Situation ethics is a teleological approach to ethics based on the teachings of American Theologian Joseph Fletcher who thought it was unwise to follow fixed rules as it does not take the whole situation into account. It contrasts to the Roman Catholic Churches teaching of Natural Law where rules about right and wrong are deducted from the perceived divine purpose for individual acts and objects. Situation ethics is based on four working principles pragmatism, relativism, positivism and personalism.
The first principle is pragmatism which is the practical action to bring about the most loving end. His second principle is relativism meaning that there is no fixed rules in regards to moral decision making. He also believed in positivism, this is when people freely choose their faith and believed that since the Christian God is a personal God that morality should be more compassionate and person-centred. His final working principle is personalism which is the belief of that people are more important than rules which is based on jesus’ teaching of ‘People before rules’ which he always followed and taught throughout his life.
These four working principles guide people in making important moral decisions in their life. Along with these four working principles there are also six fundamental principles that Joseph Fletcher teaches that guide people who follow situation ethics when making moral decisions in their lives. He believed that love was the only thing that is intrinsically good meaning that the criteria by which actions can be judged rest solely on this principle showing that all decisions must only be made out of love and that any action can be judges as good if they are helping human beings and bad if they do not. He believed that the ruling norm of christian decision is love showing that situation ethics is universal as you can also use situation ethics for decision making even if you are a Christian. He also taught that love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed and believed that justice is simply love in action and love at work in the community.
His forth principle was that love wills the neighbour’s good, showing that we must love our neighbour regardless of who they are or whether we like them or not which relates to the Christian teaching to ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ again showing that it is a teaching that Christians can follow when making moral decisions. Fletcher’s fifth principle teaches that the end justifies the means highlighting the fact that is a teleological approach to decision making as it is only looking at the outcome, the most loving outcome. This shows that since love is the end in all cases, any action carried out in the name of love can be judged as good moral decision making.
The last fundamental principle that Fletcher teaches is that love’s decisions are made situtationally, not prescriptively highlighting the fact that Fletcher does not agree with rules and teaching people that each situation is completely different each time and can be totally different to different people, and that it must be looked at in its own individual way and a decision should be made based on their situtation not what the rules tell them to do or what others think they should do . All of these principles that Fletcher teaches help to guide people in the best, most loving way to come to a moral decision.
All of these principles highlight Fletchers main belief that the individual should be of paramount concern and that each ethical situation should be judged in its own context while still preserving the Christian principle of love. He therefore proposed an agapeistic calculus underling the duty to do what is the most loving thing in every situation. It is important to understand that Fletcher does not propose this a rule or law as the calculus does not say what a person should do in a given situation but instead provides a framework in which the person can decide what is the best and most loving outcome they can decide.it is just a principle you should try to follow and apply, not a strict rule that you must.
A person following situation ethics would take each situation as it came and would deal with each situation differently coming to a judgement as to the best way to respond by assessing the most loving and compassionate option. Fletcher rejected any sense of moral absolutes unlike Natural Law and agreed with the criticisms of casuistry as he believed that each situation is different , with different circumstances and that any attempt to apply a general rule to a specific situation will completely overrule and overlook the interests of the people involved and doesn’t take their needs into consideration.
He believed that situation ethics took the most compassionate and human approach to decision making overlooking strict rules and proceeds with the interests and needs of the individual at hand. So all in all I believe that the main idea and principle that Fletcher tries to highlight and teach through situation ethics is the principle of love, that anyone following situation ethics should base their moral decision making on what is the most loving and compassionate outcome in each situation.