Fletcher agreed with some of Mill’s Utilitarianism, once again highlighting that he believed in the importance of rules. However, he strongly emphasises that rules must be used as ‘illuminators and not directors.’ Basically saying that we should use rules to help us make decisions, but not let rules make the decisions for us. Other situationists such as Tillich had a contrasting view to that of Fletchers. Tillich believed that rules were essential to guide us and that if people did not have rules, they would have to keep rethinking of ways to approach situations.
Fletcher named four working principles that he believed a theory depends on. The first principle is pragmatism, which means a theory must be practical and fulfil its purpose. Following this, there is the previously discussed relativism. Relativism maintains that there are no fixed rules or moral absolutes, and each circumstance varies so decisions should be made at the moment. Furthermore, the third principle Fletcher stated was personalism, which emphasises the need to put people before rules, and that personal relationships are more important. Last of all, there is positivism, which states that faith in Christ is voluntary, and that once one chooses to follow Christ they then can follow his guidelines and live by his standards.
The six fundamental principles were the last set of key principles added by Fletcher. These principles form Situation Ethics. The first one is that ‘Love is always good’, which basically means that if people are helpful, then it is moral, however if they hurt people the action is immoral. Next there is ‘Love is the ruling norm’ which basically means that love replaces legalism, such as Paul replacing the Torah with love. Following this, there is ‘love and justice are the same’, here Fletcher is basically saying that love depends on justice, just as justice depends on love. The fourth principle is ‘Love your neighbour’, which means that agape should be given to all, and one should not always expect in back. Furthermore, there is ‘the end justifies the means’ which refers back to Situation Ethics being a teleological theory, based on our consequences. Last of all there is ‘decisions are made situationally’. This is basically saying that moral decisions can only be made at the time, and cannot be predetermined.
Situation Ethics can be applied to many situations and it must be noted that they are made hypothetically, on each individual situation and not pre-determined with fixed rules to follow. A women may have been raped and requested an abortion, a follower of Natural Law would be prohibited from allowing her to proceed with this. Despite the women not wanting a baby, a follower of Natural Law would give her no other choice. However, a situationist would permit an abortion as a ‘lesser evil’, as it would be the most living course of action. This example itself highlights the strong contrasts between Situation Ethics and legalistic approaches, and why many disagree with theories such as Natural Law. However, some criticise Situation Ethics for on occasions permitting too much personal freedom, which sometimes would not result in the greatest amount of love for everyone, but instead just themselves.
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Explain the approach of Situation Ethics to moral decision making-
Situation Ethics is an ethical theory which maintains that something is moral if I follows the most loving course of action. This theory was developed by Joseph Fletcher who was an Anglican theologian. Fletcher’s theory was heavily influenced by New Testament teaching and is therefore a religious theory. However, it is different in comparison to natural law, as situation ethics follows the teleological approach to ethics. Therefore Situation Ethics is not based on rules which control out every action, but instead focuses on the morality of the consequences of our actions.
Situation Ethics is a relativist theory because actions may be moral in one situation, but may be immoral in another. For example, If a bomb is set off for no reason and kills a large number of people, this is seen as extremely immoral in situation ethics. However, if we were in the middle of a war and the bomb needed to be dropped to end the war and save millions of lives, then this is acceptable. Although lives would be lost in the process of dropping the bomb, it is loving in that many more lives would be saved.
Situation Ethics keeps is central focus on love when making all decisions., which therefore means it somewhat rejects legalism approaches to morality. Overall, Joseph Fletcher felt that there were only three general approaches to ethics, which include the legalistic approach, the antinomian or lawless approach, and the situational approach. Even though Fletcher did accept the role of human reason in moral decision making, he felt that approaches like that of Natural Law were too legalistic and on most occasions human need should be given first place to rules. This was influenced by Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees legalism in the Gospels of the Bible. Vardy and Grosch comment that because Jesus ‘attacked the Pharisees’ insistence on following the Jewish Law cannot and should not lay down any law. When they do, they become more like Pharisees.’
However, in saying this, Fletcher also rejected antinomian approaches to moral decision making, as he felt that those who took a purely hedonistic approach had too much moral freedom. This is how Fletcher attempted to produce a theory which was between legalism and antinomianism-
‘Fletcher maintained that there was a middle way between legalism and antinomianism and this lay in the application of agape, the love that Jesus commanded.’
To support this theory, Fletcher produced a collection of biblical references. As an example, Fletcher found that in Luke 10:27, Jesus tells an expert in the law that the greatest commandment is
‘Love your Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.’
(Mention Fletchers opposition to casuistry)
There are many key principles associated with situation ethics such as the four working principles. Fletcher outlines these before he fully explains his theory, as his theory depends on these four assumptions. Firstly, there is pragmatism, which proposes that the moral decision must work in practice. Secondly, there is positivism which states that a value judgement must be made, giving the first place to love. Thirdly