Situation Ethics

This sample essay on Situation Ethics offers an extensive list of facts and arguments related to it. The essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion are provided below.

Situation ethics is an alternative ethical theory, particularly influential in Protestant Christianity, similar to utilitarianism, in that it is a way a deciding upon the correct action that is to be taken in a given situation, but where happiness has been substituted for love. It does however take an individualistic approach, with the emphasis being upon each person, rather than on looking after the majority, as is the case in utilitarianism.

The theory is based on love, and revolves around doing the most loving thing for the greatest number of people. It is teleological which means that is consequential and not based on rules.

St. Augustine of Hippo Regius was one of the first to articulate this theory, “love and do what you will””, however it is more closely associated with Joseph Fletcher.

An American professor of ethics, Fletcher developed Situation ethics as a result of his critique of Legalism and Antinomianism. Fletcher disliked like the way in which so many ethical theories, such as utilitarianism, were based upon and around a basic set of rules; that is to say, that they take a legalistic approach. He believed that this was too rigid, and that it did not allow for exceptions. He also firmly disapproved of antinomian approaches where there are not fixed moral principles and where one should act spontaneously, because it “Rejects the idea that there are any authoritative laws, rules or regulations that you ought to obey in a decision-making situation.

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” Rejecting these ethical models, he proposed a more relativist version.

What Does Ethics Mean To You Essays

He circulated this theory in the 1960s, having used his beliefs and concerns to come up with, what he believed, was a fair way of deciding what the right action to take in a situation should be.

Instead Fletcher used love as a general rule in decision making; not “storge” love, to love a country or place; not “philia” love, to love a family member or friend; and not “eros” love, to make love and to lust for someone; but instead “agape” love, unconditional and self-giving love, as is demonstrated by Jesus dying upon the cross. To Fletcher, “agape” love was fundamentally sacrificing, without any reward or pleasure, as the teachings of Jesus are told in the Bible, and he took a lot of his ideas from this. The quote in Matthew saying, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” epitomises what agape is all about; where agape love is the ultimate duty. He believed that something could be determined as good or evil, depending on whether or not love had been fully served.

Fletcher made four presuppositions before setting out his theory:

i) Pragmatisim – the course of action must work towards an end, where love is that end.

ii.) Relativism – there are no fixed rules that must be obeyed, but all decisions must be relative to Christian love. Fletcher is quoted as saying, that Situation ethics “relativises the absolute, it does not absolutize the relative”.

iii.) Positivism – this can be divided into two categories; natural positivism, where reason deduces faith from natural phenomena or human experience, and theological positivism, where reason works within faith as opposed to being the basis for faith. Though religious knowledge or belief can be approached in either way, people must understand that love is the most important thing.

iv.) Personalism – situationists put people first, asking what to do to best help them, instead of putting laws first as a legalist would do. Value is only added to something when it is useful to love (working for the sake of persons).

In addition to these, Fletcher proposed six fundamental principles:

1.) “Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love: nothing else at all.”

Love is the only thing that is good in itself, and is good in all situations. In other words, an action is good if it expresses love for others, and bad if it doesn’t.

2.) “The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else.”

You are only required to follow laws, rules and regulations if they serve love, therefore it replaces, and cannot be equalled by, any other law. Good actions should not be done for reward, but for their own sake.

3.) “Love and Justice are the same, for justice is love distributed nothing else.”

Love and justice cannot be serperated from each other, as justice is love at work for the whole community.

4.) “[L]ove wills the neighbour’s good, whether we like him or not.”

Love is not sentimental or erotic, but driven simply out of desire for the good of the other person.

5.) “Only the end justifies the means, nothing else.”

To ensure that the end is the most loving result by weighing up the consequences of moral actions, we are sure to make the most moral decision.

6.) “[L]ove’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively.”

If an action will bring about an end that serves love most then it is right, and this decision (of which action to take) is made depending on and relative to the situation at hand.

2.) How far does it succeed as a strong ethical theory?

For some Christians, Situation ethics appears as the perfect theory, as love is at the heart of the morality, which harmonises with the teachings of Jesus. Even the idea of an act done for love rising in superiority over all rules is supported by Jesus’ teachings, as he taught Paul that love is the highest principle above the Law. Fletcher argues that, because Christianity’s God is a personal one, its moral approach should be centred around human beings too, as opposed to focusing on a worship of laws and principles.

Additionally, a key strength this theory possesses is flexibility, and many argue that it allows for pragmatic decisions to be made without having to follow rule-based ethical systems built on absolute commandments, which means that exceptions can be made. For example, Roman Catholics deduce their morality from Natural Moral Law, and believe in the sanctity of life (where life is sacred and must be preserved). Therefore if a terminally ill patient in a hospital desired to be allowed to die to end his suffering, a Roman Catholic would deem this immoral. However someone following the guidelines of Situation Ethics may be able to grant the patient their wish, if it was the most loving thing to do in that situation.

However, despite its evident strengths and popularity, Situation ethics has been criticised on a number of important points. Perhaps the most damaging attack is the assessment of this theory’s practicality. Fletcher argued that in order to do the most loving thing in every situation we must look at the long term consequences of the options available to us. Unfortunately, this is incredibly difficult; some claim it is impossible.

As limited human beings, we are not gifted with perfect foresight. We simply cannot accurately predict the consequences of an action, as there are always a large number of factors, some of which we may even be unaware of, and the required calculations are by and large far too complicated to be done at all, let alone on the spur of the moment in a pressing situation. Some argue that this renders Situation ethics unpractical as an ethical theory.

Another devastating attack on Situation ethics is the argument that love is subjective; that it means something different to every individual. What this means, is that in a given situation one person may calculate the most loving thing to do by using Situation ethics, yet another person may perform the same calculations, using exactly the same guidelines and principles, and arrive at a different result. We can also enter into this the actuality that people’s emotions and feelings change daily, so the morals that we hold one day may have changed by the next. The undeniable fact that love does not mean the same thing to everybody calls into question the supposed universality of the theory.

In addition to this, Situation ethics can in theory allow acts such as murder, lying, cheating and stealing, for if they were done in the name of love and produced the most love for the community, then by Situation ethics they would be announced morally just. For example, it is generally considered wrong to steal a gun, but if by stealing that gun you prevented the murder of numerous people then your action would be justified, as you had acted in order to serve love. Your theft is non-accountable, as in fact the only accountability in Situation Ethics is whether your actions will result in the highest possible expression on love for others.

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Situation Ethics. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Situation Ethics
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