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How useful is Joseph Fletcher's "Situation Ethics"as a guide to human behaviour?

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Introduction

Stacey Carter "How useful is Joseph Fletcher's "Situation Ethics" as a guide to human behaviour?" Rudolf Bultmann claimed that Jesus Christ had no ethics except for "Love thy neighbour as thyself". This is what the Anglican Joseph Fletcher based his theory of Situation Ethics on. Fletcher opposed the idea of Legalistic and Antinomian Ethics. Legalistic ethics is where there are absolute rules to what should and should not be done. Fletcher said that Legalism couldn't accommodate the "exceptions to the rule" and that rejecting a particular aspect of the law than you surely must reject it all. For example the law "Do not kill" may require more laws to allow killing in self defence, killing in war, killing unborn babies etc. and doing this contradicts the law in the first place. Antinomian Ethics means "against law" and people using this approach do not live by an ethical system at all. Fletcher is against this not only because it is unprincipled but also on the basis of existentialist ethics, which argues that reality is composed of singular event and moments in time and Antinomian ethics follows no predictable direction from one situation to another. ...read more.

Middle

experiencing a good feeling or seeking altruistic deeds in return) but should be done for their own sake. Jesus and Paul taught love as the highest principle above the Law. 3) Justice is love at work in the community. 4) Love is practical and not selective. We should show love to all, even our enemies. Christian love is unconditional. 5) Love is the end - never a means to something else. 6) Humans have the responsibility of freedom. They are not bound by any Law. With this comes the responsibility to 'do the most loving thing' in every situation. "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." (Vardy & Grosch p.130) There are many benefits to Situation Ethics. The Bible does not cover many modern topics such as abortion, artificial insemination etc and situation Ethics allows us to work out which is the most loving action with the most loving end. ...read more.

Conclusion

A way that considers both Situation ethics and legalism and is somewhere in between is Proportionalism. Proportionalists believe moral rules can only be overridden if there is a proportionate reason in a particular situation. This includes both Natural law (killing, stealing, lying, cheating) and the Situational ethics view. Proportionalists believe that these laws should be adhered to unless there are good reasons not to. This allows for flexibility and a certain amount of relativism whilst still using the fundamental aspects of the Bible. An evil like pain, death or mutilation is, in itself, pre-moral or non-moral, and should never be described as 'moral'. It is the act as a whole, which is right or wrong, and it is the person, or the person in his or her acting, who is morally good or morally bad. (Bernard Hoose quoted by Vardy & Grosch) I conclude that Fletcher's situation ethics is highly useful for Christians in everyday life for all the reasons above. However I do believe that there has to be a balance and in my opinion it seems that Proportionalism is the best and most moral route to follow. It contains principles of both Situation ethics and Legalism and seems to make the most sense. ...read more.

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