Moral Dilemmas: What Are They and How Can They Be Solved?

We all face moral dilemmas at certain times in our lives. So, how do we solve them? In this article, we give you some ideas.
Moral Dilemmas: What Are They and How Can They Be Solved?

Last update: 24 May, 2022

Undoubtedly, at certain points in your life, you’ll have found yourself facing difficult situations. Those that required you to make decisions that challenged your beliefs and moral values. For example, do you remember a particular circumstance in which you had to make a decision and the only options you had to choose from were all as bad as each other? These crossroads you face at specific times in your life are known as moral dilemmas.

When you’re faced with these types of dilemmas, you have a moral duty to act in one way but are pressured or tempted to act in another. So, what are the characteristics of moral dilemmas? How can you escape from the kind of indecision in which they submerge you? Let’s take a look.

Moral dilemmas

Moral dilemmas are conflicts that arise in situations where you have to consider two or more moral values, but can only choose one. In fact, you find yourself in the midst of several options and you’re required to make a decision that, in the end, will end up ‘offending’ one of your moral values.

These dilemmas arise when you’re faced with a complicated situation, and two or more of your values of equal importance come into conflict. Importance is key for a dilemma to occur since its existence depends on your indecision. For example, if it’s not appropriate for you to tell the truth, you’ll have no problem telling a lie. On the other hand, if it’s pertinent for you to tell the truth, it’ll be more complicated for you to lie. That’s unless there’s another more important value at stake. For example, your life.

Moral dilemmas occur when you’re required to carry out two or more actions that, due to the circumstances, conflict. You can’t carry out all of them. The moral conflict that this generates in you prevents you from following a course of action consistent with the principles and moral values that are essential in your life.

Let’s take a classic dilemma (Heinz’s dilemma) that exemplifies the moral dilemma well.

A woman is suffering from a serious illness and is going to die. There’s only one medicine that can save her. However, it’s expensive and the pharmacist is charging ten times what it really costs.

Heinz, the husband of the sick woman, goes to everyone he knows to ask for the money, but only manages to raise half. He tells the pharmacist that his wife is dying and asks him to sell her medicine, but the pharmacist refuses. Heinz is desperate and thinks about robbing the establishment.

What should Heinz do? Steal the drug or let his wife die?

boy with doubts

How to solve moral dilemmas

Next, we’ll take a look at the stages of the Progress method, proposed by LeBon and Arnaud (2004), to solve moral dilemmas and help people make the right decisions.

Stage 1. Understand the situation

Before making any decision in the face of the moral dilemma you’re going through, you must reflect and understand the situation you’re in. Without this understanding, you may end up making the wrong choice.

Analyze the dilemma accurately, completely, and reasonably. The following tips can help you at this stage:

  • Give an accurate, unbiased, and complete description of the situation. Where are you at this moment in your life? How did you reach the dilemma you’re facing?
  • Clearly describe the decision you want to make.
  • Become aware of what your emotions and thoughts are telling you about the dilemma.

Stage 2. Define what matters

Think about what you want to achieve and about what’s important for your life project. If you don’t reflect on your goals, it’ll be difficult for you to develop an action plan to help you solve the dilemma and get closer to the life you want to have.

Setting goals will also help you decide what you’d like the solution to be like. Take note of the following guidelines:

  • If you had the power to implement a particular solution, ask yourself why would it be successful? What values would you fulfill if you carried it out?
  • Think about the values and goals that are really desirable and fundamental for you.
  • Make a list of values you want to achieve.
  • Evaluate and critically weigh up these values.

Stage 3. Generate options

After you’ve thoroughly analyzed your moral dilemma and have clarified your values and what you want to achieve, it’s time for you to creatively generate new options. It’s understandable that you feel stuck in the conflict, but you need to formulate some solutions.

  • Brainstorm.
  • Don’t evaluate your options while you’re formulating them.
  • Don’t be inhibited. Feel free to write down all the options that occur to you.
  • Let new ideas arise from those you’ve already been writing down.

Stage 4: Evaluate the options

Once you’ve determined several options, it’s time to carefully evaluate them, based on your values and goals. Choose the one that’s in tune with what’s really important in your life. Find an option that:

  • Is appropriate to the dilemma you’re trying to solve.
  • Is relevant to the situation you find yourself in.
  • Satisfies as many of your values as possible.
man thinking

Stage 5: Put your decision into practice

When you’ve chosen an option to solve your dilemma, make a final check and determine how you’ll carry it out. During this process, you must supervise and evaluate the results or impacts that the solution will generate, both for your life and for that of others. Try the following:

  • Check that the decision you’ve selected is a good one.
  • Think about how to implement your decision in the face of your dilemma.
  • Plan, monitor, and evaluate the effectiveness of your decision in solving your moral dilemma.
  • Commit to your decision and act.

Undoubtedly, moral dilemmas place you in a difficult situation. However, they’re also a path of self-knowledge. In fact, they lead you to recognize the values that are important to your life and that give meaning to your existence, moment by moment.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Almansa Martínez, Pilar. (2012). Qué es el pensamiento creativo. Index de Enfermería21(3), 165-168.
  • Ayala, F. J. (2010). The difference of being human: Morality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences107(Supplement 2), 9015-9022.
  • Kvalnes, Ø. (2015). Moral dilemmas. In Moral reasoning at work: Rethinking ethics in organizations(pp. 9-17). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
  • LeBon, T. (2001). Wise therapy. Sage.
  • LeBon, T., & Arnaud, D. (2004). Progress towards wise decision making. Philosophy of Management4(2), 53-72.
  • LeBon, T. (2016. 13 de noviembre). Wise Decision-Making.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.