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Situation ethics: Joseph Fletcher’s four examples

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1 Situation ethics: Joseph Fletcher’s four examples

2 Joseph Fletcher In Fletcher’s situation ethics there are four working presumptions, six fundamental principles and four examples.

3 The four working presumptions
Pragmatism — the action proposed must work in practice. Relativism — there are no fixed rules, but all decisions must be based on agape. ‘Love relativises the absolute, it does not absolutise the relative.’ (Joseph Fletcher) Positivism — using the principles of Christian love, a value judgement has to be made. Personalism — people are the first concern, not laws.

4 The six fundamental principles
Agape — love is the only absolute, it is always good and right. ‘The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else.’ (Fletcher) This love is self-giving and overrides all laws. This may, for example, give permission to kill if it is the most loving action. ‘Love and justice are the same, for love is justice distributed, nothing else.’ (Fletcher). Justice follows from love and love put into practice can only result in justice. ‘Love wills the neighbour's good, whether we like him or not.’ (Fletcher)

5 The six fundamental principles
Love has no favourites and therefore does not give preferential treatment to particular people. ‘Agape is giving love — non-reciprocal, neighbour regarding.’ (Fletcher). Love must be the end not a means to an end. ‘Love’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively.’(Fletcher) The loving thing to do depends on the situation, therefore what is right in one situation may be wrong in another.

6 Fletcher’s four examples
Although most textbooks mention the fact that Fletcher gave four examples of the possible application of situation ethics, they seldom if ever cite the examples: Himself Might his Quietus Make Special Bombing Mission No. 13 Christian Cloak and Dagger Sacrificial Adultery (Mrs Bergmeier) The following slides provide summaries of the four examples. Research Fletcher’s work to find the full versions.

7 Himself Might his Quietus Make
A terminally ill patient has 6 months to live. His doctors can prescribe pills that will keep him alive for 3 years. However, his life insurance policy expires the following October. If he takes the pills and lives past October, his policy will not be renewed and his family will be left with nothing when he dies. Should he not take the pills, in order that his family are left with some security?

8 Special Bombing Mission No. 13
‘When the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the plane crew were silent. Captain Lewis uttered six words, “My God, what have we done?” Three days later another one fell on Nagasaki. About 152,000 were killed, many times more were wounded and burned, to die later. The next day Japan sued for peace.’ In order to decide whether to use nuclear weapons, the US president appointed a committee: the military advisors favoured using them top-level scientists said they could find no acceptable alternative to using them other, equally able, scientists opposed their use The committee decided that the lives saved by ending the war swiftly by using this weapon outweighed the lives destroyed by using it.

9 Christian Cloak and Dagger
While reading Biblical Faith and Social Ethics on a plane, a man is approached by a young woman, who asks him to help her solve a problem. Her government had asked her to seduce and sleep with an enemy spy in order to blackmail him. This went against her morals, but if the plan was successful it could bring the war to an end. Were the thousands of lives that would be saved worth breaking her moral standards for?

10 Sacrificial Adultery (Mrs Bergmeir)
During the Second World War, a married German woman with three children was captured by a Soviet patrol and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in the Ukraine. Once the war ended, she learned that her family were trying to stay together and find her. According to the rules, she could only be released from the camp if she was pregnant. After considering her options, she asked a Volga German camp guard to impregnate her. She was sent back to Germany and her family welcomed her, even when she told them how she had done it. They loved the child because of what he had done for them. After the christening, they discussed the morality of the situation with their pastor.

11 Criticisms Although Fletcher gives examples, they are very individual and exceptional. In some examples Fletcher appears to reinterpret Jesus’ actions in order to defend his own theory.

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