Fornication is the act of having a sexual relationship by two individuals who are not married to one another, but may or may not be married to an individual absent from this sexual relationship.
This suggests that fornication could be practiced either in the form of premarital sex or in the form of adultery (extramarital sex).
In order to question the ethicality of these aforementioned acts, it is crucial to place the ethical theories within the context of areas of knowledge.
The application of ethical theories can be easily influenced by people’s emotions, reasoning and sense perception. During a moral dilemma, this creates an emphasis on the unpredictable nature of humans while taking decisions regarding the ethicality of a situation.
On the basis of this established idea, I’m considering various ways, areas of knowledge, and ethical theories to be able to determine the ethicality of fornication.
In order to commence, it is pivotal to dissect the term ‘ethical theory’. An ethical theory is basically a guidance mechanism for individuals and groups of individuals to help them make decisions effectively during an ethical conflict.
When faced with an ethical dilemma, these theories must be used to reach to an ethically correct solution for the problem.
The ethical theories that I would be using to determine the ethicality of fornication are Kantian Deontologism, Utilitarian (or teleology) Theory, Natural Law, Situation Ethics, and Virtue Ethics.
Kantian Deontologism states that determining the ethicality of a situation should not be based upon the consequences of an action, but in fact. It should depend upon the universality and the adherence of the action to moral law. The action must be appropriate for everyone and must remain indifferent to the associated consequences.
However, Utilitarianism or teleology provides us with an alternative way of thinking. It suggests that consequences are vital to seeking a resolution for a moral dilemma.
If the decision would maximize utility for the greatest number of people, only then would it be considered morally correct.
Natural law theory, as the name suggests, is a legal theory that establishes a relation between human morality and laws governing various acts. On the other hand, situation ethics will evaluate ethicality on the basis of the context of the situation for which an ethical decision needs to be made.
Virtue ethics, however, will be independent of the background of the situation and its consequences. In fact, virtue ethics would consider the character(s) of the person(s) carrying out the action.
Although these theories vary to a greater extent, they can be used during moral dilemmas. Additionally, they will be affected by the varied ways that people employ knowledge in the decision-making process.
Here, I will uncover the role played by these theories, as well as, the influence of knowledge while determining the ethicality of fornication.
Let’s begin by examining Kantian Deontologism. If we follow Immanuel Kant’s Kantian Deontologism, we would understand that sex without marriage would reduce the importance of being united by a marital bond as the partner is most likely to become an object of fulfilling sexual desire.
It is important to consider that if two individuals are married ,then they physically and emotionally give themselves away to one another such that both wilfully unite and enjoy the mutual benefits. But this won’t be the case in a premarital sexual relationship.
In fact, it would diminish the value of getting married.
As for adultery, I feel that it would evade the requirement of universality that Kantian Deontologism demands. This is because, if a person has an extramarital sexual relationship, there would be a breakdown of trust between the married partners.
Additionally, there is a possibility that the person who is involved in an unofficial relationship with a married person may not be aware of his/her prior commitment. Hence, the action would not be appropriate for all the people who would be involved in this situation.
But just because humans are driven by emotions there is a high possibility for this theory to fail. For example, if a person has been sexually aroused it might be impossible for him to take decisions rationally at that very moment in time.
Another limitation can be reasoning, due to which the theory might fail. Pre-marital sex in a serious relationship might become the driving force in making a relationship last-longing.
Also, in the case of extramarital sex, what if the sexual activity (outside the married relationship) is taking place with the approval of both the partners. In this case, no one is harmed.
Additionally, people consider a sexual activity to be healthy and will prevent any other form of unnecessary sexual exploration.
Sense perception might be another deterrent. For example, if a child has witnessed all his elders being involved in a premarital relationships that ended up being successful and turning into a marital relationship, then the kid might not have any reason to restrict himself from going ahead with such a relationship.
Contrary to what we have just discussed, if one takes this decision on the basis of utilitarian theory, then only the consequences would be considered. There won’t be any restriction on having consensual sexual relationships because the ‘utility’ is being maximized for both of them.
This would hold true for pre-marital sex. as well. The only concern would be consequences like unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. However, these can be prevented through contraceptives and pills.
As for extramarital sex, this would only be partially true. While the people directly involved in the sexual act will have their utility maximized, but what about the partner who is indirectly involved and is being cheated on by his or her partner?
For him/her, the utility is not maximized due to which utilitarian theory might partially disapprove of this act. However, again what if the both the partners married to one another, approve of extramarital sexual relationships? In this case, the utility will be maximized for all the people involved directly or indirectly in the situation.
Natural law, just like Kantian Deontologism, suggests that since the sole purpose of a sexual relationship is to expand the family, it must be done in a legal marital relation.
Similarly, it bluntly disapproves of adultery. But then, language plays a huge role here. It would depend upon how adultery is defined.
What if a partner does not get involved in the actual act of sexual intercourse, but does it through more informal ways such as virtually, through technology, or it might be just verbal? Although this can be included in adultery, this cannot be denied by Natural Law.
On the other hand, virtue ethics being dependent upon the character of the person may approve of this, especially if the person ‘wants’ to have a premarital sexual relationship. In this journey of his/her, he or she might be able to look for a desirable partner for a long lasting relationship.
However, extramarital sex can raise questions about the character of the person due to which virtue ethics won’t approve it. On the other hand, situation ethics will call for decisions according to the situation and hence would approve of evading the norms depending upon the circumstances.
This won’t restrict people from have premarital sexual relationships. Additionally, for people to be happy with their relationships and have healthy relationships, the norm of not having an extramarital relationship must be avoided.
However, from the perspective of religious systems, both practices would be rejected. This is because according to religious systems like Christianity and Hinduism, a body is supposed to be kept pure until one is married. In fact, abstinence is something that is promoted by Catholic churches.
In addition to this, use of contraceptives is also something that is disregarded by Islam and Catholicism as it is an artificial way of controlling birth. Therefore, people looking out for contraceptives to fulfil their sexual desires, while avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, are in the wrong according to religion.
In conclusion, I would like to say that ethical theories cannot be used to determine the ethicality of fornication, when a person faces a moral dilemma or is unsure whether he should participate in a sexual act, prior to marriage or out of marriage.
This is because of the unpredictable nature of humans and the factors that might affect the decisions about the ethicality of fornication when faced with a moral dilemma.
However, I also feel that these ethical theories can be used to provide some sort of guidance to the people involved in the decision-making process.
It is crucial to consider that the way in which the theories will be applied will be closely linked to moral relativism.
Moral relativism when morally correct decisions are made on the basis of the cultural, social, economical, historical, demographical and personal influences that person may or may not face.
Therefore, the application of ethical theories will be very much dependent upon moral relativism.