Situation Ethics

Quick revise

Situation ethics was most famously championed by Joseph Fletcher (1905-1991).

He believed that we should follow the rules until we need to break them for reasons of love.

It is based on agape love (Christian unconditional love), and says that we should always do the most loving thing in any situation.

Fletcher rejected following rules regardless (legalism) and also the idea that we should not have any rules (antinomianism) and said that we need to find a balance between the two.

Four working principles

When establishing his version of Situation Ethics, Fletcher used four key principles which he aimed to fulfil in writing his theory:

1. Pragmatism (it has to work in daily life - it must be practical)

2. Relativism (there should be no fixed rules)

3. Positivism (it must put faith before reasoning – "I am a Christian, so what should I do?")

4. Personalism (people should be at the centre of the theory)

Six Fundamental Principles

There are six fundamental things that underlie Fletcher's Situation Ethics:

1. Love is the only absolute (it is intrinsically good)

2. Christian decision making is based on love

3. Justice is love distributed

4. Love wants the good for anyone, whoever they are

5. Only the end justifies the means

6. Love is acted out situationally not prescriptivally

Advantages of Situation Ethics

The key advantage is that it uses rules to provide a framework but allows people to break rules to reflect life's complexities.

Disadvantages of Situation Ethics

It does not provide a clear definition of what love actually is.

Some might say it is too subjective – because decisions have to be made from within the situation. Humans do not have a bird’s eye view on a situation so have difficulty in seeing what the consequences will be.

Agape love is too much to aspire to and may be polluted by a selfish human tendency.

It is human nature to love family more than strangers.

We do not know whose rules to follow.