Three Great Moral Dilemmas

Moral dilemmas aren't just a philosophical issue. In fact, they can be applied in every day life and in the great events of humanity. Let's talk about some of them.
Three Great Moral Dilemmas

Last update: 06 June, 2020

Moral dilemmas are paradoxical situations in which there’s a contradiction of values. In these scenarios, an individual’s actions are somehow always going to create damage. What one needs to evaluate is which option causes less damage and/or which of the alternatives have greater ethical coherence.

One of the best-known moral dilemmas is the train dilemma. In it, a train is running at full speed. During the trip, you realize there are five people tied to the rails. However, you have the possibility to press a button to change its route. The catch here is that there’s also a person attached to the road.

In this case, the dilemma relies on what to do. The debate is whether it’s morally more valid to let the train run its course and kill five people or deliberately decide to kill the one that’s tied in the other direction. If things took their normal course, that person wouldn’t die. Whoever decided to press the button would lead them to lose their life.

From this hypothetical situation, another series of moral dilemmas have arisen. The best known are the man on the roof, the loop road, and the man in the garden. Let’s see what each one is about.

A woman looking out the window thinking about moral dilemmas.

1. The man on the roof

The man on the roof” is one of the moral dilemmas derived from the train case. The situation is quite similar. There’s a train that’s going towards five people who are tied to the road. However, in this case, the option is to throw weight in front of the train, to stop it before it reaches the people who are tied.

The only possibility is that there’s an obese man next to the road. If he were thrown into the train, he could stop it 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 that’s going to deliberately end a person’s life.

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

2. The loop road, one of the greatest moral dilemmas

Within the frame of moral dilemmas, “The loop road” is quite similar to the one we just talked about. What happens in this case is that there’s a looping path, in other words, a circular path. No matter what you do, you always return 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 scenario, there’s a man tied up. He’s quite buff and could stop the train before it loops and reaches the other five victims. What would you do?

The classic train dilemma states that there are only two paths: one way or the other. One that you can’t avoid or the other. In the case of the loop, there’s a small modification, which implies a more pondered decision. Basically, a man would be deliberately employed as an obstacle in order to save five people.

Lonely train tracks.

3. The man in the garden

The third of the moral dilemmas we’re going to mention in this article is The man in the garden”. In this case, the situation is the same as the original. However, the only possible way to divert the train is to derail it. As a consequence, the train would fall to a precipice into a garden, where a man’s resting in his hammock.

This means that, if you decide to activate the deviation, the person who would end up dying is someone who has nothing to do with the situation and who would end up being the victim of a completely external decision. The catch of all these moral dilemmas is contradiction. You either do something good to a greater number of people or take action that goes against essential rights.

A study conducted by Guy Kahane from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom indicated that people who have no problem in severely damaging someone to save other people are antisocial. On top of that, it also arrived at the conclusion that these people are less careful when dealing with others and don’t care to harm them.

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.

  • Xibeca, G. (1995). Los dilemas morales. Un método para la educación en valores. Orientación, tutoría y psicopedagogía, 91.

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