In philosophy, morality is the domain of what is right or wrong applied to character and judgment. Ethics refers to the set of rules by which behavior is judged, while values are beliefs about what is most important. A moral belief is a conviction about what is right or wrong, and an ethical conflict (or dilemma) arises when one is morally obligated to do two actions, but can not do both.
Examples of moral beliefs
Some examples of moral beliefs include statements such as “it is wrong to kill another human being except in self-defense” and “conserving natural resources for future generations is the right thing to do”. Other examples may be “taking something that does not belong to you is wrong” and “it’s okay to help someone who needs it if you have the power to do it.”
Examples of ethical conflicts
An example of ethical conflict is from the novel “The Choice of Sophie” by William Styron, in which a woman in a concentration camp is forced by a guard to choose to save only one of her children. Other examples include the conflict between an attorney’s obligation to maintain confidentiality when such silence may lead to the injury or danger of others, or an executive’s obligation to maximize profits when it causes harm to the community.
Causes of ethical dilemmas
Ethical dilemmas appear in part because practical decisions about how to act are often in conflict with entrenched beliefs about good and evil. In the case of “Sophie’s Choice,” the practical decision about which child to save is a conflict with the moral belief that allowing any innocent person to be killed is wrong. In political contexts, practical decisions about policy writing may be in conflict with moral beliefs about individual rights.
Resolve ethical dilemmas
Ethical dilemmas can be solved by combining moral beliefs with the awareness of practical consequences. In the case of “Sophie’s Choice,” the principle that innocent life must be preserved is balanced by the practical reality that only a child can be saved. A lawyer seeking to maintain confidentiality must be prepared to assume responsibility for any resulting damages. Moral principles can act as standards of behavior, while practical considerations about the consequences and limits of freedom are also taken into account.