.", was the first of the six fundamental principles.
- However, the right decision in one circumstance does not become the same for all other circumstances - each situation should be considered independently.
- The sixth fundamental principle is that love's decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively. For example, Jesus healing on the Sabbath, the day of rest; although this went against the rule, it resulted in the most loving consequence and was therefore the morally right decision.