I have gotten this question to do for RE:
“Situation ethics is too demanding as a system of ethical decision-making.” - Discuss (40)
And I have written this answer:
Situation ethics is a religious consequentialist ethical theory, devised by the American Professor Joseph Fletcher (1905- 1991), which is based around the Christian value of Agape. Agape is mentioned several times throughout the Bible. It is essentially unconditional love, no matter the person. It is self sacrificial and has been mentioned multiple times throughout the Bible to be one of the most important values to have as a Christian. Situation ethics is a way of making moral decisions by calculating the most self-sacrificial, loving thing using the agapeic calculus and the four working principles. However, although it may seem like a reasonable thing to base a religious ethical theory off of, I believe that this ethical theory is too demanding of an ethical theory to be used as a system of decision-making, as it is too subjective and hard to navigate each situation with an unbiased view.
Situation ethics is a method to judge whether a person’s actions are in fact justifiable or not. Fletcher was influenced by Rudolf Bultmann who stated that, ‘Jesus has no ethics apart from ‘love thy neighbour’. This theory is more concerned about the most loving outcome of an action rather than following the rules for the sake of following them. Situation ethics suggests that you can go into any moral dilemma with the common rules of the community, tradition or religion. However, the theory states that you should be prepared to set those rules aside if the situation provides another loving outcome. Situational ethics claims to be an easy to follow and simple to define ethical normative theory. However, I believe that it actually isn’t easy to carry out as it is very difficult to apply strict neutrality in every situation. Situational ethics therefore suffers the same criticisms as act utilitarianism as it too individualistic consequently making this an unsuccessful and demanding ethical theory. Peter Singer (an Australian utilitarian) believed that you should take each action solely based on itself and take, what he calls, a universal viewpoint. However, naturally we live in circles of interest and therefore are more inclined to act in accordance with them. For example if my persons of interests spread out from me like ripples in a pond then, naturally I will place my immediate family and relatives first, my friends second and my acquaintances third. Strangers would therefore lie in the many circles away from the initial circles of immediate interest. This is the natural way in which we see everyone in. So therefore having to live in accordance with an ethical theory that requires you to carry out agape no matter who you speak to, is unrealistic and impossible to carry out in practice. Even if we are supposed to work around our natural instincts, which will prove to be quite a challenge, which strangers should we include into our agape love giving and how many?
In the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the good samaritan is told and it proves how demanding agape love can really be. This parable is about a traveller who is stripped of clothing and beaten half to death. The first person to pass the injured man was a priest, who crossed the road and continued walking. The second person to pass the injured man was a Levite, a priest’s assistant. He also crossed the road and continued walking without helping the man. The third person to come by was a Samaritan, a person from Samaria. The Samaritans were very disliked by the Jews. When the Samaritan saw the man, he took pity on him. He bandaged him and cleaned his wounds. He then put him on the back of his donkey and took him to an innkeeper, whom he paid to look after him. This type of love, although incarnated by Jesus Christ, is impossible for most of us as well as being unreasonable. It is therefore not surprising that Fletcher posits Positivism as one of the four working principles. Positivism is essentially the belief that situation ethics is the belief of the reality and importance of love. Fletcher claimed that ethics (love especially) must be believed not proved. There is no evidence or logical argument that can deduce ethical methods. Therefore, in situation ethics, humans must have faith that God is love and base their actions on that belief. This shows that it is a very demanding normative ethical theory as even if we might be able to show a heroic act like the good samaritan, doesn’t necessarily mean we believe in God, God’s omnibenevolence and agape.
Joseph Fletcher saw situation ethics as a middle way between legalism (a law-based society) and antinomianism (a society where the use of rules are completely disregarded). He believed that both these approaches have credit but that they are two extremes. William Barcley is a Scottish scholar who highlighted a problem within this line of thought showing that it is too demanding as a system of ethical decision making. He argued that it is unclear in Fletcher’s theory what role law actually plays in the system of decision making. For example, when comparing situation ethics with Mill’s rule utilitarianism Mill argues we should generally follow rules until our own wisdom suggests that there is a moral conflict and in this case you act accordingly. However with Fletcher’s theory this has been explained by leaving a lot of uncertainty. Consequently this leaves a lot of pressure onto the person committing the action as not only do they have to consider whether they should follow the law or not but also they should weigh up the most loving action.
Therefore, the place of law is important in society at least in preserving a barrier between simple choice (to euthanize a patient) and a moral dilemma (when you can’t have both moral ‘goods’). Barclay points out that society needs rules to provide a coherence to its public morality, and also to show the wisdom of previous generations. Rules pass on that wisdom and provide a basis for moral education. Rules of course don’t have to be absolute as the Bible itself shows: ‘do not kill’ cannot include killing in times of war as the Bible also permits the military campaigns of Joshua. But by failing to recognise the role of rules, Fletcher adds to the problems of situation ethics – it becomes demanding in practice because it places too much responsibility on individual judgement.
To conclude, I believe that by concentrating solely on the norm of agape this ethical theory becomes too demanding. The theory hasn’t been expressed in a way which irons out the fact that this theory places a lot of pressure on people completing any action. For this reason, the theory can’t be used as a system of ethical decision making.
Could somebody tell me how much marks I could get for both AO1 and AO2.