MORAL DILEMMA: what is it and how to solve it

  • Jul 26, 2021
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Moral dilemma: what is it and how to solve it

Do you remember a time when you had to make a decision and each option was equally unpleasant? Or maybe you lied, something terrible happened, and you were faced with the task of revealing the truth and being punished for lying. This type of mess is called a dilemma, a situation that defies a pleasant solution. Conflicts that challenge the values ​​and beliefs of each person.

Moral dilemmas are often used to help people think through reasoning for their beliefs and actions. They are very common in psychology and philosophy lessons. In this Psychology-Online article, we will tell you what is a moral dilemma and how to solve it.

You may also like: Difference between ethics and morals


  1. What is a moral dilemma
  2. The moral dilemma in psychology
  3. Examples of moral dilemma
  4. How to solve a moral dilemma

What is a moral dilemma.

The meaning of moral dilemma represents a problematic situation in which we have to take a position between two alternative goods. Generally, the greatest good is chosen. Sometimes the decision is between good and evil.

When can we have a moral dilemma? In a situation in which we are forced to choose between two alternatives that entail, each, negative and undesirable consequences. In these cases, it is not easy at all to understand what is correct to do or what criteria of choice to adopt. To understand it better, in this article, we tell you what is moral.

A moral dilemma, therefore, is a situation in which a person is divided between good and evil and that entails conflict. with the very core of their values ​​and principles, as the choice can make them feel overwhelmed, guilty or questioning their values. Often a moral dilemma forces the individual to decide what option he can live with, but any outcome is extremely unpleasant no matter what.

To make this concept clearer, in the following article, you will find information about the differences between ethics and morals.

The moral dilemma in psychology.

In addition to Piaget, who is considered the pioneer in the psychology of moral development, the most important psychologist on the subject is Lowrence Kohlberg, whose research he has completed and expanded that of Piaget. Therefore, if we talk about the moral dilemma in psychology, Kohlberg's research is a reference. In this article, you will see what the Kohlberg's stages of moral development.

Heinz's dilemma

Kohlberg devised a series of stories to validate his theories. These involve one or more people in a moral dilemma, among which is Heinz's dilemma. Let's see what it's about:

In Europe a woman was about to die of cancer and only a drug could save her, a form of radium recently discovered by a pharmacist in the same city. The drug had cost a lot to prepare, but the pharmacist made it pay ten times its actual cost of production.

Heinz, the sick woman's husband, asked everyone he knew to borrow money, but only managed to raise half the price. He told the pharmacist that his wife was going to die, he asked him to sell it cheaper or to allow him to pay later, but the pharmacist did not consent. Heinz was enraged, broke into the man's pharmacy and stole the drug for his wife.

As a result of this situation, we can distinguish various examples of moral dilemmas. The questions arising as a consequence of the dilemma of Heinz are as follows:

  • Was Heinz going to steal the medicine? Why?
  • What's worse? Let his wife die or steal?
  • What is life worth to you?
  • Does the husband have a good reason to steal if he does not love his wife?
  • Is stealing for a foreigner and stealing for your wife the same?
  • If Heinz is caught and tried, should the judge convict him? Why? In this case, what is the judge's responsibility before society?

Examples of moral dilemma.

When can we have a moral dilemma? There are multiple situations that we could qualify as a moral dilemma. Some of them put social issues on the table that are interesting to discuss with the children to see what opinion they have and how they resolve them. Next, we will see some examples of very diverse moral dilemmas:

  • The classic "lifeboat dilemma"where there are only 10 spaces in the lifeboat, but there are 11 passengers in the sinking ship. You have to decide who is left behind.
  • A train with broken brakes it is accelerating towards a fork. On the left, there is a woman crossing with her two children, on the right, there is a man who does ordinary maintenance on the tracks. The engineer has to decide which side to point the running train.
  • A husband discovers that he has a terminal illness and decides to ask his wife for help to end the pain before it gets too bad.
  • A friend discovers that her best friend's boyfriend is cheating on her. You have to decide whether to tell your friend or keep it a secret.
  • The death penalty.
  • Assisted suicide by a healthcare professional.
  • Finish the war on drugs.
  • Abortion. In this article, we tell you how to get over an induced or miscarriage.
  • Government espionage or prison reform.
  • Legalization or drug decriminalization.
  • Fossil fuels versus renewable energies.

How to solve a moral dilemma.

Traditionally, research on how people make moral decisions is based on making people imagine a sample of people hypothetical situations in which the possible decisions to be made involve damage to beings humans. As an example of these moral dilemmas, used from the 80's until today, one can cite the "Trolley dilemma". This is described to the participants in the experiments with the following text:

"A runaway rail car is targeting five people who will be killed if it continues in the current direction. The only way to save them is to press a switch that will divert the car to another track where it will kill one instead of five people. Is it appropriate for you to divert the wagon to save five people at the expense of one? "The answers that have been posed to this dilemma have been:

  1. An affirmative answer: his judgment is said to be utilitarian, from the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill. According to this type of judgment, good moral actions are those that maximize the welfare of the greatest number of people involved in a situation.
  2. A negative answer: it is said that his judgment is deontological, of Kantian deontology. According to this type of judgment, the moral state of an action does not depend on its consequences, but on the characteristics of the action itself relative to the rights and duties of the people involved.

Thus, we see that there are different ways to solve a moral dilemma, depending on the type of judgment of each person and the situation that arises.

This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

If you want to read more articles similar to Moral dilemma: what is it and how to solve it, we recommend that you enter our category of Social psychology.


  • Chittaro, L. (2014). How did we decide chi far will I die? Dilemmi morali e Realtà Virtuale. Recovered from:
  • From Sensi Frontera, A. (2009). Sul giudizio morale. Rome: Sovera Edizioni.
  • Grion, L. (2018). Dilemmi morali. Paradigmi etici al lavoro. Recovered from:
  • Ray, R., Littlehale, K. (2021). Dilemma. Recovered from:
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