Terminology and philosophical context
The terms ethics and morality are often used interchangeably, but sometimes ethics is reserved for interpersonal interactions and morality is used to cover both interpersonal and inherent questions.
However, not all approaches to applied ethics agree that there is an inherent morality:
- Moral nihilism is the meta-ethical view that nothing is inherently right or wrong, and that all value judgments are either human constructs or meaningless.
- Moral relativism is the meta-ethical view that moral judgments are subjective. In some cases this is merely descriptive, in other cases this approach is normative – the idea that morality should be judged in the context of each culture's convictions and practices.
- Moral universalism is the meta-ethical view that moral judgments are objectively true or false, that everyone should behave according to the same set of normative ethics.
In philosophic terminology, hedonism is the idea that the only intrinsic good is pleasure, making selfish pleasures their primary goal. This may be combined with nihilism in a selfish morality, or with utilitarianism to seek maximization of happiness for everyone. Some religions derive a normative sexual ethics from their texts or teachings, and these range from nihilistic utilitarianism to more complex, fixed systems for determining right and wrong.
Many practical questions arise regarding human sexuality, such as whether sexual norms should be enforced by law, given social approval, or changed. Answers to these questions can be considered on a scale from social liberalism to social conservatism. Considerable controversy continues over which system of ethics or morality best promotes human happiness, and which, if any, is inherently right.