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Relativistic Theory of Ethics sample essay

One relativistic theory of ethics is situationism. Situationism (also known as situation ethics) was devised by Joseph Fletcher, who was strongly against absolutist theories for instance; legalism and also disliked how religions were taught implying there were some rules that could never be broken, as he thought these rules are too demanding and restrictive. He then created this theory of situation ethics which is seen as the ‘mid way’ because it lies between antinomianism and legalism. Antinomianism is very anti law whilst legalism emphasises the important of law.

However, situationism lies between the two as Fletcher was very enthused by making a decision on individual situations. Situation ethics maintains that it’s the consequences of actions which determine whether an action is right or wrong, so it is very much a consequentialist position. Situationists enter each decision making situation with ethical maxims of their community and culture, each they treat with respect. Fletcher proposed that not only the situation guides an individual on what they should do but also the principle of agape (love).

In Fletcher’s book he suggests that Christians should make the right choices without blindly following rules but rather by thinking for themselves. Decisions should be made on the sole basis of one rule – agape. Such love involves doing the best thing possible for the other party involved. So maxims could be ignored if they don’t serve agape, for example if a priest is presented by a young lady who is having underage promiscuous sex, the right thing to do would be to insist the young lady uses contraception.

This is because the most loving thing to do for the other person is to ensure she is safe. For the situationist the rule of agape is always right. Fletcher created 4 working principles which outlined how situation ethics works. The first one is pragmatism, which states that what you propose must work in practice. Second is relativism, so Fletcher eliminates words like ‘always’, ‘never’, and ‘absolute’. He states there are no objective rules but all decisions must be relative to agape. Thirdly is positivism, which states a value judgement needs to be made, giving the first place to love.

Finally – personalism, people are put in first place; morality is personal and not centred on laws, this emphasises the idea that morality is relative to situations. Fletcher put forward 6 propositions which also aid the theory. The first proposition is “only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love; nothing else at all” Thus, only love is good in itself; action aren’t intrinsically good or evil. Instead they are good or evil dependent on whether they promote the most loving result.

Fletcher rejects any statements like “Adultery is wrong” as the circumstances are always different, and sometimes it may be right for adultery to take place. The second proposition is “the ruling norm of Christian decision is love, nothing else” Fletcher claims Jesus replaced the Torah with love, also the Ten Commandments are not absolute even Jesus broke them when love demanded it. Love replaces law. The third proposition is that justice will follow from love, because ‘justice is love distributed’. If love is put into practice it can only result in justice.

Fourth is that love has no favourites and does not give whom we like preferential treatment. “Love wills the neighbour’s whether we like him or not” The fifth fundamental principle, love must be the final end, not a means to an end. For Fletcher, the end must be the most loving result. Finally the sixth proposition is that the most loving thing to do will depend on the situation and since situations differ, you can’t say an action will be right in every situation. Fletcher, the good result is that which serves agape love best. Any action that leads to that end is right.

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