The theory of Situation Ethics
Situation ethics is an ethical teleological theory which says that love is the most important thing. It is commonly associated with Joseph Fletcher and it was proposed in the 1960s. Originally it was quite difficult to accept this ethical theory due to it going against legalistic ethics which was thought to be right at the time. Fletcher has supported his arguments for situation ethics using teachings from the bible.
Situation ethics is described to have pragmatism, personalism, relativism and positivism. Situation ethics being pragmatic means that it always works for the best result, therefore putting love first can only bring more good than bad. Personalism puts the concerns of human beings first unlike laws. Laws can sometimes be detrimental to a person’s wellbeing. For example, the law ‘do not kill’, a legalistic view would argue that in all means, this should be followed. However, situation ethics allows that, if killing was the most loving option it is okay, like in a situation where a person wanted euthanasia. If it is what the person wanted, then ignoring the law and doing the loving thing is considered the better thing to do. Relativism situation ethics says that it is always relevant, love works for all situations. This is dissimilar to the law which is not always relevant in some circumstances. Situation ethics therefore allows decisions to be made based on the situation rather than having set rules which must be obeyed, as some rules do not work for all situations. Lastly, positivism situation ethics shows that love is the most important criterion of all, the idea echoes the moral choices which have been made in the bible, for example, Jesus’ examples.
Fletcher used the actions of Jesus to illustrate the importance of situation ethics. Using ‘the adulterous women’ as an example. Jesus prevented a women from being stoned despite it being allowed by the law. This demonstrates Jesus ignoring the law and sharing love. This supports one of the fundamental principles of situations ethics, that love is always good. This means that actions are good if they help people and bad it they hurt people. The law of stoning being allowed is considered immoral and wrong.
Fletcher also used the story of Jesus on the sabbath day to highlight the fact that Jesus was a situationist. Despite the law saying that everyone must rest on the sabbath day, Jesus still worked to help others. Thus, this supports the fundamental principle that love decides there and then. The situation determines whether something is right or wrong. Jesus’ actions were based on what he thought God would have wanted.
As love is the only means, Fletcher says that one must outweigh the outcome in order to make a moral decision about what to do. For example, Christians during the war would have to break the 10 commandments in order to save their country and protect innocent civilians. Unlike the law, love and justice are the same and cannot be separated. A loving action serves justice. Despite situation ethics allowing for some laws to be ignored, it still follows teachings from the bible.