Application of Ethics Theories


Theft - Natural Law

Breaks the Primary Precept 'of living in an ordered society' & the Secondary precept 'Dont steal' - this is supported by Scripture and the 10 Commandments.

The Cardinal virtue of justice would condemn stealing.

The Doctrine of the Double Effect - in times where proportionate reason is used, the situation may be permissible. e.g. a starving man stealing food in order to save his life, or feed a starving child.    It would be proportional to steal from someone who had enough themselves.


However, some might say there are other alternatives for the man than stealing food, therefore, there is no need, it is still against the law. e.g soup kitchen, food banks.

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Lying - Natural Law

Breaks the Primary Precept of 'living in an ordered society' - there can never be an ordered society where everyone lies to each other, otherwise, there would be no trust and friendship, e.g. businesses, relationships / marriages, society would be chaotic.

The Secondary Precept - 'Do not lie', is supported by biblical commands and the 10 Commandments - e.g. baring false witness in court.

The importance of telling the truth is rooted in Natural Moral Law. Someone who says one thing but thinks another is lying to himself and breaks Aquinas' virtues of courage and justice.

Aquinas - 'lying is wrong as it is a failure to represent what is in one's own mind' - Backed up by Kant, 'it is everyone's duty to tell the truth'

Necessary lie - tell the misleading truth, to save a friend from being murdered - stating the exact truth without revealing the truth, someone wants - e.g. Anne Frank 

White Lie - to not hurt anyone's feelings e.g. that dress looks nice, even though it doesn't - white lies, don't cause any damage to society - they have the potential to progress further.

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Embryo Research, Cloning, Designer Babies - NL

Aquinas rejects all - as it breaks the Primary precept of 'reproduce' - these abandon the methods of procreation through a relationship.

It is also a failure to 'worship God' as He is the creator of life, you have just killed it or 'played God' by altering its genetic structure.  Human life is  created 'imago Dei' - the image of God 

Thirdly it breaks 'living in an ordered society' - scientific reproduction could lead to a break down in marriage (keep the baby, don't keep the baby - can't afford to have the perfect baby) and increase the gap between rich and poor.

Rejected by the Catholic Church

Biblical quotes back up rejection by Christians 'Before I was born you knew me' & 'You knit me together in my mother's womb.

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Abortion - Natural Law

Ending of a pregnancy, by removing the embryo before it can survive life outside the mother.

Aquinas - a person receives their 'rational soul' 60-80 days after conception.

Abortion fails all tests for Natural Law. It violates the Primary Precepts - 'Protect life' , 'Worship God', 

The Catholic Church forbids abortion at any stage or for any reason e.g. Incest, unplanned, accept on a couple of conditions, when you use the Doctrine of the Double Effect.

The Doctrine of the Double Effect - an Eptopic pregnacy or Cancerous tumour- the feotus starts to grow in the Fillopean tube and could kill the mother.

However you need to consider the 'means to an end' - abortion uses 'bad means to achieve a good end', so is not acceptable.

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Euthanasia & Assisted suicide - Natural Law

Aquinas rejected any form of euthanasia or suicide.

The most fearsome evil is death itself - suicide injures the whole community as a whole; life is God's gift to humanity.

According to Natural Law, neither Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide can be justified as they reject the Primary Precepts of 'Preserving Life', 'Worshipping God', 'Living in an ordered society' - e.g. with euthanasia, being legalised in the Netherlands, this may lead to compulsory Euthanasia.

The Catholic Church does accept dying to proceed without medical intervention - as it is the will of the person, as long as the doctors do everything they can, if the patient refuses treatment, there is nothing more you can do. As long as no-one assits in this rejection, it is accepted.

The Sanctity of Life Principle - do you have a 'dignified life' - every life is Sacred, Holy and God Given - to take life goes against God. 

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Capital Punishment - Natural Law

State sanctioned killing

Aquinas - Capital Punishment is legitimate, but not responsible for individuals - capital punishment however, must be carried out by someone appointed by the State - so it cannot be accused as revenge. The Executioner does not become a murderer as it was ordered by the State.

The Catholic Church 'does not exclude the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against an unjust aggressor'

However the Church says, if there is a non-lethal way of dealing with the problem, go with that

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Animals for food & Intensive farming - Natural Law

Includes 'Factory Farming, Mechanisation of agriculture to maximise crops e.g. deforestation, destruction of the environment. 

Ethical Issues - Is it right for humans to inflict such pain and suffering on other animals? , Do animals have rights.

Aquinas - if animals are used as food for human use, Natural law justifies using animals for food and intensive farming. Animals are not classed as a moral issue, so finding cheaper ways of killing animals for food is OK.

Whether Animals have rights, doesn't matter as NL focuses on the rights of humans, which are more important.

Those who suppport Aquinas see humanity as having greater value than animals, and that animals were created for human use.

People criticise Aquinas and Aristotle and hold them responsible for more than 700 years of cruelty towards animals

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Animals for science & cloning - NL

If animals are only there for human property, then scientific procedures on animals is not immoral - particularly if experiments develop cures for human diseases.

The Catholic Church accept the use of animals for scientific experiments as the use of scientific procedures to cure terminal diseases in humans would prevent a primary precept 'preserve life'

Pain inflicted upon an animal as part of the experiment, would be accepted. If pain wasn't necessary and was inflicted by human cruelty, Aquinas would disagree with procedures. 

Aquinas says that if a person is cruel to an innocent animal, this is morally wrong, however not for the sake of the animal, but because the person may move on to doing it to humans. 

Aquinas however does not agree with some experiments that will change the genetics and nature of an animal, because after all, every animal was created by God for a purpose and if we alter that, what purpose will they have. He accepts genetic variation within species.

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Blood Sports - Natural Law

Sports that involve animal bloodshed or the death of an animal e.g. Bull fighting, Fox hunting

Natural Law has no objection for blood sports:

  • Humans can use animals how they please
  • Therefore pain and suffering of animals, in this case is accceptable
  • If the animal dies, that is acceptable

The Catholic Church have turned to the Pope to take action over Blood Sports and its relation to the Church and human responsibility - in the Bible it does say we have 'stewardship over creation and animals'

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Animals as a source of organ transplant - NL

The use of animals as a source of transplants, wasn't around during Aquinas' time, but would be acceptable by Natural Law.

Humans have a moral right to use animals in any way they see - so transplants probably would be acceptable. However as long as you don't start modifying the genes, human or animal, there shouldn't be a problem. 

Aquinas goes against altering cross species as this messes with God's creation / blueprints for humans and goes against His image.


The means to an end 'the suffering of an animal to save a life' that is doing something bad to cause a good outcome, this is immoral. Unless they say the end is to serve human beings

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Theft - Situation Ethics

  • Every situation is different.
  • Is your action Pragmatic - probably works
  • Does your action maximise love?

Stealing is not justifed because it ignores what should be justifed - love (agape)

E.g. Stealing a book from a library - you may get the results you want from the book and achieve, but this may affect the lives of others - so they were in the same situation as you before you took the book.

Love is justice distributed - If you are caught taking the book, you may be punished - in this example you are putting yourself before the law - 'I shall not steal', so Situation Ethics disagrees.

If you were stealing a loaf of bread to save a life, this is a loving action, as you 'willing on the life of a neighbour' - you do it, not to gain anything but to be moral - in this case SE agrees.

This shows that you need to address each situation, before you can have a definitive response. 

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Lying - Situation Ethics

There are times that SE say Lying is morally right or morally wrong - it all depends on the situation.

  • Lying by deliberately withholding infomation
  • e.g A legalistic principle - the principle must be observed without reference to likely consequences - so a decision could not serve loves end.
  • Lying by withholding infomation but acting out of love for the majority of people.
  • e.g If someone was to lie about a major health problem, which could be passed on and resulted in the condition affecting the lives of a wife or child - is likely to lie about more important things. However, by lying to the girl, by saying she doesn't have a major health problem, but allowing her to live a good life, is that wrong?
  • Lying by reassurance
  • For Schizophenics and patients nurses lying and telling people they are getting better, shows agape.

In many situations you have to use the 'agapeic calculus' - weigh up the situations and consider the risks, the distribution of love in the best interest and the majority of love bought in the future.

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Embryo Research, Cloning, Designer Babies - SE

Not opposed to any of these procedures - Humans are selectors and designers, so if there are controls in place, then there is no reason why humans should not be redesigned to banish disease and to improve the species.

Fletcher says that he would favour making and using machine hybrids than genetically design people for dull, unrewarding and dangerous roles. 

You need to consider the most loving action - in this case the love for people - in some cases embryo research, cloning and designer babies will be a loving benefit to some people.


Is Fletcher using these agapeic acts based on potential goods rather than their potential evils?

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Abortion - Situation Ethics

Entirely Situational - In this case it does put people before rules and assess foreseeable consequences.

  • Abortion is an evil act.
  • Is the foetus a person - Personhood - the stage someone is considered human, with rights
  • Church of England, call it the lesser of two evils
  • Judith Jarvis Thompson - The foetus may have rights, so does the mother to abort.

e.g If a doctor diagnosed a child with a physical deformity, should the mother have the right to abort the child?  Do we have a right and responsibility, through love, to prevent unnecessary suffering.

  • What action is more loving - do you look at the most loving action for the mother e.g. eptopic pregnancy or the most loving action for the child e.g. mental disorder / deformity.
  • What will the effects be, on current children or in the future when you have regret.
  • How do we know the child will suffer? - it requires knowledge which we do not have. 
  • You will need to consider the person's Quality of Life and Sanctity of life - there is a lot to consider, to determine the most loving action.
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Euthanasia & Assisted suicide - Situation Ethics

In many cases, the situation has to be judged on its own merits.

SE is personal so will put people before rules - For a Christian you should never allow endless pain and suffering 

SE will try and find a Rational, Pragmatic and Personal decision for each case.

E.g. A man has a terminal illness. He has 8 months to live and up until his death many of those months will involve untreatable crippling pain and agony.

For SE - you weigh up the risks and find the most loving action - but you don't know where those risks might lead - so sometimes Fletcher says there are risks to using agape.

There are other alternatives e.g. Hospices, Care Homes - these will be more loving.

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Capital Punishment - Situation Ethics

Situation Ethics has no set views on Capital Punishment.

Fletcher says that with each situation there are no rules which compel you to go one way or another. For Situation Ethics, the most loving action should determine which view you take about a situation.

e.g The decision to execute a man would be unloving for him but would be pragmatic in applying love to the majority.

In this situation whose love is more important, the love of the family or the love of the person being executed. e.g. Life and Death Row

Utilitarianism - 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people' when applied to Situation Ethics 'The greatest love for the greatest number of people'.

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Animals for food & Intensive farming - SE

What end do we seek? What means do we use to obtain them? - Situation Ethics is about the most loving action in a situation - without animals humans wouldn't have existed as long as they have - it is therefore 'natural' for humans to use animals for food.

Many people are starving in rural areas. There are over 795 million people undernourished each day. For some situation ethisist, the most loving thing would be to increase intensive farming - as this puts people first. A starving child is worse than the intensive farming of animals.

However other situation ethisists, argue that it is not loving, because agape calculations maximise misery rather than love, and look for short term answers rather than long term solutions. Factory farming should be dropped and the production of crops should be promoted more.

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Animals for Science and cloning - SE

Fletcher supported the idea of using animals in scientifc procedures as a means to the end of human welfare. Using animals is a pragmatic way of saving human lives

e.g. Development of vaccines for major diseases - preventing human suffering. Many surveys have been conducted and people are happy for animals to be used in experiments, provided they are not suffering or being innocently tortured.

To some Situation ethicist, the most practical, effective and agapeic ways of addressing human disease, is with animal experiments.


However, some Situation Ethicists argue that this can't be a loving action to subject an animal to these types of experiments.

Also many people disagree with cloning, due to the fact of the unknown, what effects will cloning have on the animal and if cloning is successful where will it fit into society. e.g. Dolly the sheep

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Blood Sports - Situation Ethics

There is nothing agapeic about blood sports - as they will likely damage character - 'the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible' Oscar Wilde 

However most situation ethicists will put the interests of human pleasure before animal suffering. However, human pleasure can be downgraded, when animal suffering is involved.

E.g. a Situation Ethicist, might accept fox hunting, because of how a farmer's chickens are damaged by foxes, and fox hunting is less unloving than factory farming for people and could provide entertainment for humans and even conserve the environment. 

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Animals as a source of organ transplant - SE

The use of animals as organ transplants, will depend on the situation and the status of the animal. But Situation Ethics is focused around people not animals.

To find the most loving action, you need to think about the future, since technology isn't advanced enough. Should a transplant be used, it would most likely be a pig, since they are very similar to humans. 

You would need to consider, infections, rejections - there is always going to be risk.

However some Situation Ethicists, insist that because humans are cognitive, social beings with complex functions, there are also animals which also apply. Therefore animals can be used as transplants, but donors, must be dead or be consenting humans. 

But because of the shortage of viable organ donors, we might need to pursue other technologies as well as animal transplants. 

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Theft - Virtue Ethics

Virtue Ethics is about the development of a person's character over a lifetime. So theft, is not developing a moral, virtuous character.

Theft can never be committed well or not well. Unlike NL that permits stealing to feed a starving man. For VE they are unsure how Aristotle would respond to this situation. 

Aristotle talked about justice being a virtue. There is a difference between 'somebody who steals for their own gain' and 'someone who steals for another person's good, out of kindness and not to gain personal fame'.

Justice is about fairness.

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Lying - Virtue Ethics

For a Virtue ethicist, you should focus on the virtues of honesty and truthfullness, so lying is forbidden. A situation may also require courage to tell the truth and justice to admitting a fault.

Lying becomes an easy habit, which we use everyday - as it stops people getting into trouble. Lying in effect is distorting reality for a person's benefit and prevent punishment.

For a Virtue Ethicist, lying is an issue around our social interactions towards others. e.g. False promises or untruthful claims - if you boast to people, you are creating a false image of yourself.

Truthfullness - is not about telling the truth or telling a lie but more about your social interactions and how we fit into society. All our Virtues need to work together to form a synergy - so that all our virtues shine in our personality.

It all depends on the situation - if your character is truthful and honest, then telling a lie on occasions is justifiable. e.g a mad axeman comes looking to kill your friend, so you lie to protect them.

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Embryo Research, Cloning, Designer Babies - VE

An important virtue to have is compassion - especially towards others. However Virtue Ethics isn't the best in responding to these topics.

For VE - Stem cell research and cloning might be an opportunity to increase human wellbeing, and to develop the virtues of courage and vision through the removal of disease and suffering.

However, for VE, Embryo Research, Cloning and Designer Babies, all have problems as future development will likely result in a society where new virtues will be developed and key ones will be lost. So future humans will be different to current virtuous humans.

So if people have new virtues, they cannot learn character traits and wisdom from virtuous people and therefore cannot themselves become virtuous. 

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Abortion - Virtue Ethics

The rules of the state govern the response by Virtue Ethicists. 

'Abortion should take place before signs of an individual human being are established. e.g. before the 14th day rule. 

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Euthanasia & Assisted suicide - Virtue Ethics

If a person feels that they can no longer achieve eudamonia (happpiness), then further living would be pointless. Therefore, VE might accept Euthanasia and Assisted suicide.

Equally, enduring pain might be courageous, depending on a person's virtues.

VE does not show us how to act in situations, the decision made depends on practical wisdom. So for Euthanasia and Assisted suicide, you need to use your wisdom and your virtues to make the best decision. As rules cannot decide the rightness and wrongness, only virtues can.

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Capital Punishment - Virtue Ethics

VE is better for these situations than SE. 'Every virtue is summed up'

Capital Punishment is about justice - an important virtue to have - it is about the good of others and the end itself (altruistic).

Aristotle says that 'we are responsible for the actions we intend' e.g. if you murder someone, you intended that,  it is simply a matter for justice.

For a Virtue ethicist - Justice is the key to working out the best situation - as 'justice is fairness.'

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Animals for food & Intensive farming - VE

Aristotle - Animals do not have souls, only humans. However, in Aristotle's time there were no factory farms. 

There is no ethical problem of eating meat or animals - animals existed for human survival.

However Virtue Ethicists are unsure how Aristotle would react to Intensive Farming - as it is very difficult to link any virtues to factory farming and the torture and torment the animals go through e.g. chickens.

The virtue 'compassion' does not just apply to humans it must also apply to animals - factory farming / intensive farming is not compassionate. Factory farming does not develop a virtuous Character.

VE - would most likely disagree with Intensive farming, but agree with animals being used as food.

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Animals for science & cloning - VE

Aristotle conducted animal experiments - he must agree that these procedures are compatible with a virtuous character.

The most important thing we use is reason - reason governs intelligence and science. We need reason to discover new things - using animals in scientfic experiments extends our knowledge and is therefore virtuous.

The benefits of scientific reasearch, allow for new drugs to be discovered. Animal cloning is also accepted as it has the potentiall to do great things and cure diseases. As long as we show compassion towards humans and animals - using animals in science is morally good.

Some Virtue Ethicists argue that using animals is not compassionate and as some researchers are cruel to animals, procedures are not morally good. There is no consent from the animal and no reinforced laws or regulations. Many things considered compassionate to humans e.g anaesthetics, does not happen to the animal.

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Blood Sports - Virtue Ethics

People are judged by how they treat animals - therefore this can impact on a person's virtues and moral character.

Hunting animals in public - e.g. fox hunting, upsets and offends people, so blood sports has a huge impact on people.

Some Virtue Ethicists, say blood sports develop virtues e.g. bullfighters will develop Courage - and this courage is enhanced as the bull fighter uses calculations and reason. However this is an inferior type of courage.

Some say Blood sports develop temperance - experiencing pleasure at the expense of others pain, is not conducive to developing a good moral character.

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Animals as a source of organ transplant - VE

Look at Animal Experiments

  • Animals for transplants - increases scientifc knowledge
  • Humans might survive because of animal transplant.
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