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3.3 Solving Ethical Dilemmas

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Thus, moral dilemmas are a way to explore the question of what an ethical system must or must not be expected to accomplish. A lot of moral dilemmas revolve around conflicts between teleological, or result-oriented, ethics and deontological, or precept-oriented, ethics. However, some of the most difficult moral dilemmas do not revolve around this conflict; moral dilemmas are more difficult if symmetrical — if they require choosing between two morally identical options, such as in the choice to save only one of two innocent lives.

The first moral dilemmas written down appear in the Bible. The story seems intended to establish that obedience takes priority, and will be rewarded with mercy. It demonstrates a deontological ethics—one based on a general rule, not results. However, the first moral dilemma usually cited in western philosophy comes unsurprisingly from the ancient Greeks.

Socrates created a moral dilemma to demonstrate the unreliability of this proposed ethical principle; he pointed out that it could be wrong to re-pay certain debts, such as if you had borrowed a weapon from a friend who was not in his right mind and might be prone to violence.

This illustrates one of the most popular solutions to ethical dilemmas—that a system of ethics should prioritize its rules. However, it is unfortunately easy to show that there can be no consistent and complete prioritization of ethics; priorities sometimes depend on circumstances. The next most often cited dilemma comes from Jean-Paul Sartre in the mid-twentieth-century existentialist philosopher.

Sartre asks us to imagine a young man whose brother has just been killed while defending his country in a war where the enemy is poised to invade his homeland. The years since WWII have seen many real ethical dilemmas become constant social or political issues. In the future, we will have new ethical dilemmas related to advancements in science and medicine.

Facing an Ethical Dilemma? Try This Approach

The debates mentioned in the previous paragraph will take on new urgency in a world where people can live for centuries. And artificial intelligence will eventually raise dilemmas connected with the rights and responsibilities of artificial beings. Every ethical dilemma is a controversy!


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But here, we will address a more general controversy—the question of whether it is possible or desirable to have an ethical system without irresolvable dilemmas. Sarton suggests that the true dilemma in all moral dilemmas lies in accepting the unacceptable. This unusual moral dilemma echoes many novels about the inherent conflict between freedom and morality.

Which is right, to allow a person to be bad but with a free mind or good by taking away their free will? Epistemic versus Ontological dilemmas : A dilemma is epistemic if the problem is that one does not know which choice will result in the greatest good or least evil.

Frontiers | Moral judgment reloaded: a moral dilemma validation study | Psychology

A dilemma is ontological if knowledge is not an issue; one simply has a choice. Prohibition choices seem more problematic in general, since they require one to directly violate morals, whereas obligation dilemmas merely require one to neglect a moral obligation. Most dilemmas are both moral and ethical because ethics normally tell us what is moral and immoral.

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Some dilemmas might technically be only one or the other. Abortion seems more of an ethical issue because one must choose between two ethical principles, one protecting the fetus, and one the mother.

However, abortion can also be seen as a moral issue—to choose the policy which is most moral. Almost every story about future conscious machines revolves around ethical dilemmas.