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Examine how Situation Ethics may be applied to one ethical issue of your choice.

Updated on May 12, 2013

Situational Ethics: all about love.

Romeo and Juliet exercising Situational Ethics
Romeo and Juliet exercising Situational Ethics | Source

This hub features an example A grade answer to an A level (a UK qualification) philosophy question. It was created with A level students in mind but will be of use to anyone studying Philosophy and give insight into the reasoning and structure expected in an essay.

Teachers and assessors are given the following points to keep in mind when marking the essay answers for this question:

  • Good understanding of the chosen issue and of the decision-making process
  • The situation, people whose interests are involved, options available and likely outcome of each should be considered
  • Each of the four principles could be considered here.
  • Better questions would show that the decisions may change according to different circumstances
  • Only one issue can be credited (writing about two or more issues will be a waste of time)

Answer 1. Starvation

Consider the fact that 80% of the world's population earns less than $10 a day ($3650 a year) whilst 1% of the world's richest owns 90% of wealth and you could argue that the problem of wealth disparity is one of humanity's largest ones. The argument for wealth disparity is not a simple one however, and even if situational ethics is applied the matter does not become simple.

One of the rules of situational ethics (SE) - to distribute to those who need it - applies most to the dynamic of this argument. Under SE, the world's richest would need to hand over the majority of their wealth to those poorer than them because they don't need it as much as the rest of the world - the wealthy have everything they need to live, whilst the poor are not getting far more basic resources like food and shelter. The poorest would benefit greatly and the rich should live with the sacrifice they made because it is the loving thing to do.

On the other hand, it could be argued that SE, which centres itself around agape love, would not take away the money from the rich and give it to the poor. This is because the rich are the ones who work harder, sacrifice more (family, leisure time etc.) and contribute more to the world than the poor. Would it really be loving to reap the efforts of one man and give it to another man because the richer man failed to do what he couldn't?

The counter argument would be that SE would say that yes, we should. If some people are born less lazy and less hardworking than others then we should love them regardless, become love is the only useful thing. We should uphold and pity those that are less fortunate than us, especially since most rich people do not get where they are because they worked hard, but because they were lucky or inherited their wealth. Considering the poor, it should be noted that most people in their position do not have the same opportunities as the rich had, and under SE everyone would have equal opportunities as equality is loving.

From a different standpoint, we must look at the four working principles of SE to suss out the answer. In regard to pragmatism, you could argue that redistributing the wealth, although a great ideal, would simply not work in reality. The reason for this is simply because if everyone knew that whenever they worked harder than someone else their efforts would just be redistributed, they wouldn't work hard at all.

Another answer can be considered: a law should be passed that equalises the wealth in the world, and then that law would be abolished so that everyone starts again from an equal basis. This would mean using personalism (one of the four working principles of SE), using laws to work for the people (through maximising love by giving the poor necessary resources). After that, everyone would still want to work hard because their resources would not be redistributed, solving the problems that communism faced. From then on we will know that it was the people who worked hardest that became richer than the lazy who did not. It would be a fair and loving world.

Once again however, using pragmatism, you could argue that the mass riots, wars and protests that would arise from such a bold and rash law from the richer masses would result in the less loving outcome: deaths and suffering of many. The law would probably never be passed, since the government that tries to pass it would most likely be overthrown before the law would be utilised.

In conclusion, it is clear that situational ethics cannot answer such a complex problem as wealth disparity because what we are dealing with is subjective: love, equality, ideology and other such intricate topics cannot answer each other because their definitions are not clear enough to use. On top of this, we deal with the problem of not knowing how society will act and how the richer humans will manipulate the poorer into thinking differently and wrongly. As always, the issue with maximising love and/or maximising pleasure is that there is no certainty of how the people not using these ethical values would react and affect the situation.

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    • Philanthropy2012 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from London

      @'Evil Dr Un-Sweet'

      Indeed that is something that could have been mentioned, but I personally feel like since it's almost impossible to quantify 'love' an equal distribution of wealth is as close we can get to any kind of Utopia, Joseph Fletcher's included.

    • profile image

      Evil Dr Un-Sweet 

      6 years ago

      Pushing this debate about wealth on a global scale aside, this Hub has achieved exactly what it has set out in the title. Fantastic summary that analyses the key principles of Situation Ethics in its application to a moral dilemma.

      A question this Hub may raise is ‘is the distribution of material wealth equal to the distribution of love?’ Wealth can no doubt be put into great causes such as education etc., but can a world habitually attempting to solve problems with money, really achieve a future Joseph Fletcher may have intended?

    • Philanthropy2012 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from London


      Of course you are right about education, and of course having the opportunities to take after having that education is even more important.

      Though I think you misunderstood what I meant by taking the wealth from the rich and giving it to the poor. By this I mean investing that money in education, accommodation etc.

      I didn't mean just give the poorest in the world large quantities of money!

      I see where the confusion arises because I agree with you entirely,

      Thanks for stopping by - I haven't heard much from you recently! It's good to see you are still active on HubPages!! :)


    • Borsia profile image


      6 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      The hub is interesting but the argument fails in addressing why the poor are in such a state, and the rich for that matter.

      The biggest reason is overpopulation starting at the base family level. Parents are having children that they can't properly support.

      They can't adequately provide food and basic health care for them let alone educate them.

      Education is the biggest difference between the rich and poor.

      I know quite a few people who are considered rich by most and with a couple of exceptions they made their money through hard work and long hours. But none of them would have done so well without good basic education and a very strong work ethics.

      The fact is that if you gave the poor a large amount of wealth in almost every case they would be poor again in a very short time. This is true even among the majority of 1st world people. Look at people who somehow come into money they didn't earn, most are broke again in a short time with little if anything to show for it.

    • LongTimeMother profile image


      6 years ago from Australia

      I must say, I think your hubs are written more for people who enjoy the journey than those who are in a hurry to reach their destination. This is a classic example! :)

      I digested every word and enjoyed it from beginning to end. Of course I was itching to speak up for the many poor people in third world countries who are not lazy and are far more hardworking than many of the rich could even imagine, but lack the connections and economic environment to achieve wealth ... And I wanted to argue that the rich don't necessarily work harder, sacrifice more or contribute more to the world - particularly those who inherit wealth and do little to maintain it and nothing to have obtained it in the first place.

      But, given the purpose of your hub, I enjoyed the journey. Voted up.


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