JOSEPH FLETCHER’S NEW MORALITY: A PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW
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1.0 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
The problem to be treated is about moral decision-making. How is one to act when faced with a moral decisive situation? Life presents us with situations where decisions are not so clear-cut. Saying yes to one perceived good often means saying no to another. The question “what ought I to do” in a given situation raises conflict for us. Making decisions is a part of man’s life. Man tries to make the right decisions always because a wrong decision taken can be detrimental to both an individual and the community. Hence, B. O. Eboh observes that, “It is often difficult to take a moral decision in a given situation because of the many other facts which may surround such a situation”. The point is that there are many realities to be taken into consideration in moral decision-making.
At this point, one may ask: “what moral decision am I to take in a moral situation?”
1.1 APPROACHES TO DECISION MAKING
There are three main alternative routes or approaches to follow in making moral decisions. They are: (1) the legalistic approach, (2) the antinormian approach, the extreme opposites i.e. a lawless or unprincipled approach; and (3) the situational approach. All these three have played their part in the history of Western morals.
Legalism is the most common and persistent approach to decision making. It triumphed among the Jews after the exile and has dominated Christianity constantly from very early days. There exist a series of well-defined and absolute laws (secular, cultural and religious) that the individual must implement in every situation. Legalism sees moral rules and principles not as guides but absolute norms that must be obeyed at all costs and in all situations. With this approach, one enters into every decision-making situation armed with already-made rules and regulations. Fletcher affirms that, “legalism looks at the letter of the law and insists on its observance while ignoring the spirit of the law”. However, questions arise as to whether in a particular case the law truly applies or as to which of several more or less conflicting laws is to be followed. In this case, the legalist applies casuistry.
According to Joseph Fletcher, legalism in the Christian tradition has taken two forms: In the catholic line of thought, it has been a matter of legalistic reason, based on nature or natural law. Hence he says:
These moralists have tended to adumbuarate their ethical rules by applying human reason to the facts of nature, both human and sub-human and to the lessons of historical experience. By this procedure they claim to have adduced universally agreed and therefore valid natural moral laws.
In the protestant line of thought, it has also followed the same deductive catholic tactics. From this perspective, Fletcher observes:
They have taken scripture and done with it what the, Catholics do with nature. Their scriptural moral law is, they argue, based on the words and saying of the law and the prophets, the evangelist and apostles of the bible.
As such, for him it is a matter of legalistic revelation in the protestant line of thought. However, both the catholic line of thought and the protestant line of thought are legalistic. Not even the fact that the catholic moralists deal also with revealed law and the protestant also have tried to use reason in interpreting the saying of the bible, Fletcher still maintains that both of them, by and large, have been committed to the doctrine of law ethics, which is legalism.
This is the approach with which one enters into the decision-making situation armed with no principles or maxims whatsoever. Literally, the term antinomianism means ‘against law’. Here, each individual enters the decision making process with no laws, guiding principles or maxims, believing that they will make the right decisions spontaneously in the moment, and base on the unique situation. Some antinormianists believe this ‘right decision’ information comes to them from an outside source such as the Holy Spirit or the combined wisdom of the ages under the guise of intuition. Antinormianism is a lawless and principleless approach to moral decision-making. It rejects all moral laws and principles and insist that man is free to take any decision he deems fit in any situation.
Among the Hellenistic Jew-Christians, antinormianism took the form of libertinism. They believe that by grace, by the new life in Christ and salvation by faith, laws or rules no longer apply to Christians. Their ultimate happy faith was now assured and it no longer mattered what they did. The negative result of this form of antinormianism led to an increase of legalism. Another form of antinormianism was a Gnostic claim to special knowledge so that neither principles nor rules were needed any longer even as guidelines and direction pointers. Those who go by it, claimed that they will just know what was right when thy needed to know. As such, their moral decisions are random and unpredictable. Making moral decisions is a matter of spontaneity.
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