STRENGTH AND WEAKNESSES OF SITUATION ETHICS
PARAGRAPHS PRODUCED BY 12D (MARCH 2011)
‘Love and do what you want’ Augustine
Inspired by Christian teachings on agape love, Joseph put forward Situation ethics in the 1960’s. Fletcher attempted to reconcile the strict legalist (binding rules) nature of the church with the antinomian (no rules apply) attitudes of an ever changing secular society. STRENGTHS
One key strength of Situation Ethics is that it puts people before rules; personalism. As Jesus said, ‘Sabbath was made for man not man for Sabbath’ meaning that Sabbath should be a time for man rather than just to follow strict rules. This is important as it prevents people being forced into following rules. Also the fact that people come first is something that most people would agree with and find preferential. This gives an override option for situations where rules do not seem appropriate. For example the case of the 13 year old girl in Brazil who was repeatedly abused and eventually raped by her stepfather, and she fell pregnant. She and her family were strict Catholics, as was their doctor, however they all agreed it was best to ignore the religious principle of not having an abortion, even though it caused them to be excommunicated; they acted out of love for the young girl.
One of the main strengths of Situation ethics is that it is teleological meaning that an action can change depending on the situation rather than being the same every time (as teleological refers to relative morality). Teleological is concerned with the ‘telos’ – end – of an action: its consequences. Fletcher argues that the consequences are the most important feature of an action, seeing as it is what actually affects people. The action itself is deemed unimportant, as long as it brings about the most loving outcome. Fletcher given the example of Mrs.Bergermire, who deliberately becomes pregnant with a man who was not her husband in order that she could be released from a prisoner of war camp. The Ten Commandments teaches that adultery is wrong. However, Fletcher could justify adultery under the circumstances. Actions such as adultery could be justified: although she committed adultery – which is against Christian teachings – she did so to be re-united with her family, an undeniably loving thing to do.
Fletcher attempts to reconcile the church with society on a practical level by suggesting that – when making moral decisions - one should consult tradition, but be prepared to set it aside for the sake of agape love. He finds biblical evidence for this in Jesus’ teaching, which is the corner-stone of the Christian faith. Jesus himself criticised the Pharisees for being too legalistic. If Jesus acted as a situationist might and Christians must follow his example, then the two can be reconciled. As well as this the fact that Situation Ethics is derived from Jesus’ teachings makes it much more compatible for religious believers as they can still follow their religion whilst making decisions. Situation ethics is applicable to both secular and religious beliefs. Fletcher based the theory on Jesus’ teachings, although the ethic requires no grounded belief in God. The theory adheres to the fundamental principle of ‘love thy neighbour’ and many of the parables which demonstrate agape, preached by Jesus, such as the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’. It is additionally justified to state that Jesus taught similarly flexible morality, for example, he stated that ‘man was made for Sabbath, not Sabbath for man’, thus demonstrating anti-nomianism beliefs. One of the key strengths Of Situation Ethics, particularly in the ever-changing 21st century, is that it is current and up to date because of its flexibility and concern with producing the most loving outcome. With advancements in medical science for example, procedures such as stem cell research may offer dilemmas for religious believers; they may agree that the foetuses possess...
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