Situation ethics

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Joseph Fletcher

  • Deontological- somethings is right or wrong in itself if the end justifies the means. 
  • Centered around Agape love-intrinsic, selfless love.
  • Formed the theory in the 1960's at a time of great social and scientific change.
  • 'There is no one ethical system that claims to be Christian'.
  • Before his theory people relyed on Christian biblical teachings- 10 commandments.
  • He offered a radical new approach to christian decision making.- More in correspondence with the New testament and Jesus- Treat others as you would like to be treated- Jesus working on the Sabbath.

Fletcher rejected both Antinominanism and Legalism and saw situation ethics as the halfway point-

  • Legalism- You have stick moral laws and guidelines which should always be obeyed when making moral decisions.- Roman Catholic church.
  • Antinomianism-There are no laws and guidelines, decisions should be made in the situation.
  • Situation ethics- You should go into a situation with your own set of pre-determined moral laws and guidelines, however you should be willing to set these aside if love can be better achieved by doing so. 
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Key ideas of Situation ethics.

  • Individuals are of paramount concern, therefore every situation should be judged in it's own context-Not just by following the rules.
  • To preserve the Christian principle of Love.

Fletcher rejected any sort of absolute rules- He argued that every situation is different, with different circumstances. If you try and generalise situations to fit the rules the people involve will suffer the consequences.

  • To maintain this idea of agape love Fletcher proposed the 'AGAPESTIC CALCULUS'-
  • The idea of this calculus is to  do WHATEVER the most loving thing is- this is centered around the christian teaching 'Love your neighbour as yourself'.

Fletchers system is centered around compassion, in a personal context- since the Christian God is a personal God- morality should be person centered. 

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The 4 working Principles.

Fletcher created these principles as a guideline that you could use to structure your moral decision making process on, if appropriate-

1)PRAGMATISM- You should try to be as pragmatic (logical) as possible, rather then just following the arbitrary teachings of the law.

2)RELATIVISM- You should concentrate on the issue in hand in relation to whats going on around you- you should make decisions situationally not prospectively.

3)POSITIVISM)- Making a decision in a positive light, to work towards a positive outcome.

4)PERSONALISM- Taking into account the individuals in the situation rather then letting the law blind you from humanity.- 'the law was made for man, not the man for the sabbath'.

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The six fundamental principles.

These principles were proposed by Fletcher, in line with the idea of agape love- They should be used as guidelines when making moral decisions.

1)'The only things that is intrinsically good in itself is love'- Actions should be judged purely on whether they promote human goodness or not.

2)'Love is the reuling norm of Christian decision making.'-Love should always be at the center of Christian moral decisions, the laws should come second to this.

3)'Love and justice are the same, justice is love distributed'- This is love at work in the community, and they both go hand in hand.

4)'Love wills the neighbours good, whether we like him or not.- Your personal feelings about someone should be set aside as love is the priority in the situation.

5)'The end justifies the means'-Love should always be the end, therefore any action carried out in the name of love can be seen as good.

6)'Loved decisions are made situationally not prospectively.'-Decisions should be made at the time of the situation in a personal manner, not from predetermined rules.

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Love and situation ethics.

  • Situation ethics accepts any action that has been made with the end goal of love, however, whose love?- This leaves huge potential for unjust acts to be justified by this idea of agape love.
  • Love is also very individualistic- End outcomes can vary hugely according to the individual making the decision.
  • How can we invision agepy love when the person we are making the desicion for is unknown or we don't like them?
  • Can and should previous events influence us?
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Situation ethics-Practicality.

  • It is a subjective form of moral decision making as individuals within the situation need to make the decision, this means exterior influences can easily cloud there judgment.
  • How can individuals safely choose the right thing to do?- Its subjective nature means that one chooses what THEY think is the most loving thing to do, this can be different for everyone.
  • For Situation ethics to work HUMANS HAVE TO BE FREE- however this is easier said then done as there are many exterior influences that can effect you.
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Criticisms of Situation ethics-

  • A person who is making the decision needs to make in from within the situation, this could result in them losing the bigger picture- no consideration is taken from previous experience and this could be seen to split the 'bigger picture' up into little situations- You deal with the little issues rather then the big ones.
  • Emphasis on the individual-there is no collective ethical framework.
  • The law of love can just as easily be broken as any other.
  • RELATIVISTIC THEORY- a persons idea of love can variey hugely.
  • As people are only human it may only be realistic to expect a person to respond in the most loving way THEY can.
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Situation ethics- Christianity.

Many traditional christian thinkers reject situation ethics-

  • Pope Pius X11-'individualistic and subjective'- This is talking about love, how can one define love as it is different for everyone and therefore an end result of an action is subject to there person making the decision.
  • Many see rules as good for us- they have guided Christians for years- They allow us to see how God intended us to live.

Some accept Situation ethics-

  • There are key themes that seem to fit better with new testament teachings- Jesus and the sabbath-'Law was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.'
  • It's an alternative to the limitations of other christian laws (10 commandments), however still consistent with the Christian Gospel.
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