• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Situation Ethics

Free essay example:

Situation Ethics

Background to ‘Situation Ethics’

  1. Christianity has been traditionally dominated by ‘natural law thinking’.
  1. In response to this thinking, Bultmann claimed that Jesus had no ethic – this meant that Jesus did not put forward any set of moral rules or theories.
  1. Paul Tillich summed up Situation Ethics with the quotation ‘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 solutions” – meaning that love is the only absolute law that we should consider when making moral decisions as it has the power to apply to every concrete situation.

Joseph Fletcher’s ‘Situation Ethics’

  1. Joseph Fletcher told a particularly interesting anecdote which involved a friend of his and a cab driver in the setting of St Louis during the end of a presidential campaign. The cab driver – who was clearly involved in the debate had said that his whole family, generations before him have always been ‘straight-ticket’ republicans. Fletcher’s friend automatically assumed that he would vote Republican as well, however, when questioned; the cab driver said ‘No, there are times when a man has to push his principles aside and do the right thing’. Fletcher claims that the cab driver is the hero of his book; this is because he acted upon what he thought was morally correct in the presented situation instead of following years of absolute principles and traditions. This is important because it meant that his decision was well-grounded and that he thought carefully about the situation instead of blindly trailing in his father’s principles.
  1. The ‘legalistic’ approach to ethics is where ethics are based on unalterable laws and principles. Fletcher used the example of abortion and how according to Catholic moral theology, it is immoral and should never be permissible. However, a surgical procedure may be acceptable even if the indirect result is the death of the fetus. This meant that if a pregnant woman has cancer of the uterus then it is permissible to perform a surgical procedure which may kill the unborn child. In other words, abortion is permissible if it is not the primary intention, but as an inevitable by-product of the primary purpose. The situational approach to ethics is seen as better than the legalistic approach as it takes into account the situation and circumstances to help produce a more reasonable decision. The situational approach determines which action is right or wrong by considering the consequences of an action; this denies any absolutes and makes ethics more relative.
  1. The term Relativism is the idea of denying absolutes such as ‘never’ and ‘always’ as they believe that exceptions can be made in almost all circumstances. In other words, ethics should be relative to the given situation and not based upon concrete doctrines or principles. However, this does not mean that ‘anything goes’, Fletcher expressed this through his quote ‘it relatives the absolute, it does not absolutise the relative’ pertaining to the fact that absolute such as ‘thou shall not steal’ should be made relative to love and the situation – if love demands that you steal and give to the poor then stealing should be permissible. The second part of the quote ‘it does not absolutise the relative’ means that relativism should not be made into an absolute, in other words, ‘doing what ever the situation demands’ should not be a rule and should still be relative to love.
  1. Fletcher’s fourth ‘working principle’ is ‘Personalism’, this is the principle which puts people as the priority. Christians should be committed to love people and not abstract principles or laws. Situation ethics says that morality should be ‘person-centered’ meaning morality should be dependant on how it affects the well-being of people. This makes it different to the natural law approach to ethics as they base morality on what the law says while situationists base morality on what is the best decision to help human beings.
  1. Fletcher’s ‘six fundamental principles’ describes the Christian principle of ‘love’ and how it should be always agapeistic. This means that love should be unconditional – it should not be selective or have preferences. Love which is selective is regarded as ‘self-love’ as it is making love into a feeling which is used to gain affection or gratitude. Agapeistic love contrasts with mutualistic love which is when love is shown by one only when he is loved in return. This is the kind of love which forms in friendships and relationships but it bears the consequence of it is dependant on the actions of the person loved.

Evaluating ‘Situation Ethics’

  1. In 1952, Situational ethics was condemned by Pope Pius XII as he believed that it was ‘an individualistic and subjective appeal to the concrete circumstances of the actions to justify decisions in opposition to the natural law or God’s revealed will.’ – this means that it was a biased doctrine to justify the opposition to the natural laws and principle presented to us by God’s will.
  1. Vardy and Grosch wrote that when ‘one accepts that euthanasia can be justified in certain circumstances, once may have entered dangerous and uncharted waters’ this means that when someone has made a decision that euthanasia is moral in a particular circumstance they are entering ‘dangerous and uncharted waters’ because they do not know what it is like to kill a person and they may not be able to bear the weight of the guilt as they have no idea how they will feel afterwards.
  1. Regarding the case of the euthanasia of Terri Schiavo, a Situationist would agree with Terri Schiavo’s decision to euthanatize his wife as he claims that he is making his decision based on his love for Terri. Michael said that his concern was to give his wife a ‘peaceful death with dignity’ and that his wife would not have wanted to live in her current condition. If these claims are true then it clearly shows that Michael is acting based on love and in this situation, allowing the death of a person should be permissible as it will cause less pain for the victim and her husband as Terri would have no chance of recovering. On the other hand, the Legalistic approach would be to not euthanize Terri as it is always immoral to take a life. I personally agree with the situational approach as it makes more sense to me. Based on the situation, it would be moral to take away Terri’s life as keeping her alive is bringing pain to both her and her husband. The situational approach ultimately has well-grounded reasons and logic behind its decision while the legalistic approach is dependant on principles which may not be relative to this given situation.

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our International Baccalaureate Misc section.

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Related International Baccalaureate Misc Skills and Knowledge Essays

See our best essays

Related International Baccalaureate Misc essays

  1. ITGS portfolio Loss of employment and privacy issues regarding the rise of online grocery ...

    While the company may have come a long way from its roots, the company's original specialty has not been forgotten. http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2004089,00.html Tips for Safe and Secure Shopping Follow our simple tips to help ensure your online shopping experience will be safe and sound.

  2. Platos and Aristotles Influence on Christianity

    Thus, God is omnipotent - he is present in the world but as well outside of the world. Christianity also has the same idea about God. If God does exist in our world as well, it is reasonable that he intervenes with the world.

  1. Can taking life be justified?

    Although capital punishment is normally reserved for people who have done things that are truly terrible, not everyone agrees that it is the right thing to do; can two wrongs make a right? Utilitarianists would argue that if the death of the criminal would result in the greatest happiness for

  2. The Effect on Music in the Christian Church

    Martin Luther was a very influential contributing factor in leading the Reformation of the church in the 16th century. He strongly rebelled against the papal leadership and beliefs of the Catholic Church. His rebellion led to a new development and relationship of music and worship.

  1. Extended Essay: How do different Flavours, Storage Times affect the Effectiveness of Crisps as ...

    flavour Mong Kok Style, Edo Hot Tomato Flavour, Calbee BBQ, and Calbee Curry flavour. And 2 tins of Pringles Sour cream and Onion) (these will be abbreviated to Jack and Jill, Edo, Calbee BBQ, Calbee Curry and Pringles) A permanent marker pen (blue or black)

  2. Extenuating Circumstances Commentary - Antjie Krog

    The effect of the unconventional structure on the poem is to create an unusual, choppy atmosphere because of the irregular amount of lines per stanza. This choppy atmosphere emphasizes the vivid intensity of the poet's words and therefore having a stronger impact on the reader.

  1. GCSE Welsh Baccalaureate Completed Diary Pages

    In the UK, the law prohibits euthanasia, as do most countries, as it is either considered murder or manslaughter with a maximum sentence of life. Other countries such as Switzerland allow for euthanasia under strict circumstances. If I had the opportunity I would absolutely vote for euthanasia to be legalised under certain circumstances.

  2. Can the work of architect Le Corbusier be explored in the context of the ...

    A complete proposal is developed based upon the research and the designer?s personal ideas (International Baccalaureate Organization 2007, p. 47) This stage involves detailed drawings (of a style relevant to the task). This stage can be connected to Le Corbusier by investigating the application of his developed solutions.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work