Explain the meaning and importance
of Christian love in Situation Ethics.
Joseph Fletcher was an American moral theologian who proposed an
approach to Christian ethics called situationism, this teleological theory considered
each situation on its merits before applying the Christian principle of
love, this being agape. It was a middle way ethical system that rejected
the two extremes of legalism (following laws as absolutes) and
antinomianism (having total freedom to act as one pleases. It was a
theological way of meeting a practical need in light of the radical social
changes of the twentieth century, in particular changing views on what is
seen to be acceptable and moral behaviour. With regards to Christian
love, Fletcher thought it was selfless and should be the decision making
factor in morality.
Fletcher believed the primary motivation should be love for the individual,
and recognition that the most loving thing out of a situation should be the
Fletcher saw his approach to ethics as grounded in the Christian
gospel. He sees love as being an active principle as opposed to
passive, he associated it with a verb as a 'doing' thing rather than a noun
or thing in itself. The quote '.....' from his book exemplifies this concept.
'Love is the only universal. But love
is not something we have or are, it is
something we do'
Fletcher believes that agape should be at the basis of all
moral decision making. It is the word used in the Old
Testament for pure, unconditional Christian love. It is also
disinterested and seeks only the benefit of the one who is
Rudolf Bultmann said
Jesus has no ethics apart
from 'love thy neighbour'
Early Christians used agape in the sense of God's self-sacrifical love, to which the
appropriate response is that agape must be shown in the community. This is
reflective upon Jesus' crucifixion which is said to be the biggest form of agape.
Fletcher uses this primary example, not to persuade people to imitate Christ but by
applying the rule of agape in all situations. The idea behind this was that in practice,
Christians are not supposed to simply love others, but to do so to the extent that they
self sacrifice in doing so.
6 FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES
When making a decision, the situationist should identify the most loving thing in the situation no matter what
the cost. Fletcher wanted to preserve the Christian principle of agape love therefore proposed an anapaestic
calculus with the teaching 'love your neighbour as yourself' as the basis. He coined six statements to serve as
basic propositions for the practical application of his ethical theory.
1. 'ONLY ONE THING IS INTRINSICALLY GOOD;
NAMELY LOVE: NOTHING ELSE AT ALL'
Actions aren't intrinsically good or evil, they
are good or evil depending on what they
promote the most loving result. They are
extrinsically good, depending on their
circumstances and consequences.
2. 'THE RULING NORM OF
CHRISTIAN DECISION IS LOVE:
This asserts that love replaces law. It means that the love
is self-giving and seeks the best interest of others but
allows people the freedom and responsibility to choose
the right thing to do for themselves.
3. 'LOVE AND JUSTICE ARE THE SAME,
FOR JUSTICE IS LOVE DISTRIBUTED,
Love and justice can't be separated
from each other, they are insepareble
so if love is put into practice it can only
result in justice giving everyone in the
situation a happy and loving result.
4. 'LOVE WILLS THE NEIGHBOUR'S
GOOD, WHETHER WE LIKE HIM OR
The love that Fletcher is concerned about isn't a
matter of feeling, but of attitude of the will towards the
other person. It isn't sentimental or erotic (phileo and
eros), but rather a desire for the love of another
person. This is the New Testament agape love,
therefore the other person must experience an
unconditional concept of love.
5. 'ONLY THE END
JUSTIFIES THE MEANS,
Situation ethics deals with the end
results. To follow absolutes is
impossible, the end must be the most
loving result. One must consider the
desired end, the means available and
the motive for acting and foreseeable
6. 'LOVE'S DECISIONS ARE MADE SITUATIONALLY,
This asserts that for real decision making,
freedom is required, all ethical decisions
must be situation based led by agape, not
Modern agape can be found in
the works of C.S Lewis, his main
attribute is his love for humanity.