An Ethical Dilemmas in Ethics is a situation in which a person has to make a difficult choice from amongst two courses of action, each of which means compromising a moral principle. Ethical dilemmas / moral dilemmas / ethical paradoxes, situations in which there’s a choice to be made between two options, neither of which resolves the situation in an ethically acceptable fashion.

An ethical dilemma is a complex situation that often involves an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another. An ethical dilemma arises from a situation that necessitates a choice between competing sets of principles.


  • Every day we come across several ethical and moral dilemmas in our daily life. Dealing with these moral issues is often perplexing. How, should we think through an ethical issue?
  • What questions should we ask? What factors should we consider? Therefore, to solve an ethical dilemma the first step in analyzing moral issues is to get the facts.
  • But having the facts is not enough. Facts by themselves only tell us what is; they do not tell us what ought to be. In addition to getting the facts, resolving an ethical issue also requires an appeal to values.
  • Philosophers have developed five different approaches to deal with moral issues. They are:
    1. Utilitarian approach
    2. Rights approach
    3. Justice approach
    4. Common good approach
    5. Virtue approach
  1. Utilitarian Approach
  • Utilitarianism was conceive in the 19th century by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill to help legislators determine which laws morally best.
  • Both Bentham and Mill suggests that ethical actions those that provide the greatest balance of good over evil.
  • To analyze an issue using the utilitarian approach,
  1. First identify the various courses of action available to us.
  2. Second, we ask who will be affect by each action and what benefits or harms will be derive from each.
  3. Third, we choose the action that will produce the greatest benefits to the greatest no of peoples with the least harm.
  • This approach is based on the premise that “The ethical action is the one that provides the greatest good for the greatest number.”
  1. Rights Approach
  • Proposed by Immanuel Kant and similar thought of philosophers, who focused on the individual’s rightto choose for herself or himself.
  • According to this school of philosophers, what makes “human beings different from mere things is that people have dignity based on their ability to choose freely what they will do with their lives, and they have a fundamental moral right to have these choices respected”.
  • In deciding whether an action is moral or immoral using this approach:
  1. Does the action respect the moral rights of everyone?
  2. Actions are wrong to the extent that they violate the rights of individuals
  3. The more serious the violation, the more wrongful the action.
  • People not objects to be manipulates. It is a violation of human dignity to use people in ways they do not freely choose.
  • Some of the examples of individual rights are right to privacy, right to truthful, right to not be harm by anyone.
  1. The Fairness or Justice Approach
  • The fairness or justice approach to ethics has its roots in the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who said that “equals should be treats equally and unequal unequally.”
  • The basic moral question in this approach is:
    1. How fair is an action?
    2. Does it treat everyone in the same way, or does it show favoritism and discrimination?
  • Favoritism gives benefits to some people without a justifiable reason for singling them out; discrimination imposes burdens on people who are no different from those on whom burdens are not imposed. Both favoritism and discrimination are unjust and wrong.
  1. The Common-Good Approach
  • This approach to ethics assumes a society comprising individuals whose own good is linked to the good of the community. Community members are bound by the pursuit of common values and goals.
  • The common good is a notion that originated more than 2,000 years ago in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero.
  • More recently, contemporary ethicist John Rawlsdefined the “common good as certain general conditions that are equally to everyone’s advantage.” 
  • In this approach, we focus on ensuring that the social policies, social systems, institutions, and environments on which we depend are beneficial to all.
  • Examples of Goods common to all include affordable health care, effective public safety, peace among nations, a just legal system, and an unpolluted environment.
  1. The Virtue Approach
  • There is another kind of approach apart from above four, the virtue approach. In this approach, certain ideals strive towards full development of our humanity. These ideals are discovered through thoughtful reflection on what kind of people we have the potential to become.
  • Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues.

Moreover, a person who has developed virtues will be naturally disposed to act in ways consistent with moral principles. The virtuous person is the ethical person.