Those who believe in the depravity of human nature have not been theologically unprepared for the almost daily barrage of odious revelations connected with Watergate. Some others seem to be naively surprised that any politicians would ever stoop to break the law to achieve electoral victory.

Another group of self-styled ethicists has been curiously silent about Watergate. Those moral philosophers have been proclaiming for years that no actions are inherently right or wrong; only the situation can determine whether an act is immoral. In the face of the nation’s revulsion at the Watergate scandal, perhaps silence has seemed most expedient for the situation ethicists.

However, a statement on Watergate made by Billy Graham served to elicit a comment from the nation’s leading situationist, Joseph Fletcher. Graham’s statement read in part, “A nation confused for years by the teaching of situational ethics now finds itself dismayed by those in government who apparently practiced it.” Time magazine editorialized, “Graham is groping wildly in connecting situation ethics and the Watergate cover-up.” And Joseph Fletcher was equally eager to dissociate situationism from the Watergate stigma. His comment: “It is a misinterpretation. Those involved in Watergate weren’t conducting themselves according to situation ethics. They didn’t weigh the moral options. Their one guiding principle was to win at any price. Graham knows or ought to know better” (Time, June 10, 1974, p. 18).

Is Watergate an example of situation ethics or is it not? Who is “groping wildly”—Billy Graham or Joseph Fletcher?

In his book Situation Ethics: The New Morality (Westminster, 1966) Joseph Fletcher defends the notion that no act is inherently right or wrong; all actions ...

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