Crisis in Morality Part II: Philosophical Dilemmas of the New Morality -- By: Erwin W. Lutzer

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 129:516 (Oct 1972)
Article: Crisis in Morality Part II: Philosophical Dilemmas of the New Morality
Author: Erwin W. Lutzer


Crisis in Morality
Part II:
Philosophical Dilemmas of the New Morality

Erwin W. Lutzer

[Erwin W. Lutzer, Pastor, Edgewater Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois.]

[Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the author’s forthcoming book entitled The Morality Gap which is to be published in November, 1972. Permission to use this material has been granted by Moody Press.]

Situation ethics (the new morality) is based on the notion that there are no universal moral principles. Only the situation determines what is moral or immoral. The summary rule is: Do the most loving thing. Joseph Fletcher (the principal spokesman for the situationists) sometimes describes a loving act as one that is done with loving intentions; at other times an act is judged as loving or unloving because of the consequences. In the previous article it was shown that both cannot be true. Frequently harm results from an act done with good intentions. Conversely, an act done with evil intentions may by accident have good results. Motives and results cancel each other. In addition, the new morality accepts the premise that the end justifies the means. This philosophy can be used to condone various forms of massacre and even genocide. If situationism is correct, such actions must be accepted.

But is situationism able to survive analysis? There are three difficulties that advocates of situation ethics must face. Only when these problems are solved can the theory be taken seriously as a possible alternative to biblical morality.

Love Cannot Define the Content of Moral Obligation

Fletcher’s ethical system is built on the premise that love is the only absolute in ethical conduct. No universal rule can be invoked when applying love’s demands. Only the situation determines what

is loving. But even in a specific given situation—one in which all the facts humanly possible are known—even in those situations situationism cannot give guidance for ethical decisions. The reason is that love cannot of itself give guidance in making ethical choices. In fact, not even Fletcher makes choices on the basis of love per se. Such decisions are an impossibility.

Behind any moral decision lies the philosophical question of axiology. What should be regarded as valuable? By what scale should values be judged? Virtually every human being makes decisions from day to day on the basis of his own value system. Some consider money of greater value than education—others consider pleasure of more worth than rearing children—some prefer prestige to sexual purity—some consider communism of more value than Christianity—...

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