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Examine what is meant by situation ethics

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Examine what is meant by situation ethics Joseph Fletcher an Anglican theologian was the main person to challenge the view that ethics and morality have to be based around laws and rules. He developed three ways of making moral decisions, these were: 1. The antinomian way 2.The legalistic way 3. The situational way The antinomian way was a way of making decisions without any laws or principles. It is what feels right at that particular time and on no bases whatsoever, only on how it feels to you. This was also where existentialism arose. Existentialism being a principle developed by a 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. His theory was that the best way to make decisions was for each individual to find their own unique bases for morality; the foundation for his argument was that no objective or rational bases could be grounded in moral decisions. So the antinomian approach is therefore that in every existential moment or unique situation the situation itself provides the ethical solution. The legalistic approach being at the other end of the scale. This is a way of making decisions with regard to laws or rules. The legalist will live their life in accordance with a set of guidelines or rules. For example Jews will abide by the rules of the Torah and make their decisions primarily from this source. Joseph Fletcher suggested a third way of making moral decisions and this was called the situational way, which consists of a compromise between antinomianism and legalism. ...read more.


'Fletcher claims that it is a mistake to generalise. You can't say 'Is it ever right to lie to your family?' The answer must be, 'I don't know, give me an example.' A concrete situation is needed, not a generalisation. 'It all depends' may well be the watchword of the Situationist.' (Puzzle of ethics, Vardy p.130) There are many moral dilemmas when given certain situations, and taking the situational view we are faced with the duty to do the most loving thing possible, and to serve agape love. Taking an example from William Bailay, on a wilderness trial to Kentucky many people lost their lives to Indians who hunted them down. In one case there was a woman who carried her child with her and her child was crying. The baby's crying was betraying the rest of the camp as the cries were leading the Indians to them. The mother clung to her child and as a result the whole camp was found and they were all killed. In another case a Negro woman and her party found themselves in the same situation, their lives were in danger, as they too would be found out if the baby continued to cry. However the Negro woman strangled her child to stop its cries, and as a result the whole party escaped. How can we tell which action was love? The Mother who kept her baby and brought death all, or that of the mother who killed her own child to save the lives of her family and friends? ...read more.


It is also questionable as to whether it is possible for all members of society to judge each situations by its merits. A lot of time and energy has to go into the decision this isn't always accessible to everyone. How practical is situation ethics? Finally on what basis is it possible for the situationist to make moral decisions? What happens when there are no ultimate ethical principles? The situationist is making prejudiced decisions based potentially on personal whims. An example of a danger caused by this can be seen in the actions of Adolf Hitler and his attitude towards the Jews in the Second World War. For those who felt that situation ethics went to far in attempting to set itself free from any conception of law, there is an approach that combines both theories of natural law and of situation ethics. This approach is known as proportionalsim. Proportionalists hold the belief that there are particular situations where moral rules should be abided to unless there is a proportionate reason for not contending with them. This reason would be grounded in the situation itself. In this way the primary precepts of natural law could be accepted (e.g. killing, stealing, lying etc) as the ground rules unless there was a sufficient reason for not doing so. Proportionalists hold a clear distinction between moral and non-moral acts. For example proportionalists would say abortion is wrong, but it may be morally right in the circumstances of that situation. However unlike situationalists they say that love does not then make a wrong action right. Furthermore they still incur the same problems that situationalists face in trying to determine what bests serves love in a situation, and on making decisions by selfish means. ...read more.

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