Situation Ethics

Situation Ethics

  • Created by: Rebekah
  • Created on: 17-03-14 10:16

Historical background

> Developed in 1960s by American priest Joseph Fletcher
> Emerged at a time when society and the church were facing permanest drastic change

>> WOMEN had a prominent part in the work place following the World Wars
>> Distrust in American government due to Vietname involvement and assessination of President Kennedy.
>> Reliable contraception was widely available - allowed many to express their individuality and liberty in form of pre-marital sex
>> Fashion, music, politics, and relationships were changing and religous morality was becoming irrelevant.

The British Council of Churches (BCC)
Concerned with issues relating to sexual behavious especially among young people which had lowered moral standards.
The BCC wanted to reassess where Christian moral truth lay.

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J.A.T Robinson

Published a highly controversial book called Honest to God which threw the Church in to disarray and disagreement.

Robinson challenged the traditional, conservative view of God.

Robinson also supported the 'new morality' and Fletcher's article on 'man come of age

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Joseph Fletcher (1905 - 1991)

Book: Ethics, the New Morality (1963)

Ethics had traditionally been served by Natural Law and moral laws from the Bible, but Fletcher's approach of Situation Ethics says that other moral principles can be cast aside in certain situations if love is best served.

This love was the Christian form of love: agape -  way of saying the ends justifying the means.

Fletcher questioned whether God has laid down firm laws or whether he would want us to use freewill in decision making. If it was the latter, situation ethics is a supported valuable approach and natural law is undermined.

~ Everything is now relative and dependent on the circumstances the individual is in. It is the consequences which will determine if the action is moral or immoral ~

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3 ways of making moral decisions

~ Legalistic ethics: set rules that won't be changed - Christianity's focus on biblical commandments and natural law (the idea there is natural good in the world which we have to adhere to ordered by God).
Fletcher rejects legalistic ethics and says this error has been made by Catholics through adherence with natural law and practicing texts in the Bible.
It ignores that acts such as killing may be the right thing to do for self defence.

~ Antinomianism: opposite of legalism. Means 'against law'.
A person following antinomianism doesn't use an ethical system. Makes decisions as a matter of spontaneity.

~ Situation Ethics: what best serves love. All moral decisions are hypothetical, as they depend on what the most loving thing to do is.
Fletcher saw this as an advantage because he notices how each persons situation is unique.
He argued that Christians are meant to love people and not prohibitions.
Conscience does not guide a person, only love should.

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The four working principles:

Guidance on how to understand and apply the 'Principle of Utility - which is Agape Love' as 'love' is the only abolsute in any given ethical scenario.

Fletcher claims that the norm or end by which the success or failure of any thought or action is to be judged is love.  

All other rules depend on the situation.

You must need to want to do good even if it means ignoring absolutist approaches and natural law. John 4:7-12

We are more important than rules.
Jesus - 'the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath' - more important to do right by other people than to follow religious rules at the expense of people.

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The six fundamental principles:

Explains how agape love should be understood and how it can be applied to the theory of Situation Ethics

LOVE ONLY IS ALWAYS GOOD: Love is intrinsically valuable, it has inherent worth. A lie is not intrinsically wrong. It if wrong if it harms people, but may be right to protect people. E.g. ensuring an elder member of family that your marriage is going well.

LOVE IS THE ONLY NORM: Love replaces law. The law should only be obeyed in the interests of love.

LOVE AND JUSTICE ARE THE SAME: There can be no love without justice. If love was properly shared out then there would be no injustice.

LOVE IS NOT LIKING: Matter of attitude rather than feeling. Its not sentimental but rather a desire for the good of the other person. Nothing is required in return of agape love.

LOVE IS THE ONLY MEANS: The end must be the most loving result as the action wasn't the right thing to do.

LOVE DECIDES THERE AND THEN: Whether something is right or wrong depends on the situation. If an action serves love then it is the right thing to do.

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The four unique situations

Fletcher's examples where moral laws might need to be put on hold in order to achieve the greater amount of good.

Himself might his quietus make: A terminally ill man was thinking that if he didn't take the pills, then his family would get left with some security.

Special bombing mission No. 13: The committee decided that the lives saved by ending the war with the 'most terrible weapon ever known' outwighed the lives destroyed by using it.

Christian cloak and dagger: Woman had to seduce and sleep with an enemy spy in order to lure him into blackmail. It would be against her morals but would bring the war to an end, saving thousands of lives.

Sacrificial adultery: Woman would only be released home if she was pregnant so she asked a camp guard to impregnate her. She was welcomed home and loved the child because what they had done to return to their family.

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New Testament teachings

Jesus uses teachings in the New Testament to illustrate the Law of Love.

The Parable of the Adulterous Woman: Jesus appears to take a Situation Ethics approach, showing that love and compassion are the best ways of responding to human failings and exposing the weakness of using absolute law t judge individual moral cases.
Teaches that to show selfless love you may have to break one rule to obey another.

Jesus also declared that the Sabbath was made for man rather than man was made for Sabbath.

Jesus was recorded many times going against the law of the Torah in favour of showing love to others.

Roman Catholics and Protestants are way of the idea of Situation Ethics. They believed the approach was nt compatible with Christian morality, citing that Jesus did speak about love, but utilmately God's moral law/natural law was too important to cast aside.

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Strengths of SE

> Flexible and practical - takes into account the complexities of human life
> It restores love to the centre of any moral decision making process
> Science has proven religion is false and outdated therefore we need an approach to ethics that is personal and individualistic and can work with modern ethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia
> Can free up dreadlocked moral dilemmas
> Provides a clear alternative to christian ethics and develops a principle of Jesus breaking the law when a situation demands it for love. May argue SE is more consistent with the NT than natural law
> Involves making a rational and emotional response to determine what is right and won't leave you feeling like you have done wrong

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Weaknesses of SE

> There is a danger that the ideals of unconditional love may be polluted by a selfish human tendency
> Everyone has different views so how can a decision be measured as morally good or morally right if we're all different?
> It is not easy to be certain that somebody's perception of a situation is correct. Nor is it easy to determine all the consequences of an action
> Who decides whether the motive is pure?

William Barclay's criticisms:
> Fletcher is unrealistic about the degree of which humans are truly free to make choices without the guidance and control of law
> It is hard for us to make our own decisions. We can be easily swayed by emotion and fear and persuade ourselves that we are doing the most loving thing when really we are doing what suits us the most.
> Humans desire consistency and SE permits inconsistency
> Traditional rules contain a lot of wisdom and SE threatens to abandon this. There is a reason why the 10 commandments are still followed and successful, they suit society and shouldn't be challenged.

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