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“Sometimes you’ve gotta put your principles to one side and do the right thing”… Situation Ethics Charlotte Vardy.

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Presentation on theme: "“Sometimes you’ve gotta put your principles to one side and do the right thing”… Situation Ethics Charlotte Vardy."— Presentation transcript:

1 “Sometimes you’ve gotta put your principles to one side and do the right thing”…
Situation Ethics Charlotte Vardy

2 Making ethical decisions…
Traditional systems (Natural Law, Kantian Ethics) focus on the action and make ABSOLUTE rules. From the 18th Century however, some philosophers advocated CONSEQUENTIALISM (e.g. Utilitarians), arguing that rightness or wrongness are RELATIVE to the results (and the situation).

3 Situation Ethics Situationism developed from the early 20th Century and particularly during WWII. Very similar to (Act) Preference Utilitarianism. Philosophers such as Peter Singer speak of “best interests” rather than happiness in the  sense – so does Fletcher. (In its Bonhoeffer or Temple variety) it also has a lot in common with Proportionalism, a variety of Natural Law which argues that sometimes it is right to do a wrong thing in an extreme situation (e.g. Bernard Hoose) Arguably living the law of agape, applying it freely to each situation, is also consistent with Kantian Ethics – but this depends on how you understand agape.

4 Christian Ethics Christians have always struggled with how to make ethical decisions. Judaism focussed on ABSOLUTE LAWS and Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel, claimed that he had not come to change “one jot or iota” of the law… Nevertheless, in Mark’s Gospel Jesus said “the law was made for mankind, not mankind for the law” (Mark 2:27) and supported his disciples in breaking the law to save lives (Luke 14:1-6), or even in picking food when they were hungry…

5 The Law of Love When asked what the most important commandments were, Jesus replied “Love God… and love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:28-31) Most Christians saw this as license to break the law when your faith or humanitarian concerns showed it to be inappropriate, e.g. to save a life. Others (e.g. early Gnostics) went further and saw Christianity as living the law of love, being guided by conscience and having no regard for conventional religious or civil laws. However the Church saw the need to regulate and guide Christian Ethics, to define love and its actions…

6 The roots of situationism…
On one hand, the roots of situationism lay in existentialist moral philosophy, in the writings of Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger. (Also Wittgenstein?) On the other, theological antecedents included Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, both of whom stressed a personalistic & voluntaristic approach to ethics which meant that there could be no necessarily universal moral norms. Both the philosophical and the theological heritages of situationism have their roots in Kantian thought…

7 The Church and Individual Moral Responsibility
Nevertheless, even the Catholic Theologian Karl Rahner argued that the individual retains a “sphere of individual morality” over which the Church cannot exercise direct authority. It must be up to our conscience to decide when extreme circumstances justify an action which breaks a general moral norm – though we cannot expect allowances to be made for this by the civil or religious law… Whilst Christians have always believed that we are held responsible for our own sins, they also believe that we must take responsibility for others as well. Like Judaism, Christianity believes that God will judge humanity, dividing the evil from the good, at the end of time. But this judgement can only come once humanity has been ‘cleansed’ and made ready for God. The Church must, therefore, act to prevent people from making bad decisions as well as encouraging and supporting them to make good ones…

8 Love: whatever that means…
In Greek there are many words for Love… Eros, philios, storge – and agape… One of the chief difficulties for Christians acting on love is to isolate which type of love-motivation is appropriate. “HAVING A LOVING MOTIVE” COULD MEAN MANY THINGS… A good definition of Christian Love may be found in 1 Corinthians 13…

9 Situation Ethics Charlotte Vardy
1 Corinthians 13:1-8 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

10 agape For Christians, acting on love must… NON PREFERENTIAL CONSISTENT
LOVE GOD WITH HEART, MIND, BODY AND STRENGTH That means that traditionally, a loving action can take no account of the immediate situation. Fletcher disagrees with this approach to agape and seems willing to place the individual interests over the interests of humanity.

11 Natural Law Devises ABSOLUTE LAWS (secondary precepts) from a definition of what it is to be fully human (primary precepts) For Aquinas being fully human includes living, contributing to society, acquiring wisdom and wealth, having children and passing wisdom on to the next generation, praising God. Any action which contributes to one or more primary precepts is good – any action which takes away from one or more primary precepts is evil. E.g. any action which intentionally kills a human being is evil regardless of the situation. E.g. euthanasia is always and intrinsically evil.

12 though some modern Kantians accept doing this to some extent
In practice, though, for Kant euthanasia would either always be good or always evil – and given the maxim and the precedent, it is difficult to see how to justify euthanasia without “over particularising the maxim” though some modern Kantians accept doing this to some extent Kant believed that human beings are “pathologically loving” We are also rational beings and are disposed to make decisions on the basis of what is best for humanity as a whole Acting on universal principles, treating everybody as ends in themselves and always considering precedent will lead to a society which respects all people equally… (this was the origin of human-rights theory.)

13 Inflexible legalism… An immediate criticism of Natural Law and Kantian Ethics is that they fail to take account of the diversity of situations. murder (whether shooting a priest or assassinating Hitler) suicide (whether faced with torture or just depressed) the assisted suicide of a terminally ill person, the separation of conjoined twins where one is sacrificed to save the other, non-voluntary euthanasia of a coma patient, involuntary active “euthanasia” of a Jewish person… they are all equally wrong because they share the maxim of intentionally taking human life. It sometimes seems that the Catholic or the Kantian can abnegate responsibility, following the rule to avoid having to wrestle with the complexities of the situation… Certainly the Jesuit situationist Hans Wulf believed that it was the authoritarian stance of the Catholic Church which led to moral confusion amongst Germans in the 1930s.

14 What about the situation? (1)
Natural Law has always accepted that some generally wrong actions are right when they are proportionate to the situation and the lesser of two evils. For example, Just War Theory permits killing when these conditions are met… However, the decision over when it is right to do a wrong thing is not left to the individual (except by proportionalists e.g. Hoose)…

15 What about the situation? (2)
For Kant it is absolutely vital to make decisions in each situation, and not act out of habit, fear or without specific reflection. Kantian Ethics is NOT legalistic… However, for Kant, taking account of personal preferences, immediate consequences and other pragmatic issues is NOT loving and falls short of what we are capable of as human beings. It is rational, fair and loving (agape) to treat all human beings equally, honouring them as ends not means and considering the consistency and precedent set by our actions…

16 Are these systems adequate?
Throughout Christian history there have been dissenting voices, arguing that absolute laws are not compatible with following Jesus’ example of love. From Francis Hutcheson and William Paley to William Temple and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christians advocated considering the situation and the consequences rather than just the Law. At the heart of the problem was the relationship between following the law and human happiness… Too often applying the law seemed unfeeling and inhumane.

17 Christian Utilitarians
Bishop Berkeley wrote “In framing the general laws of nature, it is granted we must be entirely guided by the public good of mankind, but not in the ordinary moral actions of our lives. Such a rule, if universally observed hath, from the nature of things, a necessary fitness to promote the general well-being of mankind: therefore it is a law of nature. This is good reasoning. But if we should say, such an action doth in this instance produce much good and no harm to mankind; therefore it is lawful: this [would be] wrong. The rule is framed with respect to the good of mankind, but our practice must be always shaped immediately by the rule”

18 William Temple William Temple ( ) was one of the first acknowledged “situation ethicists” and the subject of one of Joseph Fletcher’s early books. Temple was Archbishop of York and later Archbishop of Canterbury during WWII – actually visiting the troops in Normandy after D day. He wrote "on freedom all spiritual life depends, and it is astonishing and terrifying that the church has so often failed to understand this.” [Christianity and Social Order. New York, 1977] Other early situationists included Paul Tillich “love is the ultimate law” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

19 Situation Ethics: The New Morality (1966)
Joseph Fletcher Situation Ethics: The New Morality (1966)

20 Who was Joseph Fletcher?
Born 1905, New Jersey USA West Virginia University, Berkeley Divinity School (Yale), Yale University and London School of Economics. Ordained into the Episcopal Church of America (Anglican) Wrote “The Church and Industry” (1930) Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Cincinnati ( ) Lectured in Christian Ethics & Business Ethics at Episcopal Divinity School and Harvard University ( ) Accused of supporting communism during McCarthy witch-hunts Wrote “Morals and Medicine” (1954), “William Temple” (1963), “Situation Ethics” (1966), “The Ethics of Genetic Control” (1974) Lost his faith during this period – became a humanist… Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Virginia ( ) President of the Euthanasia Society of America ( ) Died 1991

21 Situation Ethics: The New Morality
Fletcher’s controversial 1966 book confronted what he saw as the inadequacy of existing systems of Christian Ethics. Fletcher was inspired by William Temple to go back to the Gospels and develop a relevant ethic, founded in personal freedom and love rather than authority-structures and fear. Like Temple, Fletcher believed that the Church was failing to engage with the major ethical issues of our time – industrial relations, business ethics, sex and family planning, medical ethics. His book was a call for personal moral responsibility among Christians.

22 The Law of Love Fletcher started by going back to Mark 12:28-31
…“Which commandment is first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is this, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The second is this “you shall love your neighbour as yourself”, there is no other commandment greater than these”…

23 Three approaches to ethics…
Fletcher argues that the Situational approach is the only appropriate response to real ethical dilemmas. It values individual freedom, puts people first and acknowledges the genuine diversity of circumstances. It guards against acting on selfish impulse or whim, and respects the values of the community (i.e. agape), but is sufficiently flexible. Legalistic – includes Catholic Natural Moral Law and Protestant Biblical Literalism Antinomian – includes those who act on “conscience” or “revealed insight” without reference to laws. Situational – a middle way between legalism and antinomian ethics - applies the Christian principle of agape to each situation.

24 Principled Relativism
Fletcher argues that the situationist must always uphold the law of love, which is accepted a priori The situationist must also respect the laws of his/her community, only breaking these laws if they clearly go against the law of love in the particular situation… This is NOT absolute relativism, but encourages individuals to reflect on laws and gives them the option of determining their own action in specific circumstances…

25 Four Working Principles
1.Pragmatism - This is that the course of action must be practical and work 2.Relativism - All situations are always relative; situational ethicists try to avoid such words as "never" and "always" 3.Positivism - The whole of situational ethics relies upon the fact that the person freely chooses to believe in agape love as described by Christianity. 4.Personalism - Whereas the legalist thinks people should work to laws, the situational ethicist believes that laws are for the benefit of the people. THESE PRINCIPLES ARE THE ASSUMED BASIS OF SITUATION ETHICS – THEY ARE NOT REALLY ARGUED FOR…

26 Six Fundamental Principles
“Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love: nothing else at all.” (pg56) “The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else.” (pg69) “Love and Justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else”. (pg87) “Justice is Christian love using its head, calculating its duties, obligations, opportunities, resources... Justice is love coping with situations where distribution is called for.” (pg95) “Love wills the neighbour's good, whether we like him or not.” (pg103) “Only the end justifies the means, nothing else.” (pg120) “Love's decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively.” (pg134)

27 Fletcher’s examples… 1. The Mental Hospital
Situation Ethics Charlotte Vardy Fletcher’s examples… 1. The Mental Hospital “An unmarried female patient with schizophrenia is raped by another patient and becomes pregnant. State law only permits abortion on “therapeutic grounds” i.e. to avoid risk to the mother’s life. Should the patient be given an abortion?”

28 Fletcher’s examples… 2. The insurance problem…
“I dropped in on a patient at the hospital who explained that he only had a set time to live. The doctors could give him some pills (that would cost $40 every three days) that would keep him alive for the next three years, but if he didn't take the pills, he’d be dead within six months. Now he was insured for $100,000, double indemnity and that was all the insurance he had. But if he took the pills and lived past next October when the insurance was up for renewal, they were bound to refuse the renewal, and his insurance would be cancelled. So he told me that he was thinking that if he didn't take the pills, then his family would get left with some security, and asked my advice on the situation.”

29 Fletcher’s examples… 3. Hiroshima
“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. When deciding whether to use "the most terrible weapon ever known" the US President appointed an Interim Committee made up of distinguished and responsible people in the government. Most but not all of its military advisors favoured using it. Top-level scientists said they could find no acceptable alternative to using it, but they were opposed by equally able scientists. After lengthy discussions, the committee decided that the lives saved by ending the war swiftly by using this weapon outweighed the lives destroyed by using it and thought that the best course of action.”

30 Fletcher’s examples… 4. Honey Trap…
“I was reading "Biblical Faith and Social Ethics“ (Clinton Gardner's book) on a shuttle plane to New York. Next to me sat a young woman of about twenty-eight or so, attractive and well turned out in expensive clothes of good taste. She showed some interest in my book, and I asked if she'd like to look at it. "No", she said, "I'd rather talk." What about? "Me." I knew this meant good-bye to the reading. "I have a problem I'm confused about. You might help me to decide," she explained... There was a war going on that her government believed could be stopped by some clever use of espionage and blackmail. However, this meant she had to seduce and sleep with an enemy spy in order to lure him into blackmail. Now this went against her morals, but if it brought the war to an end, saving thousands of lives, would it be worth breaking those standards?”

31 Fletcher’s examples… 5. Means to an end?
“in Ukraine, Mrs. Bergmeier (a POW) learned through a sympathetic commandant that her husband and family were trying to keep together and find her. But the rules allowed them to release her to Germany only if she was pregnant, in which case she would be returned as a liability. She turned things over in her mind and finally asked a friendly Volga German camp guard to impregnate her, which he did. Her condition being medically verified, she was sent back to Berlin and to her family. They welcomed her with open arms, even when she told them how she had managed it. And when the child was born, they all loved him because of what he had done for them. After the christening, they met up with their local pastor and discussed the morality of the situation.”

32 Evaluating Situation Ethics
“Love then, and do what you will” St Augustine

33 Situation Ethics Charlotte Vardy
Criticisms… Rejected by the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII launched an aggressive attack on Situation Ethics in 1952, arguing that it confused the nature of the conscience, seeing it as a generative rather than an interpretive faculty. i.e. if you think your conscience demands that the loving action is contrary to Natural Law it is your conscience that is faulty… In 1956 the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office banned Situation Ethics from being taught or approved in Universities and other centres of Catholic learning or discussed and promoted in any other manner.

34 Situation Ethics Charlotte Vardy
Also rejected by the majority of the Anglican Communion. Bishop John Robinson started as an enthusiastic supporter of situation ethics, but later rejected it saying “it will just end in moral chaos” There are still plenty of Anglican situationists though, for example Richard Holloway, previously Bishop of Edinburgh. Francis Moss wrote “These are the days of Situation Theology, Situation Ethics and theological subjectivity.…all is negotiable, all is dispensable, nothing is actually definitive or binding at least in the sense of being enforceable… It is unthinkable that officially anyone should be charged with heresy in the contemporary Church of England when it is a tenet of an accepted school of thought that there are no fixed criteria for the determination of theological truth and error” A good evaluation (and rejection) of Situation Ethics by J.I. Packer may be found here… Quoted in

35 Essentially… Situation ethics often confuses the concept of agape
What is loving for those immediately concerned may have bad consequences for others not considered – Bonhoeffer rejected consequentialism and seeing a loving motivation as a justification because we can’t clearly predict or define what leads to or comes out of actions… Even “Situationists” don’t agree on what Situation ethics is! Bonhoeffer’s Ethic is very different from Fletcher’s.. Fletcher provides no clear definition of who should be considered a ‘person’ – i.e. he just assumes that a foetus is not a person, without much argument [at least in “Situation Ethics”].

36 Criticisms… It places too much moral responsibility on individuals, usually at moments of extreme stress In practice it is impossible for any Church or society to permit the situationist justification – what practical use is situationism – it only serves to undermine moral standards and cause confusion… Many situationists take things further than even Fletcher argued for – they fail to respect the laws and principles of their society and just follow personal inclinations. There is little difference between Situation Ethics and Utilitarianism – and most of the criticisms of the latter could apply to the former (e.g. simplistic definition of human telos “happiness”, problem of prediction, potential nihilism etc.)

37 Focus on Fletcher… In particular, Fletcher assumes that his readers are all like him! Having a thorough Christian education and Christian values, whilst also having the humanist freedom to interpret the Bible and historical tradition liberally and dismiss any need for an authoritarian Church… As an academic discussion-point Fletcher’s 1966 book may have raised interesting questions (though its style and substance did not lend itself to this audience) BUT as a populist work the book apparently gave license to people to do what they want and still claim to be “moral” or “Christian”…

38 On the other hand… Looking at Fletcher’s broader contribution, it is clear that he had a valuable perspective on social ethics and bioethics in particular. He worked tirelessly to make Christianity engaged and relevant in a changing world. He wanted individuals to take their responsibility seriously – and couldn’t see how they could without having the freedom to think and act for themselves.

39 Applying Moral Philosophy
Medical Ethics Applying Moral Philosophy

40 Situation Ethics Is more use to the individual wrestling with matters of conscience than it could ever be to policy makers or law enforcers. In particular, the lack of substantial discussion of personhood and ontology, the potential value of suffering and the significance of moral precedent makes the system weaker. On the other hand, the diversity within Christian communities when it comes to opinions on issues such as Abortion and Euthanasia can often be explained by the enduring popularity and appeal of Situation Ethics…

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