Ethical dilemma

In order to understand what an ethical dilemma is, it is necessary to know the meaning of a dilemma . This is a term that is used to refer to some type of situation that puts the individual to think between two possible solutions or alternatives . Ethics for its part, is the part of philosophy that fits a set of rules of such moral and which is related to everything that can be considered as good , acceptable or positive .

What is an ethical dilemma?

The ethical dilemma is a type of situation that can arise at the moment in which an individual is forced to choose between two or more alternatives which can lead to a positive result or a moral fault.

  • Definition of ethical dilemma
  • features
  • Types
  • How to face an ethical dilemma
  • How it differs from a moral dilemma
  • Examples of ethical dilemma

Definition of ethical dilemma

The ethical dilemma can be defined as that situation in which is to present a conflict apparent between two imperatives of such ethical and choose where one can get to imply that it causes offense to the other. It is a type of agent that has a series of reasons why two different actions can be carried out , each of them with a specific favoring of a different principle.


Among its main characteristics the following can be mentioned:

  • Ethical dilemmas are usually generated from a specific event in which a situation that may be hypothetical is subscribed .
  • It produces a series of conflicts in the moral sphere .
  • It is closely linked with ethical problems which can cause harm to individuals.
  • Decision-making that is made in an ethical dilemma can usually lead to losses .
  • To solve them, decisions must be made based on values and principles that help to obtain a common good and not just an individual good .
  • It usually does not present solutions that are agreeable to everyone involved or participants.
  • They are generally raised as a type of educational mechanism .


There are several types of ethical dilemmas, among which the following are mentioned:

  • Hypothetical dilemma : this type of ethical dilemma poses a series of situations that are likely to happen in real life . This type of dilemma is widely used in the educational field and generally , they pose a certain story which must be resolved by the student (who takes the leading role) taking into account their values and beliefs . The topics that can be dealt with in this type of dilemma do not necessarily have to be impossible, but they must be unusual in everyday life.
  • Closed dilemma : they include decisions that have already been made about a specific problem or event. At the time of raising the dilemma, we seek to find different types of opinions so that the performance of the person who had to take a certain position in the situation can be subsequently assessed .
  • Real dilemma: in this case, the situation that governs the dilemma is completely real or it is very likely that it could happen. This type of dilemma is also characterized by causing feelings of anguish in people. Real dilemmas pose situations that are less dramatic, however, having the possibility of being more related to daily life, they can arouse stronger emotions and disturbances .
  • Complete dilemma: the complete dilemma is the type of dilemma that is posed when a person is given information about all the possible consequences that the options that are available may have.
  • Open dilemma: the open dilemma focuses on receiving all the information that is necessary about a certain situation, but there is no clear explanation of what is the best way to solve the story. The main objective of this type of dilemma is to be able to create a field of debate to make complicated decisions always taking values ​​into account.
  • Incomplete dilemma : in this case, the incomplete dilemma poses a situation in which all the possible consequences that may come from a certain problem are not fully known. This causes that, before making the choice, you have to use your imagination and creativity to be able to think about what options could happen depending on the options you have.

How to face an ethical dilemma

The ethical dilemmas , also known as Moral Dilemmas can not be addressed and resolved in a positive way if the person who is involved in them is governed with code moral traditionalist . Society or personal values ​​do not have the capacity to generate an answer that is considered acceptable in these types of dilemmas. It is important to remember that the ethical dilemma is mainly a hypothetical situation to be able to raise a reflection on ethics , values and the moral code. Some important steps to be able to solve ethical problems are:

  • Determine if the situation you are facing needs to include decision-making moving away from your own values .
  • Think and reflect on all the values ​​that may be involved in the dilemma.
  • Create an action plan and also think about the possible results .

How it differs from a moral dilemma

The ethical dilemma arises when an individual is forced to choose between two situations, a choice that will always cause some kind of transgression towards the option that has not been finally chosen. The moral dilemma is a type of problem in which the choice can come to be censored and criticized by other people. In other words, the ethical dilemma is a situation that occurs in the internal part of a person, in his mind and in his ideas, while the moral dilemma transcends these borders and can reach the eyes of society.

Examples of ethical dilemma

Some examples of an ethical dilemma are the following:

  • A person who sees someone else steal, but who also knows that he does it to give money to those most in need. This person will be in an ethical dilemma because they will not be sure whether to keep quiet or report it to the authorities.
  • An ER doctor who tries to save a patient’s life but realizes that he has no life expectancy at all. This patient must then be connected to a series of machines and his family cannot decide which is the best option to follow. The doctor will find himself in an ethical dilemma with the option of leaving the patient connected and waiting or telling family members to let him rest.
  • Euthanasia is a very particular ethical dilemma. A doctor can understand and be certain that a person will not be able to survive, and this person asks him to help him to have an assisted death. The morale of the doctor will immediately enter an ethical dilemma because his principles tell him that he must keep him alive.

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