Why Did Fletcher Reject Antinomianism and Legalism

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38In the direct rejection of ethical approaches, Fletcher says that every action we take is considered an action independent of its consequences, is literally “meaningless and meaningless.” An action such as telling the truth acquires its status as a means only by virtue of an end that goes beyond itself. 9One might think that legalism and antinomianism exhaust possibilities. If we reject moral laws, are we not compelled to lawless moral anarchy? Fletcher thinks not. “Situational ethics” was a term adopted by Joseph Fletcher (1905-1991) in 1966. Fletcher was an Episcopalian priest*, so this theory can be described as a Christian ethic (a form of Christian relativism or liberal Christian morality). This is also reflected in the life of the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who rejected the absolute “Thou shalt not kill” to participate in the bombing of Stauffenberg in 1944, and in the teachings of German theologians such as Emil Brunner. Situational ethics takes normative principles—such as virtues, natural law, and Kant`s categorical imperative—and generalizes them so that we can “make sense” of our experience in the face of moral dilemmas. But situational ethics rejects any attempt to transform these generalizations into fixed rules and laws, which Fletcher (1966) called a form of “ethical idolatry.” 10Fletcher says that there is a moral law, and that is why he rejects antinomianism. But there is only one moral law, so he rejects legalism.

Fletcher`s only moral law is that we should always act in such a way as to arouse the most love for the greatest number of people (“Agápē calculus”). Fletcher`s situationism was then a teleological theory. It focuses on the consequences that determine whether an action is good or bad. 17Despite his rejection of antinomianism and his acceptance of a supreme principle of morality, Fletcher says he is still surprisingly relativistic. This does not mean that it is relativistic in the sense that we can simply choose what is right and what is wrong, but it is just a call to people to stop trying to “fix the law” for all people in all contexts. If the situations vary, the consequences vary, and what we should be doing will change accordingly. It`s a very simple, simple idea, like his ideas about pragmatism, and Fletcher simply means that what is right or wrong is related to the situation we find ourselves in. As was common in the anti-establishment years of the 1960s, Fletcher didn`t like the idea of following the rules. Fletcher also rejected antinomian relativism (antinomic literally means “no principles”; The Greek nomos means “law”). Fletcher rejected blind obedience to rules because he believed that absolute rules and laws required thoughtless obedience. Fletcher argued that they are only evolving into elaborate systems of exceptions and compromises that eventually form additional rules and laws. These only serve to encourage people to find new and clever ways to circumvent these rules and laws.

Fletcher substitutes legalism and antinomic relativism with what he calls “situational ethics.” In real-life situations, people have to accept the traditional rules and laws (which produce a less strict version of legalism) in which we try to operate (i.e. a less strict form of antinomic relativism). Fletcher`s ethics of common sense avoided the extremes of legalism and antinomianism by recognizing the removal of universal principles of real behavior that we can be sure of (e.g., lying is unethical) and, on the other hand, bridging the gap between these principles and the difficult choices that occur in everyday life (e.g., Lying in this situation can be ethical). The problem, however, is that situational ethics proposes the normative principle of “love” without providing a definition that would indicate what love requires of us in the face of ethical dilemmas. The Situationists condemn legalism and reject all rigid moral rules, claiming that the only thing necessary is to take into account the situation and what seems best from our point of view. For the Situationists, this is the most “loving” decision. Critics argue that the obvious flaw in the case of cohabitation and in the case of the affirmative pregnancy test is that agents have confused an unanalyzable and empty secular ethic of love with a substantial theological ethic of love as defined by God and enunciated in biblical and church teaching. Conclusion: The fundamental question for the Situationists is whether normative principles are not only valid in themselves, but also binding on everyone, at all times and in all places. Are these principles universal? But existential ethics – called “antinomy” because it absolutely rejects the authority of rules and laws – is also problematic because it absolutely rejects the authority of rules and laws. In contrast, situational ethics strives to identify the idea of “good” on the basis of an absolute principle (no rule, no annotation) and to do what is ethical in the circumstances. 50 So to really understand what we should do, Fletcher`s recipe that we should “ask what produces the most love in the situation” is particularly useless. It seems quite plausible that one person sees the situation one way and someone else sees it another, and so we get two different affirmations about what we should do.

You might think that`s okay, on Fletcher`s account. But remember that he rejects antinomianism (relativism). Fletcher rejected antinomianism because he understood the consequences of believing that there are no absolute rules and laws capable of governing all cultures, in all places and at all times. The error in antinomianism is illustrated by William Golding`s novel (1959) about a group of English altar boys, Lord of the Flies. The philosophy closest to antinomianism is Sartre`s existentialism. 15The situationalist pursues a pragmatic strategy. What does that mean? This does not mean that Fletcher is a pragmatist. “Pragmatism” is a very specific and well-elaborated philosophical position taken by John Dewey (1859 – 1952), Charles Peirce (1839 – 1914) and William James (1842 – 1910). Fletcher does not want his theory to be associated with these views and rejects all implications of this kind of “pragmatism”. Richard Jacobs points to Fletcher`s own description of his theory as “principal relativism” to explain Fletcher`s own argument that situational ethics is relativistic and has absolute love at its heart. Under the protest of academics, the program`s editors removed situational ethics from the part called “relativism,” leaving a kind of vacuum for students – we just don`t study pure level A relativistic theory – the one that comes closest to it, existentialism, is what Fletcher calls “antinomic” or anti-law.

My personal view is that we should continue to discuss situational ethics in the context of relativism while addressing some of the points raised by Richard Jacobs below. However, as I argue in an article reproduced on this site, relativism is an ambiguous concept with at least three meanings, special, consequentialist and subjective, and should therefore be treated with caution.

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