Clarify and explain the key concepts of situational ethics

The situational ethics theory was brought about by Joseph Fletcher. It refers to a particular view of ethics that states: the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed. The founding idea is that the only thing of built-in value is love. From there, Fletcher advocated a number of controversial courses of action.There are 3 kinds of ethical theories, and these are essentially three different ways of making moral decisions. There are the legalistic ethics, the antinomian ethics and the situational ethics.The legalistic ethics have a set of moral rules and regulations. Both Christianity and Judaism also have legalistic ethical traditions. Different religions have different approaches to how to dealing with decisions, and where to look for guidance. For example, Judaism has a law-based approach to life, and Christianity looks for guidance either in the commandments of the bible or natural law. But Fletcher believes that these traditions fail when life’s problems require additional laws. The legalist must either include all of the complex alternatives in the law or create a whole new law altogether. Fletcher rejects legalistic ethics.The second theory is Antinomian ethics. Antinomian ethics is basically seen as the opposite of legalistic ethics. ‘Antinomian’ basically means ‘against law’. This means that the ethical system is completely ignored. When making a decision, the occasion would be totally unique and it would be a matter of spontaneity. Fletcher believed it would literally be unprincipled and it would follow no course from one situation to another. Fletcher is equally critical of antinomianism as an acceptable approach to ethics, because it’s unprincipled.The final theory is situational ethics. The situationist makes a moral decision by basically combining the ethics, rules and principles of his or her community or tradition. However, the situationist is willing to set aside the rules and regulations if love seems better served by doing so. Situation ethics generally agree that man’s reason should be the instrument of moral judgment. They accept revelation as the source of ethical norms and, at the same time, reject all revealed norms or laws except the single commandment to love God and the neighbors. Situation ethics does not aim at what is good or right, but at what is fitting. For a situationist, all moral decisions are hypothetical. They depend on what best serves love. For example, lying is justified if love is better served by it.Situation ethics is sensitive to variety and complexity. It uses principles to devour of the situation, but not to guide the direction. Fletcher divides his principles into two parts: the four working principles and the six fundamental principles.There are some presumptions that Fletcher makes before setting out the situation ethics theory:Pragmatism: This basically means that the proposed course of action must work, and must work towards the end, which is love.Relativism: Situation ethics is relativistic. A situationist will avoid words such as ‘never’, ‘perfect’, ‘always’ and ‘complete’. They refrain from making anything of absolute value. There are no fixed rules that must be obeyed. But Fletcher also believes that all decisions must link with Christian love. Situation ethics ‘relativizes the absolute, it does not absolute the relative’ – Fletcher.Positivism: With natural positivism reason understands faith from human experiences. Nature provides the evidence and reason grabs hold of it. Reason isn’t the basis for faith, but it works within faith. Situation ethics depends purely on the Christian choosing that God is love, so therefore giving first place to Christian love.Personalism: A legalist would put the law first and a situationist would put people first. Fletcher asks what’s best to do to benefit humans: ‘There are no “values” in the sense of inherent goods – value is what happens to something when it happens to be useful to love working for the sake of persons.’Conscience isn’t a pile of rules and regulations that tells you what to do, it in no way guides humans in what action to take. For a situationist, the conscience describes the weighing up of the possible action before it’s been taken.With this idea acknowledged, Fletcher brings forth the main theory; the six fundamental principles.1st Proposition: ‘Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love: nothing else at all.’This basically means that only love is good in and of itself. The action itself isn’t good or evil. They are good or evil depending on whether it ends up in the most loving result.2nd Proposition: ‘The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else.’Fletcher means that love replaces law. For example, Jesus’ decision to heal on the Sabbath day went against Christian decision, but Jesus broke this law when love demanded it. Love isn’t equalled by any other law.3rd Proposition: ‘Love and Justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else.’Fletcher believes that love and justice cannot be separated. He maintains that justice is Christian love using its head, calculating its duties, obligations, opportunities etc. Justice is love at work in the whole community and for the whole community.4th Proposition: ‘Love wills the neighbour’s good, whether we like him or not.’The love Fletcher is talking about isn’t a matter of feeling, but of attitude. It’s not a romantic love or sentimental, but a desire for the good of the other person. In the New Testament, this type of love is called Agape. This love goes out to everyone, even to the people we don’t like. It is unconditional, and nothing is expected in return.5th Proposition: ‘Only the end justified the means, nothing else.’To make a moral decision without querying the consequences of your actions is a recipe for disaster. Fletcher believes that the end must be the most loving result. When weighing up a situation, one must consider the desired end, the means available, the motive for acting and the foreseeable consequences.6th Proposition: ‘Love’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively.’Fletcher believes that rule-based morality is wrong, and something is wrong or right depending on the situation. If an action will bring about an end that serves love most, then that decision is most appropriate.Another idea and theory of situational ethics, is Deontology. (Greek: Deon meaning obligation or duty) Deontological ethics is a theory holding that decisions should be made solely or primarily by considering one’s duties and the rights of others. One of the most important implications of deontology is that a person’s behavior can be wrong even if it results in the best possible consequences. In contrast to consequentialism, a philosophy infamous for its claim that the ends justify the means, deontology insists that how people accomplish their goals is usually (or always) more important than what people accomplish.Situation ethics provides an alternative Christian ethic. It is flexible and practical and takes into account the problems and complexities of life. But from a legalistic point of view, all actions seem wrong. Fletcher’s theory is subjective as decisions must be made from within the situation as it’s perceived to be. It is individualistic as humans can see things from their own perspective. What is believed to be a loving end could justify actions that many people believe as simply wrong.

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