Situation ethics C/B grade summary notes


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Situation ethics AO1

  • Fletcher rejects the traditional Chrisian approach to ethics which he calls ‘legalism’ -basing ethics on strict rules that have to always be followed.
  • Fletcher rejects this because it fails to take the situation into account.
  • Fletcher also rejects antinomianism – the view that there are no rules at all – Fletcher rejects this as it leads to moral chaos.
  • Fletcher thinks his situation ethics is the middle ground between these extremes.
  • It focuses on one guiding principle that is applied to all situations – agape.
  • Agape means Christian love – selfless love of your neighbour.
  • An action is good or bad depending on whether it has a loving outcome.
  • Fletcher elaborated on this with the ‘four working principles’:
  • Pragmatism – must take the situation into account
  • Personalism – people are more important than rules
  • Positivism – putting agape at the centre of ethics must be taken on faith
  • Relativism – an action is only right or wrong relative to agape, i.e., depending on whether it has a loving outcome 
  • Six fundamental principles: love is the ultimate good and Christians must follow only love when making moral decisions. You have to do the loving thing regardless of how you feel about people.
  • Conscience – Fletcher doesn’t think conscience is a ‘noun’ – he says it is not a thing that tells you what is good or bad
  • Conscience is a verb – the process of figuring out what the loving thing to do is in a situation.

Fletcher & Robinson: humanity ‘come of age’

  • They argue that humanity has ‘come of age’. This means that humanity has become more mature since medieval times.
  • In the past, people were less educated and self-controlling. They needed fixed, clear rules to follow.
  • However, now people are more civilised and can be trusted to think for themselves more.
  • Giving them more autonomy (a person’s ability to act on his or her own values and interests) will increase love without risking stability of society. 

Barclay counter-argument

  • William Barclay disagrees with this. 
  • He says that situation ethics gives people a dangerous amount of freedom because people are not saints.
  • Mankind has not yet come of age and still needs the protection of strict laws. 
  • Although people may seem like they have improved in modern times, if granted freedom to do what they want they wont choose the loving thing, they will choose the selfish or cruel thing to do. 
  • This argument suggests that power corrupts.

Fletcher vs sola scriptura

  • Traditional Christians – like those who adhere to sola scriptura – would argue that Fletcher’s theory is not genuine Christian ethics, because fletcher has ignored most of the commands in the Bible, focusing only on Agape.
  • The Bible is full of other commands – e.g. God says ‘thou shalt not kill’, so Euthanasia would be wrong – God also said thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • Yet, Fletcher says killing or adultery are both fine in situations where they have a loving outcome.
  • So, Fletcher fails because he claims to be Christian yet does not follow the Bible.
  • Furthermore: Mouw’s critique. Mouw pointed out that Jesus made other commands. It makes no sense for Jesus to have only wanted us to follow the command of agape – then why would Jesus make other commands..?

Fletcher’s defence: liberal view of the Bible

  • Fletcher doesn’t think we can follow the Bible literally, but if we interpret it then we can’t tell whose interpretation is right.
  • He concludes that the only valid approach to the Bible is to follow its general themes.
  • The most consistent theme of the Bible is love – agape.
  • So, Fletcher thinks he is following the Bible actually.
  • Furthermore, Jesus did say that loving your neighbour as yourself was the ‘greatest commandment’ – the fact that it’s the ‘greatest’ supports Fletcher’s approach of thinking it takes precedence over all others.

The subjectivity issue

  • Love is subjective – everyone has their own view of what is loving.
  • It is therefore too unstable a basis for ethics.
  • Even some Nazis thought they were doing a loving thing.


  • Love might be subjective – but Fletcher is focused on Agape, which is more than just love.
  • Agape is Christian selfless love of your neighbour.
  • Jesus was very clear that everyone is your neighbour.
  • The Nazis were not treating everyone like their neighbour – they were not acting based on agape.
  • So, agape is clearly not subjective like love in general is.