Ethical dilemmas can be solved in various ways, for example by showing that the claimed situation is only apparent and does not really exist thus is not a paradox logically , or that the solution to the ethical dilemma involves choosing the greater good and lesser evil as discussed in value theory , or that the whole framing of the problem omits creative alternatives such as peacemaking , or more recently that situational ethics or situated ethics must apply because the case cannot be removed from context and still be understood.
See also case-based reasoning on this process. An alternative to situational ethics is graded absolutism. A popular ethical conflict is that between an imperative or injunction not to steal and one to care for a family that you cannot afford to feed without stolen money. Debates on this often revolve around the availability of alternate means of income or support such as a social safety net , charity , etc.
The debate is in its starkest form when framed as stealing food. Under an ethical system in which stealing is always wrong and letting one's family die from starvation is always wrong, a person in such a situation would be forced to commit one wrong to avoid committing another, and be in constant conflict with those whose view of the acts varied. However, there are no legitimate ethical systems in which stealing is more wrong than letting one's family die. Ethical systems do in fact allow for, and sometimes outline, tradeoffs or priorities in decisions.
Resolving ethical dilemmas is rarely simple or clearcut and very often involves revisiting similar dilemmas that recur within societies. According to some philosophers and sociologists, e. Karl Marx and marxist ethics , it is the different life experience of people and the different exposure of them and their families in these roles the rich constantly robbing the poor, the poor in a position of constant begging and subordination that creates social class differences.
In other words, ethical dilemmas can become political and economic factions that engage in long-term recurring struggles. Looking to calm your dog down without embarrassing yourself or having to get prescription medication? For both of us. Your very emotionally-sensitive and conflicting situation is known as a moral dilemma here are some famous examples which helped me understand the term better.
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Thus the same moral precept gives rise to conflicting obligations. Some have called such cases symmetrical Sinnott-Armstrong , Chapter 2. We shall return to the issue of whether it is possible to preclude genuine moral dilemmas. But what about the desirability of doing so? Why have ethicists thought that their theories should preclude the possibility of dilemmas?
At the intuitive level, the existence of moral dilemmas suggests some sort of inconsistency. An agent caught in a genuine dilemma is required to do each of two acts but cannot do both. And since he cannot do both, not doing one is a condition of doing the other. Thus, it seems that the same act is both required and forbidden.
But exposing a logical inconsistency takes some work; for initial inspection reveals that the inconsistency intuitively felt is not present.
See Marcus and McConnell , Similarly rules that generate moral dilemmas are not inconsistent, at least on the usual understanding of that term. Kant, Mill, and Ross were likely aware that a dilemma-generating theory need not be inconsistent. Even so, they would be disturbed if their own theories allowed for such predicaments.
If this speculation is correct, it suggests that Kant, Mill, Ross, and others thought that there is an important theoretical feature that dilemma-generating theories lack. And this is understandable. It is certainly no comfort to an agent facing a reputed moral dilemma to be told that at least the rules which generate this predicament are consistent because there is a possible world in which they do not conflict.
For a good practical example, consider the situation of the criminal defense attorney. She is said to have an obligation to hold in confidence the disclosures made by a client and to be required to conduct herself with candor before the court where the latter requires that the attorney inform the court when her client commits perjury Freedman , Chapter 3.
It is clear that in this world these two obligations often conflict. It is equally clear that in some possible world—for example, one in which clients do not commit perjury—that both obligations can be satisfied. Knowing this is of no assistance to defense attorneys who face a conflict between these two requirements in this world.
Ethicists who are concerned that their theories not allow for moral dilemmas have more than consistency in mind. What is troubling is that theories that allow for dilemmas fail to be uniquely action-guiding. A theory can fail to be uniquely action-guiding in either of two ways: Theories that generate genuine moral dilemmas fail to be uniquely action-guiding in the former way. Theories that have no way, even in principle, of determining what an agent should do in a particular situation have what Thomas E. Since one of the main points of moral theories is to provide agents with guidance, that suggests that it is desirable for theories to eliminate dilemmas and gaps, at least if doing so is possible.
But failing to be uniquely action-guiding is not the only reason that the existence of moral dilemmas is thought to be troublesome. Just as important, the existence of dilemmas does lead to inconsistencies if certain other widely held theses are true. Here we shall consider two different arguments, each of which shows that one cannot consistently acknowledge the reality of moral dilemmas while holding selected and seemingly plausible principles. The first argument shows that two standard principles of deontic logic are, when conjoined, incompatible with the existence of moral dilemmas.
The first of these is the principle of deontic consistency. Intuitively this principle just says that the same action cannot be both obligatory and forbidden. Note that as initially described, the existence of dilemmas does not conflict with PC. But if we add a principle of deontic logic , then we obtain a conflict with PC:. The first argument that generates inconsistency can now be stated.
Premises 1 , 2 , and 3 represent the claim that moral dilemmas exist. And, of course, 9 and 11 are contradictory.
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So if we assume PC and PD, then the existence of dilemmas generates an inconsistency of the old-fashioned logical sort. Here I take it to indicate physical necessity so that the appropriate connection with premise 3 can be made.
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And I take it that logical necessity is stronger than physical necessity. Two other principles accepted in most systems of deontic logic entail PC. So if PD holds, then one of these additional two principles must be jettisoned too. The first says that if an action is obligatory, it is also permissible. The second says that an action is permissible if and only if it is not forbidden. These principles may be stated as:. The second argument that generates inconsistency, like the first, has as its first three premises a symbolic representation of a moral dilemma.
And like the first, this second argument shows that the existence of dilemmas leads to a contradiction if we assume two other commonly accepted principles. Intuitively this says that if an agent is morally required to do an action, it must be possible for the agent to do it. This principle seems necessary if moral judgments are to be uniquely action-guiding.
We may represent this as. The other principle, endorsed by most systems of deontic logic, says that if an agent is required to do each of two actions, she is required to do both. Now obviously the inconsistency in the first argument can be avoided if one denies either PC or PD. There is, of course, another way to avoid these inconsistencies: It is fair to say that much of the debate concerning moral dilemmas in the last sixty years has been about how to avoid the inconsistencies generated by the two arguments above.
Opponents of moral dilemmas have generally held that the crucial principles in the two arguments above are conceptually true, and therefore we must deny the possibility of genuine dilemmas. See, for example, Conee and Zimmerman Most of the debate, from all sides, has focused on the second argument. There is an oddity about this, however.
When one examines the pertinent principles in each argument which, in combination with dilemmas, generates an inconsistency, there is little doubt that those in the first argument have a greater claim to being conceptually true than those in the second. One who recognizes the salience of the first argument is Brink , section V. But notice that the first argument shows that if there are genuine dilemmas, then either PC or PD must be relinquished.
Even most supporters of dilemmas acknowledge that PC is quite basic. Lemmon, for example, notes that if PC does not hold in a system of deontic logic, then all that remains are truisms and paradoxes Lemmon , p.
There has been much debate about PD—in particular, questions generated by the Good Samaritan paradox—but still it seems basic. So those who want to argue against dilemmas purely on conceptual grounds are better off focusing on the first of the two arguments above. But foes of dilemmas need not say this.
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Even if they believe that a conceptual argument against dilemmas can be made by appealing to PC and PD, they have several options regarding the second argument. Defenders of dilemmas need not deny all of the pertinent principles. If one thinks that each of the principles at least has some initial plausibility, then one will be inclined to retain as many as possible. A common response to the first argument is to deny PD. A more complicated response is to grant that the crucial deontic principles hold, but only in ideal worlds.
In the real world, they have heuristic value, bidding agents in conflict cases to look for permissible options, though none may exist Holbo , especially sections 15— Friends and foes of dilemmas have a burden to bear in responding to the two arguments above. For there is at least a prima facie plausibility to the claim that there are moral dilemmas and to the claim that the relevant principles in the two arguments are true. Thus each side must at least give reasons for denying the pertinent claims in question. Opponents of dilemmas must say something in response to the positive arguments that are given for the reality of such conflicts.
One reason in support of dilemmas, as noted above, is simply pointing to examples. First, any answer given to the question is likely to be controversial, certainly not always convincing. And second, this is a game that will never end; example after example can be produced. The more appropriate response on the part of foes of dilemmas is to deny that they need to answer the question.
Examples as such cannot establish the reality of dilemmas. Surely most will acknowledge that there are situations in which an agent does not know what he ought to do. This may be because of factual uncertainty, uncertainty about the consequences, uncertainty about what principles apply, or a host of other things. So for any given case, the mere fact that one does not know which of two or more conflicting obligations prevails does not show that none does.
Another reason in support of dilemmas to which opponents must respond is the point about symmetry. As the cases from Plato and Sartre show, moral rules can conflict. But opponents of dilemmas can argue that in such cases one rule overrides the other. Most will grant this in the Platonic case, and opponents of dilemmas will try to extend this point to all cases.
But the hardest case for opponents is the symmetrical one, where the same precept generates the conflicting requirements. It makes no sense to say that a rule or principle overrides itself. So what do opponents of dilemmas say here? They are apt to argue that the pertinent, all-things-considered requirement in such a case is disjunctive: Sophie should act to save one or the other of her children, since that is the best that she can do for example, Zimmerman , Chapter 7.
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Such a move need not be ad hoc , since in many cases it is quite natural. If an agent can afford to make a meaningful contribution to only one charity, the fact that there are several worthwhile candidates does not prompt many to say that the agent will fail morally no matter what he does. Nearly all of us think that he should give to one or the other of the worthy candidates.
Similarly, if two people are drowning and an agent is situated so that she can save either of the two but only one, few say that she is doing wrong no matter which person she saves. Positing a disjunctive requirement in these cases seems perfectly natural, and so such a move is available to opponents of dilemmas as a response to symmetrical cases.
Supporters of dilemmas have a burden to bear too. They need to cast doubt on the adequacy of the pertinent principles in the two arguments that generate inconsistencies. And most importantly, they need to provide independent reasons for doubting whichever of the principles they reject. If they have no reason other than cases of putative dilemmas for denying the principles in question, then we have a mere standoff.
Among supporters of dilemmas, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong Sinnott-Armstrong , Chapters 4 and 5 has gone to the greatest lengths to provide independent reasons for questioning some of the relevant principles. One well-known argument for the reality of moral dilemmas has not been discussed yet.
Suppose that he joins the Free French forces. It is likely that he will experience remorse or guilt for having abandoned his mother. And not only will he experience these emotions, this moral residue, but it is appropriate that he does. Yet, had he stayed with his mother and not joined the Free French forces, he also would have appropriately experienced remorse or guilt.
But either remorse or guilt is appropriate only if the agent properly believes that he has done something wrong or failed to do something that he was all-things-considered required to do. Since no matter what the agent does he will appropriately experience remorse or guilt, then no matter what he does he will have done something wrong. Thus, the agent faces a genuine moral dilemma.
The best known proponents of arguments for dilemmas that appeal to moral residue are Williams and Marcus ; for a more recent contribution, see Tessman , especially Chapter 2. No matter which of her children Sophie saves, she will experience enormous guilt for the consequences of that choice. Indeed, if Sophie did not experience such guilt, we would think that there was something morally wrong with her. In these cases, proponents of the argument for dilemmas from moral residue must claim that four things are true: In these situations, then, remorse or guilt will be appropriate no matter what the agent does and these emotions are appropriate only when the agent has done something wrong.
Therefore, these situations are genuinely dilemmatic and moral failure is inevitable for agents who face them.
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There is much to say about the moral emotions and situations of moral conflict; the positions are varied and intricate. Without pretending to resolve all of the issues here, it will be pointed out that opponents of dilemmas have raised two different objections to the argument from moral residue.
The first objection, in effect, suggests that the argument is question-begging McConnell and Conee ; the second objection challenges the assumption that remorse and guilt are appropriate only when the agent has done wrong. But the negative moral emotions are not limited to remorse and guilt.