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Situation Ethics

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Submitted By AndyWilde
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Situation Ethics is a teleological theory, which evaluates certain acts in light of their situational context. It is not a universal law, but it is the law of agape. The ethical theory is based on the main Christian duty to, ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’; therefore, love is the prerogative as it’s the only aspect that is intrinsically good. Many debates have been developed around the argument whether ‘Situation Ethics is always practical’.

According to Joseph Fletcher, ‘Situation Ethics is always practical’. The philosopher developed the teleological theory of Situation Ethics according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, a being who lived his life according to how God demands mankind to live. Within The New Testament, Jesus implies that we do not have to follow a set of rules and laws, especially when love is demanded. This can be seen within the example Jesus set, when The Son of God defended his friends for working on the Sabbath day. The New Testament highlights, Jesus taught his followers that all Christian actions and decisions should be seen in the light of love. Therefore, this supports Fletcher’s claim that ‘Situation Ethics is always practical’, as he developed a series of rule breaking principles according to Jesus’ teachings, which would bring about the most loving outcome, and serves the majority according to those in loves need. An example of this is Fletcher’s principle that, ‘only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love – nothing else’. This supports the view that ‘Situation Ethics is always practical’, as actions are good if they help human beings, and even if they are immoral actions, but bring about the most loving outcome, they are still considered to be good.

Despite Fletcher’s strong argument which is supported by Jesus’ teachings within The New Testament, Situation Ethics is not always practical, according to Pope Pius XII who condemned the situational approach as “subjective and individualistic”. Pope Pius XII was critical of Fletcher’s Situation Ethics, as it goes against the Natural Law, which according to St. Augustine “is the light of understanding placed in us by God, and are rules that are written in the book of light which we call truth and are imprinted on the heart of man”. The Roman Catholic Church follows Thomas Aquinas’s natural law theory and develops its ethics from it. This is similar to the Protestant Church, which structure their lives around the rules in the Bible, such as ‘The Golden Rules’. Both of these obey a legalistic way of thinking, which are followed as they are thought to be for the best of humanity and are the words of God. In essence, Situation Ethics is not always practical, as according to a legalistic approach, we need rules and laws as they create guidance and stability. Situation Ethics is therefore extreme, as it breaks these laws in order to serve love and demands humanity to be free from rules.

However, Joseph Fletcher was critical of the legalistic way of thinking, as similar to Zygmant Bauman, Fletcher maintained that a ruled based system runs into problems when lives complexities require additional laws for situations, such as killing in war or abortion. Fletcher believed that ‘Situation Ethics is always practical’ as he followed a situationists way of thinking, as it is more concerned with people, rather than rules for rules sake. According to Fletcher, “situationists follow a moral law, or violate is according to loves need”. The teleological form of ethics follows Jesus teachings, which teaches believers that agape. Therefore, Fletcher believed the only legislations people should obey is love, as he puts forward, “there comes a time when man should push aside his principles to do the most loving thing”. This supports the statement that ‘Situation Ethics is always practical’, as not all laws can bring about love and justice.

William Barclay, who was highly critical of Joseph Fletcher’s work of Situation Ethics, presents a major criticism. Barclay was critical of Fletcher’s optimism, and claimed that if we were all like Jesus then Situation Ethics would work, but were not. Furthermore, Barclay was against the theories acceptance of immoral actions to bring about the most loving outcome. This supports the view that Situation Ethics is not always practical, as all bad actions have a ‘Red light’ built within them. The ‘Red light’ will always remain within, and it is not removed by calling them good things. Barclay maintained a bad action is never considered to be good or loving. In essence, Situation Ethics is not always practical, as Barclay believed it’s not consistent and too hypocritical. Actions that are considered bad in one situation may be deemed good in another. Situation Ethic is therefore hypocritical.

To conclude, there are many views presented to the argument, ’Situation Ethics is always practical’. A situationist would agree with statement as, Situation Ethics derives from the New Testament, which is script of Jesus’ teachings. However, according to citric Barclay, we cannot all be Jesus as we live in a world where laws are required to provide guidance and stability, simply following agape is dangerous for mankind as it will just cause chaos. Overall many would agree with the statement that ‘Situation Ethics is always practical’, a according to Paul Tillich, “the absolutism of love is its power to go into concrete situations”.

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