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Moral relativism

             'All you need is love' (Lennon/McCartney) .
             Situation Ethics was developed by an Anglican theologian Joseph Fletcher ('Situation Ethics' (SCM 1966)) as a result of his critique of Legalism and Antinomianism. Legalism is the idea that there are fixed moral laws which are to be obeyed at all times. Antinomianism is the idea that there are no fixed moral principles but that one acts morally spontaneously. This latter view is most commonly associated with Gnostics and Christians who claim to be able to access a 'superconscience'. Gnostics claimed to access higher knowledge whereas Christians claim to be led into 'truth' by the Holy Spirit. Fletcher rejects Legalism because it cannot accommodate 'exceptions to the rule'. If you reject one aspect of the law you surely reject it all. He also rejects Antinomianism on the basis of existentialist ethics which argues that reality is composed of singular events and moments in time (absolute freedom). Furthermore, that there is a range of views of what should be the case in the world means one has to assume one's own presuppositions to be true before one accepts their critiques of what should be the case (or what Fletcher calls 'absolutising the general'). .
             In advocating a situationist ethic Fletcher argued that it is not the 'primary precept' (rule/principle) which is the bedrock for the 'secondary precept' but quite the reverse. It is in fact the context (the individual and the situation) that is the most important thing as it is the application of an ethical principle that makes an action good or evil. (There can be no 'absolutes' as each situation has the potential to bring about exceptions to the rule.) Within each context it is not the overriding 'primary precept' that is to be followed but the law of love ('to do whatever is the most loving thing' (Jenkins p.47)). In the Christian tradition this may be expressed as, 'Love your neighbour as you love yourself' (Matthew 22:39 The Holy Bible New International Version).

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