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Situational ethics

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Situational ethics (also known as Situationism) refers to a particular view of ethics that states: the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed. [1]. This is frequently confused with moral relativism, which states that there is no universal moral truth, that there are only beliefs and perspectives, none more valid than another. Situational ethics by itself does not say whether there are universal truths or not; it only says that the state of the system at the time of an act must be included in consideration of the act.

The term situational ethics has been broadened to include numerous situations in which a code of ethics is designed to suit the needs of the situation.

The original situational ethics theory was developed by Joseph Fletcher, an Episcopal priest, in the 1960s. Based on the concept that the only thing with intrinsic value is Love (specifically agapē), Fletcher advocated a number of controversial courses of action.

Opponents are usually moral universalists who view situational ethics, in its purest sense, as inherently contradictory, and argue that the very term "situational ethics" is an oxymoron. They argue that ethics and morality are fundamental and cannot be based on practical, functional, or ethno-centric values; therefore, ethics must be based on something more persistent than one group's assessment of their current situation.

Proponents who are also moral universalists respond that the opponent has misinterpreted situational ethics: Complexity does not mean contradiction, though it may seem so from a simplistic view of a situation. Those who are not might respond that the desire for, or belief one has arrived at, universal ethical principles is part of a group's assessment of their current situation.

Situated ethics is an entirely different theory in which it is the actual physical, geographical, ecological and infrastructural state one is in, that determines ones actions or range of actions - green economics is at least partially based on that view. It, too, is criticized for lack of a single geographically-neutral point of view from which to apply standards of or by an authority.

See also


  1. J. Fletcher, Situation Ethics (Westminster, Philadelphia, 1966)
  • Bowers, H. S. Situationism in psychology: An analysis and critique. Psychological Review, 1973, 80, 307-336.

fr:Éthique de situation

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