Ethical dilemmas are situations in which there is no clear "right" thing to do. These hypothetical situations in which you are confronted with two morally abhorrent choices, are used by philosophers to test the theories of ethics and help probe questions of right and wrong. While there are no "right" solutions to ethical dilemmas, there are techniques which you can use to determine what you believe the best choice is.


One technique to approach an ethical dilemma is to assess it in light of the theory of utilitarianism. This theory posits that the "right" thing is the one that provides the most good, or "utility." In this way, ethics becomes a sort of equation, where different factors are given utility "values," then used to solve the equation. For example, in a situation where you were forced to make a decision between one person dying and many people dying, if every life was worth one one unit of utility, or a "util," then the "right" thing to do would be to let the one person die and the many live.


You can also approach an ethical dilemma through the lens of deontology. This theory, as opposed to utilitarianism, holds that doing that right and wrong are right or wrong in and of themselves. This idea is opposed to the notion that a thing is good or bad because of its consequences. For example, murdering is bad in and of itself. So, if you are in a dilemma where you had to choose between killing someone or dying (not directly at their hands), the right thing to do would be not to murder.

Evaluate Different Outcomes

While pure utilitarianism and pure deontology are two sides of a spectrum, most theories of right and wrong are some mix between the two ideas. In tackling an ethical dilemma, you should try working backwards by evaluating how different ideas on morality would view the different possible outcomes. This requires serious contemplation of the outcomes in theories you may normally spurn. The point is not to find the "right" theory for the situation, but to see what each theory can tell you about the dilemma.

Promoting the Greater Good

When evaluating a dilemma, you should also think past the immediate situation to the consequences of that choice for the greater topic of morality. Could a decision be the right choice in the dilemma, but lead to immoral actions being accepted as moral? Could a choice be the wrong choice in a specific dilemma, but have the greatest effect on advancing ethical conduct and morality in the greater world? These questions can help you put ethical dilemmas in greater ethical perspectives.