The Definition of Moral Dilemmas: A Logical Problem

De Haan, Jurriaan
September 2001
Ethical Theory & Moral Practice;Sep2001, Vol. 4 Issue 3, p267
Academic Journal
This paper concerns one of the undecided disputes of modern moral philosophy: the possibility of moral dilemmas. Whereas proponents of the possibility of moral dilemmas often appeal to moral experience, many opponents refer to ethical theory and deontic logic. My aim in this paper is to clarify some of the tension between moral experience and ethical theory with respect to moral dilemmas. In Part One I try to show that a number of logical arguments against the possibility of moral dilemmas, though apparently very different, turn out to be basically the same, as they are all based on the following concept of 'ought': if A ought to be done, doing B is impermissible and doing A itself is permissible. In Part Two I present an overview of several definitions of moral dilemmas that have been given by proponents of moral dilemmas: definitions that define moral dilemmas in terms of oughts and definitions that define them in terms of reasons. I conclude that, while 'reason' is to weak, 'ought' is too strong a concept to define moral dilemmas with. In this way, the arguments from Part One create a logical problem for proponents of the possibility of moral dilemmas to define moral dilemmas.


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