International Journal of Philosophy
Volume 1, Issue 2, August 2013, Pages: 29-37
Received: Sep. 9, 2013;
Published: Sep. 30, 2013
Views 3451 Downloads 180
Kevin Kimble, Department of Philosophy, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan
One question that has been at the center of a lively debate among moral philosophers in recent years is the issue of what constitutes a genuine moral dilemma. Informally, a moral dilemma is a situation in which an agent must decide between two (or more) competing courses of action open to her, each of which has compelling moral considerations in its favor. One problem that arises with this formula is that whether a given situation counts as genuinely dilemmatic depends not only on the particular moral principles that are undergirded by particular moral theories, but also on the way in which the ‘ought’ operator is to be understood. This paper focuses on the latter issue. In what follows, I examine several contemporary accounts of moral dilemmas, briefly delineating the main logical options regarding how the ‘ought’ operator is to be understood in the definition of a dilemma. After elaborating on these different readings of the deontic operator and comparing them, I argue that cases of moral conflict qualify as genuine dilemmas on only one particular reading. This finding has significant implications regarding how we should understand moral dilemmas and what kinds of cases, if any, should count as genuine dilemmas. Thus, the main contribution of this paper is to clarify the notion of a genuine moral dilemma by making explicit possible and plausible meanings of the deontic operator. Only when this is done can various arguments for or against the existence of moral dilemmas be properly evaluated.
Moral Dilemmas that Matter, International Journal of Philosophy.
Vol. 1, No. 2,
2013, pp. 29-37.
Aeschylus, Agamemnon. Trans. Eduard Frankel. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950, pp. 160-217.
William Styron, Sophie’s Choice. NY: Bantam Books, 1980.
John M. Fischer and Mark Ravizza (eds), Ethics: Problems and Principles. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992, pp. 2-12.
Judith Jarvis Thomson, "Killing, letting die, and the trolley problem," in Fischer and Ravizza, 1992, pp. 69-77.
William D. Ross, The Right and the Good. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930, pp. 18-20. A substantive discussion of this distinction is found in his work.
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Moral Dilemmas. New York: Blackwell, 1988, pp. 12-29.
Sinnott-Armstrong, "Moral dilemmas and rights," in Homer E. Mason (ed), Moral Dilemmas and Moral Theory. NY: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 48-51.
David O. Brink, "Moral conflict and its structure," in Mason, 1996, pp. 102-107.
Terrance McConnell, "Moral dilemmas and consistency in ethics", in Christopher Gowans (ed), Moral Dilemmas. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 154.
McConnell, "Moral residue and dilemmas," in Mason, 1996, p. 36.
Christopher Gowans, "The debate on moral dilemmas", in Gowans, p. 27.
Nicholas Rescher, Ethical Idealism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987, p. 41.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 6, II-II, 62,2, trans. Thomas Gilby, New York: McGraw Hill, 1970.
Aquinas, de Veritate, 17,4, trans. R.W. Mulligan, Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1954.
Alan Donagan, "Consistency in rationalist moral systems," Journal of Philosophy (81), 1984, pp. 305-308.