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What is situation ethics?

A relative theory where one accompanies a reasonable and justifiable decision depending on the situation they are in.


What type of argument is this theory?

A teleological argument.


Who developed this theory?

Joseph Fletcher (1905-1991)


Who did Fletcher deeply study?

William Temple (1881-1944)


What approach was Temples ethics?

A personalist and love-centred approach. "Thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself”.


What does Fletcher reject and believe?

He rejects the legalism and antinomianism ethics. He believes that we need to find a balance between the two. The middle way.



Fixed moral rules that are universal and absolute.



The view that the rules and principles should be rejected.


What is Fletcher's theory based on?

Agape love, meaning that no action is wrong or right, it is situational. Reason why the theory is a relativist theory.


What is agape love based on?

Based on the Christian love. The idea that love is unconditional and can be transferred from one stranger to another.


What are the three ethical postsions?

- Legalistic: absolute, no exceptions and divine command theory.
-Situational: love is the only absoulte, relativist and consequentialism.
- Antinomianism: total autonomy, no rules and no absolutes.


What are the four working principles?

1. Pragmatism = Must be practical.
2. Relativism = No fixed rules. Only love is absoulte.
3. Positivism = Must put faith before reasoning.
4. Personalism = People should be the centre of the theory.


What are the six propostitions?

1. "only one 'thing' is intrinsically good; namely love; nothing else at all".
- Love is the only absolute.
2. "The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else".
- Christian decision making is based on love.
3. "Love and justice are the same. For justice is love distributed nothing else".
- Justice is love distributed.
4. "Love wills the neighbour's good whether we like him or not".
-Love wants the good for anyone whoever they are.
5. "Only the end justifies the means; nothing else".
- Only the end justifies the means.
6. "Love's decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively".
- Love is acted out situationally not prescriptively.


Faith and situation ethics:

- Fletcher doesn’t make it clear that situation ethics requires Christian belief.
[in the bible, Jesus makes love central]
[Gospel of John emphasises the theme of love].
- Fletcher gave up his Christian belief but not his situation ethics.


Fletcher on conscience:

- our conscience is not a voice from within.
- understands term conscience as a verb. Describes it as performing an act in a particular way.
-our conscience is not reliable.


Aquinas's view on conscience:

-Aquinas, following Aristotle, treated our conscience as the practical reason.
-Treats our conscience as our factuality of the mind, covering different aspects of thoughts.
-Aquinas believes that our conscience is a gift from God.


Example of lover over law:

-Jesus prevented a woman from being stoned, even though the law allowed her to be. This is evidence of personalism.


CRITIQUE: Catholic Church response to situation ethics:

-Pope banned situation ethics from being discussed.
-It was wrong to break Gods law.
-Situation ethics is subjective; because decisions are made depending on the situation being experienced.



-Allows every situation to be individualised.
-Main principle of the theory is agape love.
-Encourages good behaviour.
-Allows one to break rules for the greater good.



-Agape love is too much to aspire to; and may be polluted by a selfish human tendency.
-Fletcher seems equally too vague in defining what the good for people actually is.
-If every situation is individualised, then surely this would result in a loss of rules and regulations.
- D.Z Phillips questions whether we can ever be confident with the idea that we have truly done 'the right thing'.