4. Key Questions
1. Is moral behaviour about following rules or
working things out for ourselves?
2. Are there unbreakable laws to govern moral
behaviour, or should we make our own moral
3. Is abortion for health reasons just as bad as
abortion for convenience?
4. Are there ever any situations when you should
ignore established moral rules?
5. When deciding what is right, should the
situation be taken into account?
5. Joseph Fletcher (1905-1991)
■ He was an American professor who
founded the theory of Situation ethics in
■ He was a pioneer in bioethics and was
involved in the areas of abortion,
infanticide, euthanasia and cloning.
■ He was a priest who later renounced his
belief in God and became an atheist.
■ A rich man asked a lovely young woman if she
would sleep the night with him. She said ‘No’.
He then asked if she would do it for £100 000.
She said ‘Yes!’
1. Is it wrong to have sex for money:
a) To survive?
b) For luxury purchases?
c) To fund a life-saving operation for a friend or
In each case, explain your answer.
2. Why might your answers for a, b and c differ?
7. Key Terms
■ Agapé love
■ Antinomian ethics
■ Four working
■ Intrinsically good
■ Law of love
■ Legalistic ethics
8. The Theory of Situation Ethics
■ Fletcher maintains that there are
essentially three different ways of
making moral decisions.
1. Legalistic ethics
2. Antinomian ethics
3. Situation ethics
9. 3 kinds of ethical theory
Not part of the
essential nature of
something; coming or
An ethical system
that contains rules for
association of doing
good with simply
following those rules
The view that there
are no moral
principles or rules at
10. Legalistic Ethics
■ Has a set of moral rules and regulations.
■ Judaism and Christianity both have legalistic
■ Fletcher said this runs into problems – life’s
complexities require additional laws. Murder,
killing in self defence, killing in war, killing
unborn human beings etc.
■ Becomes complex and like a textbook morality
that leaves people simply to check the manual to
decide what is right and wrong.
11. Antinomian Ethics
■ The reverse of legalistic ethics.
■ It literally means ‘against law’.
■ A person using antinomianism doesn’t really
use an ethical system at all.
■ He or she enters decision-making as if each
occasion was totally unique. Making a moral
decision is a matter of spontaneity.
■ ‘They are, exactly anarchic – i.e. without a rule’.
■ Fletcher is also critical of this approach.
12. Situation Ethics
■ One single rule – the rule of agape . This love is
not merely an emotion but involves doing what is
best for the other person, unconditionally.
13. Situation Ethics
■ The situationist enters into the moral
dilemma with the principles and rules of
his or her community.
■ However, they are prepared to set these
rules aside in the situation if LOVE seems
better served by doing so.
14. Situation Ethics
■ ‘The situationist follows a moral law or violates it
according to love’s need’.
■ For the situationist, all moral decisions are
hypothetical. They depend on what best serves
■ They don’t say that ‘giving to charity is a good
thing’. They only say that giving to charity is a
good thing if …’
■ Lying is justified if love is better served by it.
15. An insane murderer who asks you
the whereabouts of his next
■ Should be lied to! A situationist would
be able to do this.
■ In that situation, a legalist must tell the
■ A teenage girl has become pregnant as a
result of being raped by a close family
member. She’s very poor and very young.
How would legalists, antinomians and
situationists go about considering what the
moral thing to do is?
17. Situation Ethics
Situation ethics is sensitive to variety and
complexity. It uses principles to
illuminate the situation, but not to direct
Fletcher divides his principles into two
1. The four working principles and
2. The six fundamental principles
20. Six Fundamental Principles
■ Only one thing is intrinsically good, namely love:
nothing else at all.
■ The ruling norm of Christian Decision is love:
■ Love and Justice are the same, for love is justice
distributed, nothing else.
■ Love wills the neighbour’s good, whether we like
him or not.
■ Only the end justifies the means, nothing else.
■ Love’s decisions are made situationally, not
22. Strengths of Situation Ethics
■ Many would welcome the flexibility of
Situation Ethics. It seems less rigid than
other ethical theories.
■ It requires very little (if any) theological
assumptions – it in some ways suits our
multicultural, multi-faith age.
■ It is practical. It does not too demanding
on those who would follow it.
23. Weaknesses of Situation Ethics
■ It is not easy to determine all the
consequences of an action.
■ There’s a danger that the ideals of
unconditional love may be polluted by a
selfish human tendency.
■ It seems at least possible that Situation
Ethics could be used to justify all kinds of
actions that are simply inexcusable.
Genocide, child abuse?
24. Exam Question
■ (a) How might a Situation Ethicist
respond to the claim that people should
■ the truth? 
■ (b) Assess the strengths and weaknesses
of Situation ethics. 
■ You will have 30 minutes to answer this
question in the January exam. Deadline
16/10/06 (Next Monday)