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Situation Ethics Essay

(1) Describe the main features of Joseph Fletcher's theory of Situation Ethics [21] Situation Ethics was the name of the ethical theory developed by Joseph Fletcher based around the traditional Christian ideal of a love for humanity as a whole (agape). Fletcher looked to Jesus's teachings and found his criticism of the Pharisees legalistic society inspiring. His ethic was an attempt to bridge the wide gap between legalism, a deontological rule based society, and antinomianism, a society without any rules at all. His book Situation Ethics, written in 1963, preached a relativist, teleological theory that does not prescribe to fixed rules, but instead considers the outcomes of actions depending on the situation at hand. Fletcher released his book in the 1960's due to great social changes in both the UK and the USA, such as the legacy of Martin Luther King , and the drastic change of Women's Roles, especially following the Second World War. This approach to morality has been deemed inappropriate by the Christian Church, especially the Catholic Church, due to their belief that situation ethics could not provide a legitimate means of making ethical decisions since it rejected divine command ethics. Joseph Fletcher's Situation Ethics has arisen to meet a society that no longer sees religious morality as clear cut in society. Fletcher's Ethic is based around ten principles, which are split into four working principles and six fundamental principles. There are four things that he assumed before setting out the theory of Situational Ethics, and these are the four working principles: Pragmatism, Relativism, Positivism and Personalism. Pragmatism states that the course of action to be taken must be practical and work, and whilst this is not consequentialist (it is love that is good not an outcome) in practice his theory is similar to that of Utilitarianism. Relativism states that there are no fixed laws which must be obeyed within his ethic; It relativises the absolute, it does not absolutise the relative. Positivism states the person must freely believe in the Christian concept of agape love which forms the basis of the ethic. Personalism states that people come before rules or ideals in a society, as reflected in his statement Man was not made for the Sabbath These working principles form the basis of Situational Ethics. The six fundamental principles provide the final stage to Fletcher's ethic to decide whether an action can be deemed as 'good.' The principles are as follows: Only one thing is intrinsically good and that is love, For the situationist, what makes a lie right is its loving purpose, [they are] not hypnotised by some abstract law 'Thou shalt not lie'; The ruling norm of Christian decision is love. He says there are no [natural] universal laws held by all men everywhere at all times. Jesus summarised the entire law by saying Love thy neighbour, thus love is the only law.; Love and justice are the same, there can be no love without justice, and any injustice is a lack of love eg. A starving child, a man arrested without a charge; Love wills the neighbour's good, whether we like them or not. Martin Luther King described love as creative, redemptive goodwill to all men. Christian love is a non-selfish love; Only the end justifies the means, nothing else. If an action causes harm, it is wrong. If good comes of it, it is right. Fletcher says you can't claim to be right following a rule knowing it will cause great harm; Love's decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively. There are no rules about what should or shouldn't be done in each situation you decide there and then what is the most loving thing to do.

(2) Evaluate the view that the strengths of the theory outweigh its weaknesses [9] Defenders of situation ethics would argue that one of its key strengths is its flexibility due to it's allowance of a pragmatic approach to decision making, as opposed to the rule-based system imposed by the Church. With this amount of flexibility it is easy to see how Situation Ethics is

compatible with modern standards and teachings since it takes the circumstances of a situation into account in order to reach an outcome with the most love. Some may attest, however, that this could lead to unlawful and potentially evil actions classified as 'loving' by the perpetrator. This is probably one of the most prominent weaknesses of the Ethic since it assumes that if an act is well motivated by love, it is automatically right, which is evidently flawed. Should a murderer claim his actions were justified since the outcome would be the most loving, he could not possibly be absolved. It could be argued that such a persons motives were not loving, but the application of a rather nebulous concept of love to their own principles, resulting in possible exploitation of the Ethics fundamentals. Another strength of Situation Ethics is it's focus on the human as oppose to the worship of laws and abstract principles when determining how loving an action might be. The attraction of the ethic can stem from this personal image, as well as its deference from the legalism of other Christian ethics. Some might oppose this claiming that it's personality may ultimately only be valued to the extent that they help people, and not beyond. The argument is that the only basis for something being morally good can be the resultant feelings of human beings, and situational ethicists like Joseph Fletcher have argued that because Christianity's God is a personal one, its moral approach should be centred around human beings too. Despite it's strengths, there is no distinct definition of what 'love' is classified as. As stated earlier it is a rather nebulous concept and cannot easily be defined, so therefore is difficult to apply universally to our decisions when following the principles of Situation Ethics. In practice, situation ethics can be used to take a consequentialist approach in most cases, only to abandon it (claiming 'love' as the justification) when it becomes too uncomfortable. This only creates further unnecessary problems. In my opinion the strengths of Situation Ethics are enough that it can stand as a competent attempt at the modern ethos, however without clear definitions and boundaries, there are difficulties concerning unlawful actions. Despite it's attempt to find the middle ground between antinomianism and legalism, there are not enough rules for it to be claimed the true middle ground between the two. That said Situation Ethics can be considered a very human ethic; It appeals to our 'common sense' nature, and focuses on our pragmatic approach to problem solving, befitting of our modern society. As I see it, Situation Ethics remains a flawed Ethic, but an Ethic of love, teaching both personal and impersonal love for humanity. We need to educate people to the idea that the quality of life is more important than the mere length of life.

Toby Morris 12LL