‘Natural Law is the most reliable approach when making judgements about sex and relationships’ Discuss. Aquinas developed the Natural law Theory, with which he proposed five ‘telos’ that he believed were our duty to follow. His 5 primary precepts- ‘Worship God Ordered society, Reproduction, Learning and Defend the innocent’ are deontological. However, whilst being deontological, Natural Law does have some flexibility with the more teleological, secondary precepts. The doctrine of Double effect refers to situations where there is an intended outcome and another significant but unintentional outcome.
According to Natural Law, it is our intentions that are important, not the consequences of our actions. Double effect would not allow you to perform an action where an unintended outcome had devastating effects. The unintended effect has to be proportionate. In this way, Natural Law becomes like Utilitarianism. This can be applied to sexual ethics for example, in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. This is where the foetus attaches itself to the mother’s fallopian tube. This is potentially life threatening to the mother, and in turn, the child itself.
Natural law views Abortion is an evil act, and therefore not an option. However, removing a fallopian tube, with the secondary effect that the pregnancy ends, is not an evil act. When carrying out an act with two effects, you ask whether the second effect is proportionate. In this case it is. In other words, it is unethical to abort an ectopic pregnancy (which would leave the woman able to have another child), but ethical to remove an ovary (which, in cases where a woman has one working ovary, would leave her unable to have future children).
With this in mind, it could be argued that this flexibility makes Natural Law a very reliable approach regarding sexual ethics, as it isn’t entirely an absolutist theory. Nevertheless, the problem lies within the precepts, as if you do not view them as our soul purpose, then the approach becomes irrelevant. With respect to contraception, natural law does not perceive this as an acceptable practice. This theory bans sex for pleasure, which is, in reality, the purpose behind utilizing contraception.
Natural law believes the only acceptable function of sex is procreation, which is emphasized by the precept of ‘reproduction’. Utilizing contraceptive methods improperly alters the “telos” of this act, which is procreation. Alternatively, natural law does not allow for changing or inhibiting nature, which would include the usage of fertility drugs. If nature does not enable you to conceive of a child then, by using fertility drugs, you are interfering with nature’s “telos” by attempting to enhance the preferred telos, by that of creating a child.
You could argue that this out dated view of contraception doesn’t take in to consideration modern day thinking. For example, contraception may delay the conception of a child, to a time more appropriate to have one, or a Married couple may have already had 8 children and can’t afford to have another, without decreasing the well being of their other children. Furthermore the consequence of this policy in Africa has had evil effects of the spread of AIDS and the birth of AIDS infected children.
This weakens Natural Law as the most reliable approach when making -udgements about sex and relationships, and points more towards an ethical approach such as Utilitarianism, which would provide more leniency towards these situations. Utilitarianism offers us another method for determining the right and wrong course of action, only utilitarianism is concerned with the outcomes of our actions, and is therefore not an absolutist principle and holds that there are no fixed morals.
This hedonistic principle formulated by John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham when applied to sexual ethics generally holds that there are no absolute wrongs or rights, so long as the actions result in pleasure for people, without any unnecessary pain. Utilitarianism however may not be seen as a reliable approach as what these rules should be is the most contentious issue, there is no singular rationally “correct” way of determining the right and wrong outcome.
In this way it would seem that a more open minded view is needed where acts cannot be intrinsically wrong, but what is wrong depends on the situation and the contemporary society. Similar to Aquinas’s natural law, Kant’s version of duty-based ethics was also concerned with duty. It was based on something that he called ‘the categorical imperative’ which he intended to be the basis of all other rules (a ‘categorical imperative’ is a rule that is true in all circumstances. )
The categorical imperative comes in two versions which each emphasise different aspects of the categorical imperative. Kant is clear that each of these versions is merely a different way of expressing the same rule; they are not different rules. The first rule emphasises the need for moral rules to be universalisable. And the second- if you aren’t willing for the ethical rule you claim to be following to be applied equally to everyone – including you – then that rule is not a valid moral rule.
These rules would also prevent abortion. If every woman who became pregnant had an abortion, then there would be no childbirth, and our species would die out. Similarly with homosexuality, which is also rejected using the categorical imperative. These two applications of Kants theory exemplify what could be perceived as something both positive and negative, depending on your view. While his theory benefits people, with the first and second rule, it is also very restricting. Especially when being applied to sexual ethics.
This therefore perhaps make it a lesser reliable approach when making judgements about sex and relationships, as unlike Natural law, it is not flexible. Evidently, every ethical theory has its benefits and weaknesses. However natural law contains a healthy amount of flexibility, which is greatly advantageous when applied to sexual ethics, as every case is different. It takes a scientific approach as it looks at nature and comes to conclusions that seem to benefit the human race, and therefore could be argued to be extremely reliable regarding sexual ethics.