Sexual Ethics Revision

2003 Q 4 (a) What is meant by conscience [4]

(b) Examine one moral dilemma associated with sexual ethics [10]

(c) With reference to the dilemma comment on the view that conscience allows people too much freedom. [6]



  • That which guides us into right behaviour
  • Intuitionism – intuitive – we are born with it (nature) (some would also say God-given)
  • Empiricism –it is imposed upon us from outside (nurture) the result of social conditioning.
  • Aquinas ‘the dictate of reason’ i.e. Conscience tells us how to act but it is based on reason.
  • Aquinas: Greek synderesis: our chief desire should be to work for the highest good ‘summum bonum’, to do so gives us pleasure and glorifies God.
  • Butler: it is the steering wheel not the engine


One moral dilemma – sex outside of marriage e.g. adultery or just sex before marriage

  • Acc to RC sex for one purpose: reproduction / must therefore be within marriage / based upon OT teaching (e.g’s) and Aquinas’ Natural Law Theory which is…
  • All very well but out of date, no longer patriarchal, submissive women society, double standards, equal rights, now sex is seen as loving expression rather than biological imperative, church view too legalistic
  • 1978 C of E
  • Jack Dominion


Conscience and too much freedom

  • The criticism, here, is probably from those who view Western society and culture as too permissive and hedonistic.
  • Those living under the Authoritarian conscience would disagree since their desire is to please every one and usually themselves last!
  • People who commit adultery are being selfish and immoral (but sex outside of marriage where neither partner is married is a matter for them)
  • The humanistic view grants freedom but puts personal integrity first; this gives contentment through doing the right thing.
  • The libertarian view who separate sex from marriage, would say that so long as no one is harmed then it’s okay but how can we possibly know what harm may arise, and how can adultery not harm someone?
  • Conscience will always suggest when an action is wrong or undesirable and acting on our conscience gives greater happiness than ignoring it.
  • But we do have free-will the freedom to choose, we aren’t pre-programmed and our freedom must not impinge on anyone else’s
  • Freedom assumes we do have it completely, but do we? If we are so socially conditioned and pressured to do the right thing, is this freedom? (see Skinner and Pavlov)


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