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Ethical Dilemmas (Moral Dilemmas). Definition and Examples of Ethical Dilemmas

Updated on November 6, 2019

Ethical dilemmas are ambiguous situations in which values ​​are contradicted. In these scenarios, it is not possible to act in such a way that no damage is caused. What needs to be evaluated is in which of the options it causes less damage and/or in which of the alternatives a greater ethical coherence is maintained.

There are many examples of Ethical Dilemmas in our life.

One of the best known moral dilemmas is "the trolley dilemma. " In this, there is a trolley that runs at full speed. On your tour, you will meet five people who are tied to the road. However, it is possible to press a button to change its route, with the difficulty that in this new way, there is also a person attached to the road.

In this case, the dilemma is what to do. The debate is whether it is morally more valid to let the train run its course and kill five people or deliberately decide that the sacrificed must be who is tied in the other way. Who activates the button causes him to lose his life.

From this hypothetical situation, another series of moral dilemmas have emerged. The best known are the man on the roof, the loop road, and the man in the garden. Let's see what these examples of ethical dilemmas are about.

"There is no courage without dilemma or quality that is not forged by choices even more than by victories ."

-Muriel Barbery-

1. The man on the roof

The man on the roof is one of the moral dilemmas derived from the trolley case. The situation is similar: there is a trolley that advances towards five people who are tied on the road. However, in this case, the option that exists is to throw a large weight in front of the train to stop it before it reaches those who are tied.

The only possibility that exists is an obese man who is next to the road. If he were thrown into the tram, he could stop the trolley and prevent the other five people from dying. What should be done? The difference, in this case, is that you have to perform an active task to end a person's life deliberately.

The practical ethics indicates that the determining factor is the number of victims. So it is well worth sacrificing a life in exchange for saving five. Humanistic ethics points to something different. The man who is next to the road is in full use of his rights. One of them is the right to life and, therefore, not to serve as a means to save others.

2. The loop road

The loop road is a variant similar to that of the trolley dilemma within the structure of ethical dilemmas. What happens, in this case, is that there is a loop path, that is, a path that makes a circular path: it returns to the starting point.

In this case, there are five people tied to the road. You can also operate the train to take a different route. In this, there is a man who is bound. He is bulky and could stop the train before it loops and reaches the other five victims. What to do?

The classic trolley dilemma states that there are only two roads: one way or the other. An unavoidable path or the other. In the case of the loop, this dilemma has a subtle modification, which implies a more calculated decision: a man is deliberately employed - as an obstacle - as a means to save five others.

3. The man in the garden

The third of the moral dilemmas related to the trolley dilemma is the man in the garden. In this case, the situation is the same as the original. The difference is that the only way to divert the train is to derail it. This would cause the trolley to fall from a cliff and go to a garden, where a man rests in his swing.


This means that, if it is decided to activate the deviation, the person who would end up dying is a person who has nothing to do with the situation and who would end up being the victim of a foreign decision. At the bottom of all these dilemmas, what exists is a contradiction between doing good to a greater number of people or taking action that goes against essential rights.


A study carried out by Guy Kahane, from the University of Oxford (United Kingdom), indicates that people who have no problem in severely damaging someone to save other people show antisocial traits and in their daily life are less scrupulous to do harm to others, even if this is not useful.

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