Situation Ethics. What is Situation Ethics?. Situation Ethics is the method of ethical decision making that states that you must consider “noble love” (agape) in decision making, and that a moral decision is correct if it is the most loving thing to do. Historical background.
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What is Situation Ethics?
Situation Ethics is the method of ethical decision making that states that you must consider “noble love” (agape) in decision making, and that a moral decision is correct if it is the most loving thing to do.
‘Greater independence; more money in their pockets and purses; the weakening of family bonds and religious influences; the development of earlier maturity, physically, emotionally and mentally; the impact of modern books, television and periodicals’
(Sex and Morality, SCM, 1966)
The study above blamed many things on the fact that many people were turning away from the Church’s rules (legalism) and more towards antinomianism (the abandonment of any rules). The world was becoming more secular (non-religious) and people had stopped listening to the Church and their teachings on what was ethically right.
Good to quote!
Fletcher and Robinson acknowledged these changes and sought an ethical solution which would bring people back towards making Christian moral decisions, but which didn’t have the doom and gloom associated with religion.
Robinson said that Situation Ethics was for “Man come of age”. In other words, it was for people who were moving away from having to be told what to do by God, and yet it still had the Christian flavour. It was slap bang in the middle of legalism and antinomianism!
Robinson and Tillich suggested that God could be understood as ‘the ground of our being’, of ultimate significance, but not a dues ex machine, a supernatural being who intervenes in the world from outside it. In other words God is part of people not this almighty being who barks instructions at us to follow.
Use this phrase
Q: Give 2 things that made people start becoming secular
A: Vietnam war, contraception, TV/communication, greater independence
Q: What was the study which investigated what was going on called and in which year was it published?
A: Sex and Morality, 1966
Q: What did Robinson mean by “man come of age”?
A: The idea that the time had come where people were moving away from having to be told what to do by God
Q: What does deux ex machine mean?
A: God is of great significance but does not interfere with humanity anymore
' THE MORALITY OF AN ACTION
DEPENDS ON THE SITUATION. '
It also means that nothing is always right or always wrong – it is situational so what may be right in one situation, may be immoral in another situation.
Fletcher and Robinson didn’t mean just any kind of love – it had to be unconditional and the sort from one human to another. It is not based on romance, sexual attraction or any relationship at all. It can be from one stranger to another, as well as between people who know each other.
It is the love that Jesus and St Paul talked about in the Bible - AGAPE
Fletcher came up with the 4 Working Principles in order to help people understand how situation ethics works and why it is a good idea.
These are 4 things which are the main ideas in Situation Ethics and you should try to include at least 3 in your essay if asked about the main features/principles
No matter what the situation, going with what is the most loving thing can only lead to more good than bad
Love is the only thing that is relevant to all situations unlike laws which work for some things but not others. Situation Ethics uses 1 principle so is easy to remember
Love is the most important criterion of all. Situation Ethics recognises that love is the most important thing when making a moral choice and echoes the sentiments of the Bible
Situation Ethics puts human beings and their concerns are at the centre of morality unlike laws and rules which often seem to be detrimental to a person’s wellbeing. This follows Jesus’ example
Q: What does agape mean?
A: Christian love for one another
Q: Name the 4 parts of the 4 Working Principles
A: Pragmatism, relativism, personalism, positivism
Q: What is Fletcher’s main quote on what Situation Ethics is about?
A: “The morality of an action depends on the situation”
Q: What is personalism?
A: The idea that people should come before rules, as demonstrated and taught by Jesus in the New Testament
As far as Fletcher and Robinson (at first) was concerned Situation Ethics was a Christian ethic based on the teachings of Jesus.
In the Bible Jesus had many discussions with the Pharisees over old morality (the strict application of Torah law / legalism) versus new morality (Jesus’ idea of how the law should be applied).
Fletcher used the following to show that a strict application of the Bible’s rules was no longer needed and was in line with what Jesus thought too
These are 6 things which spell out what agape is and relate closely to Biblical teaching on what Christian love should be.
For the exam you only really need to use 1 or 2 of these.
Jesus and St Paul replaced the Torah with the principle of love, in the past Christians have broken the 10 Commandments in order to do the right thing e.g. Bonhoeffer tried to kill Hitler
1. Love only is always good
Actions are only good if they help humans (showing love for one another) and they are bad if they hurt people.
6. Love decides there and then
Whether something is right or wrong depends on the situation and can’t be pre-determined
3. Love and justice are the same, and love is justice distributed
Love and justice can not be separated.
5. Love is the only means
When weighing up a situation, one must consider what you want the outcome to be and what you need to do to get there. Fletcher said the end must be the most loving thing
4. Love wills the neighbour's good, whether we like him or not.
Your neighbour is anybody and agape love goes out to everyone
Fletcher used the example “Sacrificial Adultery” where a POW woman debates on whether to have commit adultery in order to be released and sent back to her family.
The point Fletcher was making was that surely it was the best thing (the most loving thing) for the mother to break the Commandment “Do not commit adultery” in order to get home to her children. This has to be the most loving thing for her and all even though it breaks one of God’s commandments. Surely God would not think this immoral as this is not why he gave that particular law in the first place?
These come from 2 main camps:
Roman Catholics are quite traditionally in many ways and closely follow the instructions of the Bible (called Divine Command).
Pope Pius XII banned Situation Ethics from being discussed at RC seminaries.
In 1952 Pope Pius XII called situation ethics ‘an individualistic and subjective appeal to the concrete circumstances of actions to justify decisions in opposition to the natural law or God’s revealed will’.
So in other words he said that it was wrong to break God’s laws
It is individualistic because humans see things from their own perspective.
There is a danger that the ideals of unconditional love may be polluted by a selfish human tendency and people using it as an excuse for not obeying the rules. How many parents can show equal love to strangers as to their own children?
This argument made Robinson withdraw his support for Situation Ethics
Situation ethics is subjective because decisions are made from within the situation as it is perceived to be.
Situation ethics could prove unworkable because it isn’t easy to determine all the consequences of an action.
Situation ethics seems to be prepared to accept any action at all if it fits the required criteria.
What is believed to be a loving end by some could justify actions that many people would regard as wrong.
It wasn’t just the Roman Catholic Church who was opposed to Situation Ethics. Other Christians put forward Biblical justification of how Fletcher had got it wrong:
St. Paul continued Jesus’ mission after his death instructing new churches setting up as far as Greece. In Romans 13:9-10 he says:
9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself." 10Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.”
So according to St Paul, people do need to follow God’s laws in order to follow Jesus’ teaching on how agape is distributed
That it provides a clear alternative to Christian ethics that is consistent to the Jesus represented in the Gospels. SOme would argue that it is more in line with Jesus’ teachings than following ALL the rules in the Bible
Situation ethics is flexible and practical. It takes in to account how complex human life is and can make tough decisions when, from a legalistic stance, all actions seem wrong.
It is easy to understand: you follow a single principle
You don’t have to follow a conventional rule, if that goes against your deepest sense of what love requires.
It is based on love, which, rationally as well as emotionally, is a key feature of all moral systems.
It is subjective – we don’t always have the fact to make a sound decision
It is individualistic – what is the most loving thing to one, is not to another
It is prepared to accept any actions as long as the outcome is supposed to be loving
It is inconsistent with some teachings in the Bible
How often do we face extreme cases where it is obvious what the most loving thing is? People need to be practical and Fletcher’s illustrations aren’t relevant for most people
People need laws and rules to spell out behaviour in order to keep us all safe and singing from the same song sheet
People would mean to do the most loving thing but our personal preferences and wants will always get in the way
2007: (i) Identify the distinctive characteristics of situation ethics. (21)
To answers refer to Fletcher and Robinson
It doesn’t fail because:
However, it fails because: