[Karl Note: One
of the problems of the moral code suggested on this page
is that it depends on ONE single criteria for what is
"moral." That criteria is "love," but
unfortunately, the word "love" has as many different
meanings as there are people using it."
A "moral code" based on
"love" would be hopelessly vague. When someone
tries to illustrate how workable it is, as
click here, they offer this example:
prostitution: a young mother working as a
spy for the US was asked to use her sexuality to
ensnare a rival spy. When she protested that she
could not put her personal integrity on the line by
offering sex for hire, she was told: "It’s like your
brother risking his life and limb in the war to serve
his country. There is no other way." For the greater
good of her country, it was the loving thing to do.
Right away you see that
LOVE is not the criteria being used here, but rather the
concept of "greater good." Now that is a rather
useful criteria. So, the criteria of "love" is
defined as doing something "for the greater good."
That is still deficient, as you could see when you ask if
ONLY the greater good of her country counts? Would
the same criteria ("greater good") apply if someone asked
the Bishop of the Catholic Church in New York to serve as
a pretended drug dealer to pretend to buy drugs for sale?
Perhaps the police might say it is "for the greater good
of catching drug peddlers?" Well, YOU might see
this as a "greater good," but you can see that another
might not see it that way. So, the term "greater
good" is pretty vague also.
When you get more
specific with a moral code you can easily run into other
Even a moral code that
says, "Thou Shalt Not Kill" neglects to handle wartime
when we are trying to kill the enemy, or Capital
Punishment where the law has been written to say that
certain persons may be "put to death." Capital
Punishment may be viewed as "immoral." Anyone may
say that. The point I make here, only, is that
"Thou Shalt Not Kill" is a moral code that doesn't seem
to fit all the likely situations.
Likewise, a "moral
code" that says that drinking four drinks is a violation
of a moral code (as well as, possibly, being a violation
of law), leaves open the +question of how the "four" was
arrived at. Would "3.9 drinks" be immoral? Could
some person drink 5 drinks and be "less drunk" than
another person who drinks four drinks? People who
don't want to live by a moral code are fond of finding
the internal contradictions within moral codes that are
The whole subject of
"moral codes" goes out of fashion with a whole society
when they appear too vauge, or unworkable.
A moral code should not
be written in terms of absolutes, but rather in terms of
a gradient scale from good to bad -- suggesting that the
higher on this scale you are, the more moral you are.
We strive for maximum morality, just as we strive for
maximum survival. We recognize we won't live
forever, that we will not survive forever, and so we can
accept that we may not achieve perfect morality.
That doesn't stop us from trying -- or shouldn't!
The situational ethics
theory was first postulated during the
1960's by Joseph Fletcher. It was intended
to be a middle ground position in the
Christian world of ethics between
antinomianism and legalism. Antinomianism
says there is no law—everything is relative
to the moment and should be decided in a
spontaneous fashion with man’s will as the
source of truth. Legalism has a set of
predetermined and different laws for every
decision-making situation. Fletcher’s
ethical theory is based on only one
absolute law, which when applied properly,
handles every situation. Other popular
situational ethicists are Emil Brunner,
Reinhold Niebuhr, and John A.T. Robinson.
Fletcher posits his situational absolutism
with its one law for everything by saying
we must enter every situation with only one
moral weapon—the law of agape love.
the command to love is categorically good.
We are obliged to tell the truth, for
example, only if the situation calls for
it. Act responsibly in love, and everything
else without exception, all laws and rules
and principles and ideals and norms, are
only contingent, only valid if
they happen to serve love in any
situation." His theory states that "each
situation is so different from every other
situation that it is questionable whether a
rule which applies to one situation can be
applied to all situations like it, since
the others may not really be like it. Only
the single law of love (agape) is
broad enough to be applied to all
circumstances and contexts."
According to Fletcher, Jesus summed up the
Mosaic law and the Ten Commandments in one
word—love. Therefore, there are no
commandments which may not be broken in
some situation for love’s sake. Every law
is breakable by love. As Augustine put it:
"Love with care and then what you will,
do." Love is the one universal law. When
all else fades, love will abide forever.
According the Jesus, love is the earmark of
His disciples (John
Love is an
attitude, not an attribute. The only human
thing that has intrinsic value is love.
Whatever is the
loving thing to do in any given situation is
the right thing to do.
One does not
follow love for the law’s sake; one follows the
law only for love’s sake. Love and law
sometimes conflict and when they do it is the
Christian’s obligation to put love over the
Love and justice
are identical. Justice means to give others
their "due," and love is their due.
Love is a
multidirectional and utilitarian principle.
Calculating the remote consequences, it strives
to bring the greatest good to the greatest
number of people. Love foresees the need to use
force, if necessary, to protect the innocent;
or to disobey an unjust civil law; or even to
revolt against the state, if the end
consequence is for the greater good of the
majority of the people. "Only the end justifies
the means; nothing else." The loving end
justifies any means.
are made situationally, not prescriptively.
Love does not prescribe in advance what
specific course of actions should be taken.
Love operates apart from a pretailored,
prefabricated list of moral rules. Love
functions circumstantially, it does not "make
up its mind" before it sees the facts in any
Examples Of Application Of This
or sacrificial adultery: a German
mother was committed to a Russian concentration
camp. Pregnant women were considered a
liability and were released. This mother found
a friendly guard who sympathized with her
situation and willingly impregnated her. She
was released and returned to her home and
raised the child as part of her reunited
family. Her adultery was justified since it
served to reunite her with her children and
family who needed her.
a young mother working as a spy for the US was
asked to use her sexuality to ensnare a rival
spy. When she protested that she could not put
her personal integrity on the line by offering
sex for hire, she was told: "It’s like your
brother risking his life and limb in the war to
serve his country. There is no other way." For
the greater good of her country, it was the
loving thing to do.
suicide: Taking one’s own life is
not morally wrong if it is done in love for
others. If a man has only two choices of taking
an expensive medication which will deplete his
family’s finances and cause his insurance to
lapse, or else refusing the medicine and living
only 3 months, it is the loving thing to do to
refuse the medicine and spare his family. And,
non-theoretically, a German nun taking the
place of a Jew in the gas chambers; or a
soldier taking his own life to avoid being
tortured into betraying his comrades to the
abortion: an unmarried schizophrenic
patient become pregnant after being raped. Her
father petitioned for abortion but the hospital
refused because they said it was
"non-therapeutic" and therefore illegal. The
father maintained that it was the loving thing
to do to prevent this child’s birth. In another
real situation, a Romanian Jewish doctor
aborted 3000 babies of Jewish mothers in
concentration camps because, if pregnant, the
mothers were to be incinerated. This means that
the doctor actually saved 3000 and prevented
the murder of 6000. This was the loving thing
murder: a mother smothers her own
crying baby to prevent her group from being
discovered and killed by a band of hostile
Indians. A ship’s captain orders some men
thrown from an overloaded lifeboat to prevent
it from sinking and killing everyone on board ,
thus killing a "few" for the "greater good" of
the majority. Not resuscitating a monstrously
deformed baby when it is birthed is the loving
thing to do both for the child, for the
parents, and family.
How do you
apply situational ethics in your own life?