Moral Dilemmas

A moral dilemma can be defined as a situation in which an actor faces conflicting moral requirements (typically two; if three, there is a trilemma) that cannot be fulfilled together. This definition implies that not all moral conflicts are also “genuine” moral dilemmas: sometimes one moral requirement overrides the other(s) or a way can be found to serve them together. In moral dilemmas, by contrast, the conflict between incompatible “oughts” is irresolvable. The actor is, as the saying goes, “damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.”

Many believe that moral dilemmas occur frequently, in extreme as well as mundane circumstances. One famous example, from Jean-Paul Sartre, concerns a student during the Second World War who faces the choice between joining the Free French ...

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