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Compare and contrast the ethical theories of natural law and situation ethics.

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Introduction

Compare and contrast the ethical theories of natural law and situation ethics. There are two main approaches to ethics which are held by Christians today. Over the years it has proved to be a very controversial and widely debated issue. Catholics and certain other 'strict' denominations of the Christian church hold the view that natural law should be the means of making ethical decisions, whereas more liberal Christians consider situation ethics as a more suitable ethical system to go by. Natural law was advocated by St Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. It states that all ethical decisions should be made by looking at the absolute moral laws which have been laid down for us by God. For Christians these stem from The Ten Commandments. Believers in this are known as Ethical Deontologists. They maintain that an action is intrinsically good, bad, right or wrong. When faced with a moral dilemma, one should refer to the Law, irrespectively of what the outcome will be. It is suggested that the human purpose of life is to live and reproduce, to live harmoniously, to learn and to worship God. ...read more.

Middle

Actions are good if they help human beings and they are bad if they hurt people - there are no other criteria. What is right in one case may be wrong in another. The individual and the situation are the only important thing when making a decision, rather than applying a principle (for example 'thou shalt not kill'). The following quotations help to summarise situation ethics, "There is only one ultimate and invariable duty, and its formula is 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'. How to do this is another question, but this is the whole of moral duty." (William Temple)... "The law of love is the ultimate law because it is the negation of law; it is absolute because it concerns everything concrete...the absolutism of love is its power to go into concrete situations." (Paul Tillich) Even though the teleological approach is a relative theory of ethics, it still involves an absolute law which is to do everything in love. However, the relativity of this theory allows room for exceptions to rules. Relativism doesn't imply that anything goes. ...read more.

Conclusion

Bishop John Robinson once wrote, 'There is no one ethical system that can claim to be Christian' and I completely agree with that. A supporter of the natural law approach asks what the law says and the situationist asks what is the best decision to help human beings, but why can't there be a middle ground? We should be able to use what was once the Law as a guideline when making ethical decisions rather than sticking rigidly to one approach just for the sake of theological argument. The Pope believes that the Law is 'God's revealed will' but it could be said that God revealed his will most fully through Jesus' time on Earth. Not only did He preach on the importance of love, but He also showed us perfect examples of it throughout His life. It is the subtle difference between these doctrines that lies at the heart of many issues which are in hot debate at the moment. If the Church could ignore these theological ambiguities and become reunited, perhaps they could then learn to fulfill their purpose in Christ. ...read more.

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