Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Situation Ethics (Part 6): The Third Proposition - Love and Justice are the same

The Third Proposition: Love and Justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else. (Joseph Fletcher)

Love is careful

One criticism of Fletcher’s Situation Ethics is that he never clearly defines love, but with the third proposition love becomes equated with Justice. Acting in love is not something done without any sense of responsibility towards others but is something which requires proper care and thought. In short, it is acting responsibly, and in this way Justice is love distributed.

Here is precisely the serious difficulty of love. How are its favors to be distributed among so many beneficiaries? We never have one neighbour at a time. (Joseph Fletcher)

We are reminded here of the Third Proposition, this being that situation ethics is positivistic; one is always making a choice to act in love towards others However, this needs to be understood in the context of the wider community. When choosing to act in love, everything and everyone must be taken into account. “No man is an island”, as the old saying goes!

As “persons” we are individuals in-community. Therefore love’s outreach is many-sided and wide-aimed, not one-directional; it is pluralist, not monist; multilateral, not unilateral. (Joseph Fletcher)

Wrongful Separation

We cannot separate love and Justice; neither one should be given priority over the other. For instance, we cannot decide to give away all our money to those in need, without also paying back those we owe money to (our creditors). To give away all our money to the poor may appear to be doing a loving thing, but if we don’t also repay what we owe, then it is actually an unjust (and, therefore, unloving) deed.

People also suffer and end up being treated badly when love and justice are separated. We cannot hold the law above persons, and neither can love be selective. All voices must be heard, and all demands considered equally. Love cannot be sentimental nor can it be concerned with just individual relationships. We should love all our neighbours (plural), not merely our neighbour.

It is often said that what is “due” to the neighbour is giving him his “rights”... [But] all alleged rights and duties are as contingent and relative as all values. The right to religious freedom, free speech, public assembly, private property, sexual liberty, life itself, the vote - all are validated only by love. (Joseph Fletcher)

Justice is nothing other than love working out its problems. (Joseph Fletcher)

Love Using its Head

Justice is love calculating and working out its duties and obligations. In terms of social policy, situation ethics appears to have much in common with UTILITARIANISM (but in this case it replaces ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ principle with love (agape)). Situation ethics also agrees with DEONTOLOGICAL ETHICS, in that we should always seek to do the good (our duty), this being to, “seek the goal of the most love in every situation.”

Situation ethics is not individualistic, but makes decisions in the context of the wider community. In this way it follows Kant, by not treating others as a means to our own end:

Love does not permit us to solve our problems or sooth our wounds at the expense of innocent third parties. Our neighbours include all our neighbours. (Joseph Fletcher)

There also can be no impartial response to situations. We cannot simply throw our hands up and say, “It’s the law!”, for example. The decision to act in love is always a choice; a decision to do the most responsible thing.

Something to discuss: Talk about the actions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. in the context of situation ethics. Was Martin Luther King Jr. a Situationist?

Whenever or if ever any civil rights law ceases to serve love according to an enlightened grasp of love’s outreach, it should be thrown aside. (Joseph Fletcher)


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