Situation Ethics and Moral Decision Making.

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Explain the approach of situations ethics to moral decision making

  • Origins of the theory in New Testament teaching and development by Fletcher in the 1960s
  • The central role of love in the theory and the rejection of legalistic approaches to morality
  • The teleological nature of the theory
  • Development of key principles associated with the theory, such as the rejection of casuistry, the four working principles and the six fundamental principles
  • Examples of application of the theory to ethical issues

Situation Ethics is an ethical theory which maintains that something is moral if it follows the most loving course of action. The theory was developed by Joseph Fletcher, a professor who was heavily influenced by New Testament teachings, thus making Situation Ethics a religious theory. The theory is follows a teleological approach and is therefore based on the consequences of our actions as opposed to the actions themselves.  

In contrast to other theories, Natural Law as a suitable example, Situation Ethics is a relativist theory. Basically decisions are made based on the particular circumstance and may vary. On the whole, the situationist  decides themselves what they believe to be the most loving course of action. It is a non legalistic theory with no moral absolutes or fixed rules, but rather based upon one solid principle, love. The love in which Fletcher believed to be most suitable was agape, which is Christian love and demands love for every individual.  Due to it being based on Agape, it is impossible for Situation Ethics to be based on fixed rules, as love changes on every occasion.

It must be noted that Fletcher did agree with the role of human reason, however, with regards to Natural Law itself, he believed it was overly legalistic and removed freedom when making important decisions. As mentioned earlier, Fletcher was influenced by the New Testament, and used the example of Jesus as a prominent guideline throughout his theory. Jesus had argued with the Pharisees over their legalistic approach in the Gospel, and it is Jesus that Fletcher took influence from.  Fletcher agreed with particular teachings in Natural Law, and he also agreed with numerous teachings throughout the Utilitarianism theory. For Fletcher, both antinomian and legalistic theories had flaws, in that legalism doesn’t allow enough personal freedom, whereas antinomianism allows too much freedom and lacks helpful guidelines. Fletcher created Situation Ethics as a theory which combined both legalism and antinomianism, creating an ethical theory which will help humans make truly moral decisions.

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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 ...

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