Saturday, January 02, 2010

Irony of Joseph Fletcher

Joseph Fletcher, an Episcopal priest who published the classic textbook on relativistic ethics called Situational Ethics, argued that love was the norm for Christian decision-making. In fact, his six principles were: "only one thing is intrinsically good, namely love: nothing else at all"; "the ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else"; "love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed nothing else"; "love wills the neighbor's good, whether we like him or not"; "only the end justifies the means, nothing else"; and "love's decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively."

Yet, Fletcher served as president of the Euthanasia Society of America and a member of the American Eugenics Society and the Association for Voluntary Sterilization. He later identified himself as an atheist and was honored as "Humanist of the Year" by the American Humanist Association.

So, here's the irony. Love wills the neighbor's good and yet only God (or some supreme intelligence, for the sake of argument) knows the true end of our decisions and how those decisions may or may not serve that individual's good. According to Fletcher, love would lead one to end one's life so as not to be a burden to others, sterilize themselves, or procreate only those who would serve humanity's highest good.

And yet, who has that kind of intelligence? Who is able to see the end from the beginning? How would it be loving to sterilize oneself and so cut off the possibility of bringing a child into the world who may serve humanity's greater good? The irony is that Fletcher's own principles are inadequate because they can only work with God-like knowledge. By cutting off from biblical prescription--found in the moral law, for example--as the picture of what love is, relativism cannot provide a sure basis for acting rightly in any situation.

1 comment:

localhist said...

It has been a long time since I read Situational Ethics, but, if I remember right, even there he argued that love meant having sexual relationships outside of God's norms. Love (as he defined it) was more important to him than the law of God.