Socratic Situationism


Socratic Method enables us to put a Socratic spin on Joseph Fletcher's theory of moral "situationism" (see section 14 in Victor Grassian's Moral Reasoning [Second Edition, Prentice Hall, 1992]). He defines three alternatives for how moral rules are used:

  1. Legalism: the application of moral rules to moral issues without exception, alteration, or doubt.

  2. Situationism: the application of moral rules with the readiness to allow exceptions or to alter the rules.

  3. Antinomianism: no moral rules are applied to moral issues; judgments are unique and spontaneous (often what people mean by "situationism").

Legalism would be suitable for Dogmatic Absolutism. But it is possible to find a place for Socratic Absolutism under a certain form of situationism. We could divide situationism into:

  1. Pragmatic Situationism: the rules are altered just so that they "work," i.e. get us what we want, whatever that is. This is pretty much Grassian's approach of juggling "reason" and "feeling" with no expectation that an objective moral system exists or that there is any rational way to resolve all disputes.

  2. Socratic Situationism: the rules are altered with the determination that our wants and beliefs are opinions which can be corrected or informed until they can be replaced by knowledge (as though "recollection" in Plato). Socratic principles look forward to a system that is objective and absolute but currently is "relatively relativistic" as we learn better through the application of Socratic Method and as opinion converges on truth.


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Copyright (c) 1996, 2001 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved