ethical theories approaches to sex & relationships

ethical approaches to sex

  • Created by: bryony
  • Created on: 02-06-10 14:52

Natural Law & Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas was the main proponent of the deontological theory of Natural law , influenced by Aristotle & Cicero. His theory is centred around the idea that God created humans with natural law, the innate wish to 'do good and avoid evil'(primary precept) in order to get back to God.For thisi to be the case everyone must follow the primary precepts which are known to everyone with the use of reason.

Views on sex

  • sex for pleasure is sinful , the sole purpose of sex is reproduction otherwise it obstructs intellectual pursuits.
  • Marraige is good for those who cannot remain celebate, but sexless marriage is preferable.its the natural situation to have children as men want to bring up the children & is neccessary for them to due to their reason and strength.
  • women are the result of a 'moist south wind' - a 'misbegotten foetus', women are inferior because it takes much longer for ensoulment to take place.A womans purpose is child bearer and only this as women are less suited to intellectual pursuit.
  • homosexuality is the result of a 'deffective nature'- falling short of God's ideal, but only sinful if practised.



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Aquinas quotes & Catholicism

sex is wrong when...

the act of its nature is incompatible with the purpose of the sex act' -reproduction

its 'intercourse with a thing of another species' - beastiality

its 'with a person of the same sex' - homosexuality

'the natural style of intercourse is not observed, as regards proper organ or according to other rather beastly and monsterous techniques' - foreplay?

'conflict with right reason may arise from the nature of teh act with respect to the other party ' - ****/ inscet?

The catholic chuch althoug usually follows Aquinas have acknowledged the relationship union element of sex but stilll agree sex is only for procreation , so contraception is wrong as its practically murder because its termination of the soul.

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Utilitarian Approach

main proponents - J.Bentham, J.S Mill and Henry Sidgwick,is a teleological theory which works towards promoting 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number'. Since Bentham holds a quantitative outlook to ethics , we should analyse sex according to the pleasure it brings and the possible consequences. Utilitarian approach to sex is understood as libertarian & protects our descisions to do what we want.

  • maximise the good things about sex & minimise the downsides.
  • does not mean 'free love' as there are huge consequences such as HIV, AIDS, unwanted pregnancies & emotional ties.

Good things - considers the emotional aspect of sex & relationship & suffering caused if someone is decietful. Also is more than the contracterian approach as holds a 'contract' doesnt necessarily make a sexual relationship moral i.e enforced prostitution due to poverty.

Bad - ignores the minority , relative - allows exceptions

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Utilitarian Scholars

J.Bentham - merely focuses on whether an act produces the greatest amount of happiness, for greatest number, if both parters are willing then the act of sex cannot be considered wrong. But did consider whether some acts harmed society such as adultery as this brings happiness to the 2 people involved but consequently the family of the 2 people are harmed.

J.S Mill - 'On Liberty ' - sex is a matter of individual choice, without state preference. But its not of prime importance as we should seek the 'higher pleasures' & take in to account the needs of others.

Utilitarians should be tolerant of non-traditional orientations , except those which cause harm to society - child molesters or if homosexuality became the 'norm' then it'd be harmful to society.

THE HARM PRINCIPLE - act/consequence is morally permissable if no harm is done.So is important to consider this with issues of sex, short term pleasure could lead to misery & pain - i.e affairs. so is useful to consider consequences using HEDONIC CALCULUS.

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Virtue Ethics approach

Agent centred and looking at morality from the peron's p.o.v according to their personal qualities, virtues and ideals and so will consider what sexual practise might make a person virtuous.It points us away from harmful traits such as exploitation & selfishness (masturbation,****, pheodophillia etc) and towards commitment,honestly,loyalty & friendship.So pursuit of pleasure to develop an intimate, committed relationship would be virtuous.But pursuit of pleasure which uses people to get it such as prostitution or one night stands is less virtuous.

Rosalind Hursthouse - action is right if its what a virtuous person who has virtuous charactersics & excercises them would do. but virtue is subjective,especially in modern day,some people may consider Jordan for example virtuous as fame & fortune is admired in modern day.

Michael Slote - emphasis on care in relationships , in sexual ethics recquiring a 3 way balance.,Intimate care , humanitarian care, self care.So is tollerant to other peoples appraoches & views on sex accepting its our responsibility for moral choices we make.

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Kant's approach

conservative attidute due to the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE.As its deontological Kant focuses on the physical side of sex not emotional side of the relationship.

Universalisation - would not permit extra marital sex as it could not be universalised as the person who wished to commit extra-marital sex would then have to be okay with his wife , children , friends doing the same thing. Homosexuality is also not universifiable since every homosexual is concieved from a hetrosexual relationship.

Sex is only allowed when it serves valuable goals such as marriage , so by itself it is 'a degradation of human nature' .we cannot use people as 'a means to an end' , so 'as soon as a person becomes an object of appetite for another, all motives of a moral relationship cease to function' as this is using someone as a means to an end. Sex in marriage is not wrong as its purpose is the uniion of two people , if husband and wife are equal then sex is permitted.

Contractual nature - sex morally acceptable if not using as means to an end. so sexual services such as prostitution is acceptable but not if its against their will or harm is possible. *********** = wrong - means to an end - pictures for sexual gratification

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Situation Ethics - liberal christian view

Joseph Fletcher is the main advocate , the theory is teleological , looking towards consequences rather than acts themselves, but since the theory is relative descisions are based on circumstances involved. For Fletcher , 'love revitalises the absolute' and so where motivation is agape (selfless love) then an act is permitted.the only thing we can follow from Jesus is 'love thy neighbour as thyself'.

Theory is mid way between legalistic and antinominalism so we should be prepared to set aside legalistic rules in a situation if love is better served by doing so.So 'the situationist follows a moral law or violates it according to the love's need'. - Personalism , person over law.

Pragmatism, Relativism, Positivism ( priorty to christian love) , & Personalism .

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situation ethics applied to sex & relationship iss

Extra- Marital sex - would be permitted if love was better served, an instance might be that the husband for example loves his wife , but since his wife wishes to remain cellibate , extra-marital sex would be the most loving thing for her to allow her husband to do.

Homosexuality - since the theory is relative homosexuality is not condemned as long as its agape love.

Pre-Marital sex - marriage is not necessarily the most important factor for sex, but would be most strong.

Contraception - allows if most loving thing to do , i.e if the quality of life would be poor.

- its pragmatic & so more up todate with modern day and puts the person first. Its flexible Usefull? again allowing for more modern approaches to sex - homosexuality , ivf, contreception. Applicable to individualistic society.not useful - love is subjective. A ****** may believe his actions are the most loving thing, but this is not so to others. In these circumstances law is necessary.Perhaps not applicable to collectivist society?

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Harriet Addy


Thanks! It is really helpful :)

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