Morality is defined as the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour (Oxford Dictionary). What makes these questions dilemmas is an individual’s definition of right and wrong or good and bad. However, in a time when many question our national moral character, pondering what to do in various situations can be a positive exercise preparing an individual for worst and best case scenarios.
Table of Contents
- 1 Moral Dilemma Examples
- 2 Moral Dilemma Scenarios
- 3 Ethical Dilemma Questions
In this article we will look at some examples of moral dilemma questions to help us define just what a moral dilemma is. Then we will look at some moral dilemma scenarios, and end with ethical dilemma questions one might actually encounter.
Moral Dilemma Examples
A moral dilemma is a conflict in which a person must choose between two or more actions, all of which they have the ability to do. There are moral reasons for each choice. No matter which choice you make, someone will suffer or something bad will happen. In order to help you understand exactly what is meant by “moral dilemma” we have provided some examples, some of which are classic moral dilemmas.
The Unfaithful Friend
You go out with your husband for dinner at a new restaurant you have not frequented before. It is in a part of town you rarely visit. You are shocked to see your friend’s spouse having dinner with a very young, attractive person. From the way they are behaving, it is obvious they are more than friends. The couple finish their meal and leave without seeing you. They behave very affectionately on the way out the door. Do you:
- Tell your friend, knowing you probably will not be believed and that it may ruin your friendship?
- Say nothing about seeing the couple as it is none of your business; they may even have an open relationship?
A Difficult Choice
You and your family love the beach and decide to spend a weekend at an isolated beach cabin. Your teenage daughter often gets bored on your getaways, so you make plans to take your niece along. As soon as you arrive, a storm is looming on the horizon and the water looks rough. You tell the girls they can get ready to swim, but to come back and help unload the car. They are so excited, they do not pay attention to the last part of what you say and run down to the beach to swim. You do not realize they have done so until you hear your daughter scream. You realize they are both caught in a strong current and might be swept out to sea. You are a good swimmer and know you can save one of them. You have a difficult choice to make. Do you:
- Save your niece first as she is a poor swimmer and will not be able to last as long as your daughter?
- Save your daughter first, because, although she is a strong swimmer and may be able to last long enough for you to come back after saving your niece, you cannot stand the idea of losing her?
An Office Theft
You are in charge of the petty cash at the office. However, a co-worker is responsible for making a weekly trip to the bank to make the business deposit and obtain petty cash for the following week. In a conversation with your mutual supervisor, you are asked if the increase in the petty cash amount was enough. You, however, have not seen any additional money. You realize your co-worker has been pocketing the additional money. Do you:
- Tell your supervisor you have neither asked for nor received any additional petty cash and that you suspect your co-worker is pocketing the money?
- Tell your co-worker your suspicions and give them a chance to pay the money back?
- Say nothing and just wait to see what happens?
You have worked years to be successful in your father’s business. You felt you were obligated to take over as he worked his whole life to build the business left to him by his father. However, the large businesses in town have seriously cut into profits and for several years you and your family have just managed to scrape by.
Your father’s health has declined and he has been hospitalized. He has a substantial life insurance policy that expires at midnight. If he dies before midnight, you will inherit enough money to pursue a career you have always dreamed of and provide adequately for your family. Do you:
- Pinch the oxygen line making it possible for your Dad to die or smother him with a pillow?
- Tell your Dad the problem and let him suggest a solution and go by what he says?
- Do nothing as you cannot imagine living with yourself if you terminate your Dad’s life?
Your friend offers you an opportunity to make a great deal of money very quickly. He has arranged to set up an off-shore account for your profits. He will not tell you exactly how he is making this money, but you get the impression it is not exactly legal. He only wants an investment of $500 and promises you will have enough from your minimal investment that you will never need to work again. Do you:
- Give him the $500, deciding if you don’t know how he is making it, you’re in the clear?
- Demand to know the details before getting involved?
- Decide you want no part of this deal, as you trust your instinct that the offer is shady and you might even get in legal trouble?
Telling a Secret
Your friend tells you that they committed a crime. They explain that they are having trouble sleeping at night and feel you are the only one they can trust with their confession. A few days later, you read in the paper that someone has been arrested for your friend’s crime. Do you:
- Go to the police and tell them what you know?
- Encourage your friend to confess and warn him if he does not do so, you will tell?
- Say nothing because you will not betray a friend’s confidence?
Moral Dilemma Scenarios
Now we are going to look at some moral dilemma scenarios for you to ponder. Each scene is characterized by the need to make a difficult decision. As with all moral dilemmas, there is no right or wrong answer. Think carefully before responding. And remember, you may think of a better choice than those presented.
The Life Boat
You are on a cruise and the ship encounters an unexpected storm. The storm continues to rage and eventually you and the other passengers are told you must head to the lifeboats and abandon ship. As people begin to line up, you realize some lines have fewer people, some have families, and some seem to have younger, single people. You know you are strong and capable. Do you choose to help a group composed of three families with a few young children, a group of seniors who obviously could use your help, or go with the young, strong people, with whom you might have a better chance of survival?
Your friend has a great sense of humour. However, sometimes his jokes involve making fun of others in inappropriate ways. He will point out a physical flaw or look for something odd or different about a person and make an unkind comment. You feel uncomfortable when your friend does this. Do you say something or just laugh along with him?
Hit and Run
Late one night you are driving home in a bad rainstorm. A drunk reels out in front of your car and you try to stop, but hit him. Nobody sees you. The guy looks and smells as if he is homeless. You check to see how badly he is hurt and realize he is dead. You have never even had a speeding ticket and are an upright, professional, with a family and are well-known and respected in your community. Do you make a report anonymously, confess your crime, or drive on home and forget about it, knowing no one is going to pursue the death of a homeless drunk?
Your teenager has had a rough few years. First came an arrest for shoplifting. The item was of little value, so it was only a misdemeanour. Then your teen was with some friends who were smoking pot and driving too fast. Your teen has promised they are turning over a new leaf and seem to be on the right track, doing better in school, coming home by curfew, and generally having a much better attitude. Now you get a call from the local police station saying your son was with a group of kids who broke into a liquor store and stole beer. Do you go to the station and see how you can get your teen out of this jam or let him accept whatever consequences befall him?
Reward a Job Well Done
You understand the importance of team work in your job. You share ideas and responsibilities with your team members on a daily basis. In your weekly team meeting with your supervisor, one of your co-workers takes credit for a time and money saving change in operating procedures you devised. Your supervisor erroneously thinks your co-worker came up with the change and your co-worker does not correct the misinterpretation, but allows the boss to not only commend him, but offer a bonus. Do you go to your co-worker and demand he correct the situation, go to your supervisor and explain you should receive the commendation and reward, or keep quiet as you do not believe in ownership of ideas?
Ethical Dilemma Questions
Ethics are defined as moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity (Oxford Dictionary). Many of us may never be faced with many of the previous moral dilemmas. However, our list of ethical dilemma questions includes many one may encounter in everyday life. Frequently, it is the small decisions we make that truly define our moral character. What will your answer be?
- When making a purchase at a local store, you are given too much change. Do you say something or keep quiet?
- You receive a package at your home that was delivered to the wrong address. The shipping label indicates it is a favourite item that you cannot afford to purchase yourself. Do you keep it or notify the person it was intended for?
- Your neighbour leaves their dog out in all kinds of weather. The poor animal frequently looks like it is miserable. Sometimes it is out of water and seems to be fed rarely. Do you report what you think is happening or stay quiet?
- What if you suspect your neighbour of child abuse? You are not sure if they have a fit-throwing kid or if something is really wrong.
- You are at a party or out on the town with your best friend. They have too much to drink and will not let you drive them home. What do you do?
- Your lunch keeps missing at work. You are pretty sure you know who is taking it each day. Do you confront them, report it to your supervisor or HR, get them back by making a cat food sandwich, or just keep quiet?
- You really like your neighbours and they are a great couple. The only problem is that they throw wild parties occasionally. You think they are into drugs, maybe even dealing. What do you do?
- A friend gives you a gift for your birthday. Unfortunately, it is a type of perfume you are extremely allergic to. Do you say something and ask for a receipt to return it, or keep quiet?
- Your friend has excitedly shared that she has a new love in her life. Unfortunately, you know the guy is a narcissistic player who only stays with a woman as long as he is getting what he wants from the relationship. Do you try to convince her to drop him or let her learn a lesson on her own?
- You buy a pile of clothing items on sale at your favourite department store. When you get home, you realize one of the items is not on the receipt. Do you go back to the store and pay for it or just let it go?
- You are failing a class you were required to take but totally hate. You have an on-line exam. If you fail the exam, you will fail the class. You can cheat without anyone knowing. Do you do so and pass the class?
- Over the summer, you became friends with a person who moved to your town. You have the same interest, like the same music and movies, and have had a great deal of fun. However, your new friend is not attractive and very loud. When school starts, you are embarrassed by the way your friend acts. Do you remain friends or drop the relationship?
Moral dilemma questions might be characterized as “What if?” questions. It can be hard to take a close look at ourselves and ask, “Will I do the right thing when confronted with a difficult choice?” Many people avoid doing so. However, there can be comfort in knowing what you are really like and how you will respond in difficult situations. We hope this article has encouraged you to weigh carefully the decisions you make every day.
Susan majored in English with a double minor in Humanities and Business at Arizona State University and earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Liberty University. She taught grades four through twelve in both public and private schools. Subjects included English, U.S. and world history and geography, math, earth and physical science, Bible, information technologies, and creative writing.
Susan has been freelance writing for over ten years, during which time she has written and edited books, newspaper articles, biographies, book reviews, guidelines, neighborhood descriptions for realtors, Power Point presentations, resumes, and numerous other projects.