Ethical theories and sex and relationships

Ethical theories and sex and
Revision slides
Pythagorean: Influenced by Plato’s
Cynic: no
shame in sex.
dualism (chariot): physical/spiritual, spirit
trapped so must free through rejection of
physical world.
of Hippo
Stoic: Stiff upper Lip: Sex linked
to reproduction. Overcome
anything that threatens selfcontrol
Pre-Fall: No shame in sex. As
Sex and
(Greek and
Christian Views
it was given by God it is good in
Open to
After the Fall: Punishment from
God for original sin:
1. Shame of body. 2. Pain in
childbirth. 3. Women subordinate to
Marriage = better than
burning. Chastity = better
Stoning of the
adulterous woman
St Paul
Return of Christ
Genesis 1-2 – sex
created by God, meant
for procreation.
Some sex should not be practised
in sinful ways –i.e. sexual
involvement with non-Israelites
(Jews), adultery would be
punishable by stoning. Women
were not equal to men and must be
virgins on marriage.
Old Testament
view of sex
Bestiality and
homosexuality is seen
as immoral. Should be
punishable by death.
Jesus – gave very little on sex
& relationships. He did state,'
Whoever divorces his wife and
marries another commits
adultery against her.’ He also
brought about equality of both
men and women.
New Testament
Paul – If people could not
control sexual urges –
should get married. Sex
only in marriage. The body
is a temple of the holy spirit
and should be respected.
(1 Corinthians 6 12-20)
Paul – man is the head of the
household just as Christ is the
head of the church.
Paul – Valued Celibacy over
marriage and sex. Giving
yourself to God. Links with
Greek philosophers – stressing
spiritual life above physical.
Paul – women should obey their
husbands. (Ephesians 5v22-24)
‘wives, be subject to your
husbands’ Wives are the property
of the man – Ephesians 5v31-32.
Sex is a constant
reminder of man’s
rebellion against God –
original sin.
The devil uses
women to lead men
away from reason –
pleasure in sex leads
man away from
reason. See Adam &
Augustine of
Sex is necessary for
procreation, but only in
marriage. However
sex was dangerous…
Background – accepted
views of gnosticism –
body and soul separate
View of Catholic
2) Sexual acts can
be morally wrong
even if it is natural –
i.e. incest, rape or
He attempted to unite
Aristotle with Christian
theological – looking at
end purpose –telos.
Aquinas – Natural law
1) Sex is wrong if it does
not coincide with the act of
procreation –
Masturbation, bestiality,
homosexuality and
foreplay are all immoral.
Aquinas concluded that
the purpose of sexual
organs and sexual
activity was procreation,
and any other use of
sex was intrinsically
wrong. Sex is only in
A husband who commits
adultery cannot want extramarital sex to be universal law
unless he wants his wife,
children, parents and so on to
engage in extra-marital
Kant – categorical
Neither can homosexuality be
universalised, since every
homosexual is conceived
through a heterosexual
relationship – although artificial
insemination could change this.
Kant does not see sex within
marriage as wrong, the purpose of
marriage is NOT PROCREATION, but
a union of two people of different
sexes. Sex is morally acceptable in a
monogamous relationship.
You should not use humans
as a means to an end i.e.
Sexual pleasure is only
allowed when service
more valuable goals
such as marriage
Utilitarian reasons for
having sex:
1) The value of pleasure.
2) The contribution which
shared pleasure
makes to the value of
a relationship.
Utilitarian view to sex is
called libertarian. More
than a contractarian
approach which
emphasises the
importance of mutual
voluntary informed
3) That consensual sex
creates much good,
and, if harm to another
person is avoided,
Bentham - as long as there
provides the greatest
is mutual consent for
happiness for the
pleasure sex is not wrong if
greatest number
both partners are willing.
He also asked whether
such a relationship harmed
unhappiness, either
physical or moral
(Undermining marriage,
fidelity etc)
Sex is immoral if one
or both of those
involved lack a
consent. i.e. a man
having sex with 15
year old illegal
immigrant desperate
for money. This is
immoral many
prostitutes have been
forced into it.
Utilitarians must be tolerant
of people with nontraditional sexual
orientations, except in cases
that do great social harm i.e.
homosexuality, and
bisexuality is tolerated.
However if everyone was
a homosexual it would
harm society.
Utilitarianism & sex
John Stuart Millsstresses the value of
liberty, sex should be a
matter of individual
choice, without state
interference. However
we should try to seek
higher pleasures and
the goal of ethics is to
seek the happiness of all
by taking their needs into
Harm principle –(an act or
consequence is morally
permissible if no harm is done) is
important to utilitarianism
especially in extra-marital affairs –
short-term pleasure will produce
long term pain. Etc.
Situation ethics has one
Primary principle – agape for
Unconditional love; not love
As an emotion but the love
That put what is best for
The other person first.
Joseph Fletcher in
‘situation ethics’ captured
the mood of 1960’s when
approaches to sex and
relationships became
more free – because of
contraceptive pill
Situation ethics seeks
equal treatment of
everyone and acts our
of love. Sex is a
genuine expression of
N.B.This is not easy when
applied in practice when
strong emotional feelings
and physical drives take
Situation ethics rejects
free love like natural
law and Kantian
ethics. Rejecting onenight stands, orgies
Virtue ethics looks
from the standpoint
of the individual and
his or her personal
qualities, virtue and
V.E. Points to the
values of – love
honesty, loyalty,
friendship, pleasure.
Vices – exploitation
and selfishness.
Rosalind Hursthouse – A
Virtuous person is one who
exercises the virtues in
V.E. would consider what kind
of sexual practices will tend to
make a person more virtuous –
those that involve taking
pleasure in giving oneself to
another and developing
intimacy and commitment ,
Less virtuous- those that use
others for one’s own pleasure.
Virtue Ethics
Michael Slote – Emphasis ethics of care in
relationships, requires a sort of 3-way
balance as far as sex and relationships: 1)
care for those who are near to us (intimate
care) 2) care for other people in general
(humanitarian care ) 3) care for our own
well-being (self care)
Each person’s
approach to sex and
relationships is based
on their upbringing
and their relationship
with their parents.
Oedipus and castration
complex – The wants to
sleep with his mother
but doesn’t because
she has no penis,
therefore his father
(according to the child’s
mind) has chopped his
mothers penis off. He
will then submit to his
father. His urges will
only be later on
directed to his wife.
He suggests that sexual personality
may be found at the core of moral
personality – how we behave towards
sexual partners both influences and
mirrors how we perceive and interact
with people in general. – failure to
learn to control the pursuit of sexual
pleasure undermines the
achievement of virtuous character.
As a result of the superego rules about sex and
relationships change
dependant upon
We have a Super-ego –
an inner voice reminding
us of social norms which
comes from parents and
authority figures in
society. – we need this
voice to live ethically in
Today the unitive role of love is a
comparatively modern element, and
the role of sex in marriage as an
expression of that love is also now
recognised. Even sexual pleasure
is seen as a gift from God in
heterosexual marriage. (see song
of Solomon)
Issues today in Christian ethics
Richard Holloway points out, that the
Bible is being used for the possible
split of the Church over ordination of
gay bishops. Holloway states that the
impetus for social reform comes from
society and not the Church.
Jack Dominion states that sex
is not dangerous and should
only be used for procreation.
Sex is so powerful and
meaningful that justice can only
be done to it in a continuous and
enduring relationship.
He accepts cohabitation,
premarital sex and even accepts
homosexual sex as long as it is
in a loving relationship. He sees
the church as having to rethink
There is a big divide today
with homosexuality. The
rejects homosexuality stating
it is an abomination.
However the Bible also says
you shouldn’t mix milk with
meat. Of which most
Christians ignore
Natural Law is the most reliable approach when
making judgements about sex and relationships.’
Explain the main teachings of natural law (e.g. purpose, potentiality and
actuality, primary and secondary precepts) the deontological and
absolute nature of Natural law and its origins in Aristotle, and how it
is a basis for Roman Catholic teaching.
Discuss the nature of sexual morality (e.g. sex as procreative, sex
within marriage, homosexuality, ‘abuses’ of sex.) , and apply Natural
law to sexual ethics. Using examples, you could s how some may
see Natural law as the best approach because e.g. it is universal
and God-given, but for others N.L may appear out of date and
You need to discuss what is mean by reliable and from who
perspective this theory may seem reliable. You may then discuss
whether there can be any absolutes in terms of personal
relationships or whether some other theories such as Kant,
utilitarianism or N.L. might be considered more reliable.
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