Saturday, 19 March 2011

Criticism of situational ethics

John Robinson, an Anglican Bishop of Woolwich and Dean of Trinity College started off a firm supporter of situational ethics, saying that it was: "The only ethics for the man come of age" referring to the responsibility it gave the individual in deciding the morality of their actions. Although later he withdrew his support recognising that people couldn't take this sort of responsibility, remarking that "It will all descend into moral chaos".

Situational ethics is individualistic, which is another thing Bishop Robinson may have been referring to. The problem is that it gives people an excuse for not obeying the rules when it suits them. If someone wants to do something badly enough, they are likely to be able to justify it to themselves. Agape love is an ideal, whereas humanity is a practical species full of selfishness and other flaws.

One of the problems with teleological, consequential theories is that they are based on the future consequences, and the future is quite hard to predict in some cases. For example it may be easy to predict that if you harm someone, then it will make them and those around them sad and/or angry. However, when considering more tricky situations such as an abortion, it is impossible to tell for certain how the child's life and its mother's will turn out either way.

Some point out that although Jesus was known to break the traditions and extra laws the Pharisees had set in place, (as shown in some of the biblical references) He never broke one of the Ten Commandments, or any part of the Levitical Law found in the Bible.

One other criticism of situational ethics is that it's quite vague and doesn't help much in the way of guidance. It says that the most moral thing to do is the thing that is the most loving. But then when it outlines what the most loving thing to do is, it says that the most loving thing to do is the thing that is the most just; from where it goes round in circles.

Situational ethics is subjective, because decisions are made by the individual from within the perceived situation thus calling into question the reliability of that choice.

Situational ethics is prepared to accept any action at all as morally right and some people believe that certain actions are impossible to justify.

Upon writing Situation Ethics, Fletcher claimed that, like one of its predecessors, utilitarianism, the theory was a simple and practical one, hinging around one single principle of utility which is agape love. However, he then goes on to attempt to define agape love and in the process creates more and more principles. Some would claim this makes situational ethics more complicated and less practical than the original, hedonistic utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill.

Situational ethics also assumes that the most loving thing to do is that which saves lives, maximizes happiness, etc., whereas a virtue ethics basis would point out that love is about an internal disposition or how to be, not external actions or consequences, and that the moral law adhered to by Christians is, by human nature, that which makes a person the most loving.

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