2. Basic Details
• A relativist, consequentialist theory. It does
not prescribe fixed rules; it considers the
outcomes of actions.
• First developed by Joseph Fletcher in
Situation Ethics (1963).
• Inspired by Jesus’ gospel message of love
(agape). Fletcher appealed to the biblical
scholar Rudolf Bultmann, according to
whom Jesus taught no ethics other than
“love thy neighbour as thyself”.
3. Joseph Fletcher
Jesus didn’t teach a
system of ethics, only
“love thy neighbour”
Inspired by the Bible, but not absolutist
“The morality of an
upon the situation”
4. Other ethical approaches
• Fletcher distinguished Situation Ethics from two
common approaches to ethics: legalism and
• Legalists enforce fixed rules and rigid morality.
• Anti-nomians shun laws and live without moral
• According to Fletcher, his theory avoided the
pitfalls of both, being more flexible than
legalism and more principled than anti-
5. Four Working Principles
• Fletcher stated that there are four basic
‘working principles’ to Situation Ethics:
1) Pragmatism – moral actions must work or
achieve some realistic goal.
2) Relativism – there are no fixed laws which
must always be obeyed.
3) Positivism – first place is given to Christian
love, rooted in faith.
4) Personalism – people come first, not rules or
6. Six Fundamental Principles
There are also six ‘fundamental principles’:
• Only one thing is intrinsically good: love.
• The ruling norm of Christian decision is love.
• Love and justice are the same.
• 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
7. Also during the 1960’s, Bishop
John Robinson was developing
similar views to Fletcher. He
was supportive of Situation
Ethics and himself wrote:
“Assertions about God are in
the last analysis assertions
Robinson thought that love was
at the core of what it meant to
be Christian, rather than
inflexible absolute moral rules.
8. Strengths of Situation Ethics
• Christian system – consistent with the teaching
• Flexible relativist system – in enables people to
make tough decisions.
• It emphasises love (agape) – surely everyone
agrees that’s a good thing.
• It avoids conflicts of duty, as one experiences in
absolutist systems. Where moral rules collide,
Situation Ethics gives a way of resolving the
9. Weaknesses of Situation Ethics
• Christian system – atheists and those of other
faiths might not want to follow the example of
• Unprincipled relativist system – it could allow for
almost any action.
• ‘Love’ is very subjective. People naturally will
disagree about what loving behaviour is.
• It is difficult to predict the future results of
actions – making consequentialist decisions
based on love is unreliable.
10. Bernard Hoose - Proportionalism
• Hoose attempted to modify Fletcher’s theory by
combining it with elements of Natural Moral. He
called the resulting theory ‘Proportionalism’.
• Hoose gave the maxim: “It is never right to go
against a principle unless there is a
proportionate reason to justify it.”
11. The Spanning Question…
• AO2: To what extent does situation ethics
contribute to an understanding of the
relationship between religion and morality?
• It looks difficult, but is actually very easy.
• Situation ethics is a religious system
(remember Jesus and agape), so it is
bound together with the issue of religion
12. Remember that it’s an AO2 question, so you have to
give an argument. Either:
(a) yes it does contribute to our understanding, OR
(b) no it doesn’t contribute to our understanding.
All you have to do is answer this question by looking at a
number of issues in the field of religion and morality.
Make an essay plan which allows for this possible span.
(1) Morality and religious texts: should we use the Bible?
(2)Morality and the nature of God: if he is all-loving and
just, what sort of ethics would he prefer?
(3) Should religious people be relativists or absolutists?