Situation Ethics

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General Principles of Situation Ethics

  • Moral decision making should be guided by love and nothing else.
  • actions are justified if they have a loving outcome.
  • Jesus was asked what the most important law was he replied: 'Love God and love your neighbour as yourself'
  • Lenin said: 'if the end does not justify the means, then in the name of sanity and justice what does'
  • Joseph Fletcher pioneered the development of SE, and wrote a book with that name in 1996.
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The six fundamental principles

  • 'Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love: nothing else at all.'
  • 'The ruling norm of christian decision is love: nothing else.'
  • 'Love and Justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else.'
  • 'Love wills the neighbour's good, whether we like him or not.'
  • 'Only the end justifies the means, nothing else.'
  • 'Love's decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively.'
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'Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love

Only love is good in and of itself. Actions aren't intrinsically good or evil. They are good or evil depending upon whether they promote the most loving result. They are extrinsically good, depending on their circumstances and concequences.

A lie is not intrinsically wrong. It is wrong if it harms people but may sometimes be right. To establish the good or bad characteristics of a person, one does not ask what he believes or hopes but what he loves. 

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'The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: no

Jesus replaced the Torah with the principle of love. For example his decision to heal(work) on the Sabbath day, rejecting the obligations of Sabbath observance. The Commandments are not absolute. Jesus broke them when love demanded it. Love replaces law. It isn't equalled by any other law.

The law should only be obeyed in the interests of love, not for the law's sake! Fletcher rejects natural law: 'There are no universal laws held by all men everywhere at all times.' An example of Jesus 'Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath'

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'Love and justice are the same, for justice is lov

Love and justice can't be seperated from each other. Fletcher writes, 'Justice is Christian love using it's head , calculating it's duties, obligations, opportunities, resources...Justice is love coping with situations where distribution is called for' - Fletcher. Justice is love at work in the whole community, for the whole community.

If love was properly shared out there would be no injustice. Fletcher advocates the greates good for the greatest number of people.

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'Love wills the neighbours good, whether we like h

The love that Fletcher is concerned about isn't a mattor of feeling, but of attitude and the will towards the other person. It isn't sentimental or ****** but a desire for the good of the other person. This is the New Testiment agape love. Your neighbour is anybody and agape love goes to everyone; not just those we like but those we don't like as well. It is unconditional, nothing is required in return.

Agape love - the unconditional love that they must show their neighbours(christians)

MLK described agape as a 'creative redemptive goodwill to all men'. It is theologically derived from the intepretation of how God loved all people.

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'Only the end justifies the means, nothing else'

To consider moral actions without reference to their ends is a haphazard approach. Actions aquire moral status as means to an end. For Fletcher the end must be the most loving result.When weighing up a situation, one must consider a desired end, the means available, the motive for acting and the forseeable consequences.

When someone said to Fletcher 'The end doesn't justify the means' he said 'then what on earth does?' Fletcher says you cannot claim to be right by following a rule (like 'Do not lie') knowing it will cause great harm. Wrong and right only exist in the context of a particular situation.

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'Love's decisions are made situationally, not pres

Jesus reacted to the kind of rule based morality that he saw around him.Whether something is right or wrong depends on the situation, if an action brings about an end that serves love most, then it's right. Fletcher believed that if people didn't feel that it is wrong to have sexual relations outside of a marraige then it is not, unless they hurt themselves, their partners or others.

There are no rules about what should or shouldn't be done - in each situation you decide there and then what the most loving thing to do is. Laws imply that humans are incapable of dealing with freedom.

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The four presumptions

  • Pragmatism
  • Relativism
  • Posivitism
  • Personalism
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meaning - any theory of ethics must be practical and work towards the end that is love.

A practical or success posture. The proposed course of action must work, and must work towards the end, which is love.

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meaning - a view that there is no moral absolutes, our moral jusdgements relate to upbringing. Cultural relativism simply notes that moral values vary between societies.

Situation ethics is relativistic: 'The situationist avoids words like "never" and "perfect" and "always" and "complete" as he avoids the plague, as he avoids "absolutely"' - Fletcher. There are no fixed rules that must always be obeyed. Fletcher maintains that all decisions must be relative to Christian love.

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meaning - the situational principle that christians freely choose to believe that God is love and then act in a way reasonable with this faith statement.

Religious knowledge or belief can only be approached by one of two ways. With natural povitism reason deduces faith from human experience or natural phenommena. Nature provides the evidence and reason grasps hold of it. With theological povitism faith statements are made and people act in a way that is reasonable in light of these statements. Reason isn't the basis for faith, but it works within faith. Situation ethics depends on christians freely choosing the faith that God is love, so giving first place to christian love.

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meaning - the ethic that demands that human beings come first and are not treated as 'means'

The legalist puts the law first, the situationist puts people first. He asks what to do to help humans best: 'There are no "values" in the sense of inherent goods - value is what happens to something when it happens to be useful to love working for the sake of persons' - Fletcher. Whereas some thical theories base a lot of weight on rules, situationists are much more interested in people. In a sense, people are more sacred than rules.

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