Situation Ethics

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Basic Details

  • A relativist, consequentialst theory. It does not prescribe fixed rules; it considers the outcomes of actions.
  • First developed by Joseph Fletcher in Situation Ethics (1963).
  • Inspired by Jesus' gospel message of love (agape). Fletcher appealed to the biblical scholar Rudolph Bultmann, according to whom Jesus taught no ethics other than 'love thy neighbour as thyself'.

Other ethical approaches

  • Fletcher distinguished Situation Ethics from two common approaches to ethics: legalism and anti-nomianism.
  • Legalists enforce fixed rules and rigid morality.
  • Anti-nomians shun laws and live without moral restraints.
  • According to Fletcher, his theory avoided the pitfalls of both, being more flexible than Legalism and more principled than anti-nomianism.

Four Working Principles

  • Fletcher stated that there are four basic working principls to Situation Ethics:
  1. Pragmatism - moral actions must work or achieve some realistic goal.
  2. Relativism - there are no fixed laws which must always be obeyed.
  3. Positivism - first place is given to Christian love, rooted in faith.
  4. Personalism - people come first, not rules or ideals.

Six Fundamental Principles

'Love only is always good'

This means that there is no action or moral rule that is good in itself. An action is good only in so far as it brings about agape.

'Love is the only norm'

Fletcher understood a norm to be a rule and appealed to Jesus' teaching in Mark 12:33 that the most important commandment is to love God and love your neighbour. He did allow that some rules might be useful, but in cases of dispute love should decide what should be done.

'Love and justice are the same'

This idea was unique to Fletcher, who claimed that justice is the giving to every person what is their due, and that as the…

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