An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Fletcher, Joseph Francis

(Apr. 10, 1905-Oct. 28, 1991). Leading proponent of situation ethics. He was born in Newark, New Jersey. He received his B.A. from the University of West Virginia in 1929 and his B.D. from the Berkeley Divinity School in the same year. He was ordained deacon on June 23, 1929, and priest on Sept. 7, 1930. He taught at St. Mary's College, Raleigh, 1932-1935, and was acting dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, Cincinnati. He was dean of the Graduate School of Applied Religion in Cincinnati from 1936 to 1944 and subsequently called to the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge. While at ETS he was successively assistant professor of pastoral theology and social studies, 1944-1953; professor of Christian ethics, 1953-1955; and professor of social ethics, 1955-1970. Following his retirement from ETS in 1987, he was appointed professor of medical ethics in the University of Virginia Medical School. His major publications are Morals and Medicine (1954), William Temple, Twentieth Century Christian (1963), Situation Ethics: The New Morality (1966), and Moral Responsibility: Situation Ethics at Work (1967). Morals and Medicine was a series of discussions of critical ethical issues in health care. It was the basis for his utilitarian ethical theory which he expanded in his later two books on situation ethics. His critics accused him of destroying all ethics by relativizing principles for the guidance of conduct. Fletcher was a significant figure in the post-World War II ethical debates on the roles of deeds and rules in the moral life. He exerted a widespread influence in the medical and ethical community. Fletcher died in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.