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Ethical Dilemmas, Essay Example

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Essay

An ethical dilemma presents challenges in decision making between two plausible options; however, neither of the alternatives is acceptable from an ethical or moral perspective (Rae, 2018). A person can neither chose one option or the other as neither of them seems to be right. In some cases, they are known as moral paradoxes and can be viewed as limitations in our ability to make an ethical decision based on rational thinking. Based on Aristotle’s principle of Eudaemonia, which is based on the expectation that people should live well, and do well in the affairs of the world (Cohen, 2003, 124). And in the pursuit of Eudaemonia, people usually meet ethical dilemmas. According to Aristotle, doing good involves a teleological system that involves actions. Therefore, doing good must involve action; one cannot simply opt out of a situation; thus, people are met with ethical dilemmas where they have to act to do good. However, they are presented with a situation wherein choosing one option, they must transgress the other option, and neither of the options seems right. Based on Eudaemonia’s principle, most people will always attempt to do what is ethical and morally correct. Still, some situations are complicated, and the outcomes might not be ethical (Cohen, 2003, 124). However, as Aristotle noted, doing good must involve action; as such, people feel that they have to do something to solve an ethical dilemma.

An example of an ethical dilemma is the trolley car thought experiment. This thought experiment is divided into two sections. The first section involves a person driving a trolley car downhill, and as they are driving, they notice five children playing on the road—who are oblivious of the situation. They, in turn, try frantically to hit the brakes and stop the trolley car, but breaks do not work. As they are panicking, they notice a side path with one child playing on the road—also oblivious to the situation. It suddenly occurs to the driver that they can turn the trolley car to the side lane, kill the one child, but in turn, save the five children (Jordan, 2019). Based on the circumstances at the time, it seems to be the most ethical decision to make. However, considerations should be made that the one child that the driver is choosing to kill, has not consented to die so that the five could live—the driver is making that decision for them. Now, the moral question is, is it ethical for the driver to decide who gets to die, and who does not? The one-child playing on the side lane has as much right to life as the five on the major road. Therefore it still does not make it morally correct for the driver to kill one and save the five.  On the flip side of it, it would seem more wrong to kill the five, when the driver had the chance of killing just one. And so many people would argue that the driver is right to kill one and save five; that it is better to kill one to save five.

However, this argument flops when the second part of the thought experiment is considered. In the second part, the person who is deciding is just a bystander. They are on a bridge, and below the bridge, there is a trolley car speeding down a slope. Down the slope, five children are playing on the road—oblivious of the situation. The driver of the trolley car seems to do their best to try to stop it, but again the breaks don’t work, and there is no side lane as in the first case; the trolley will crash on to the five children, killing them instantly (Jordan, 2019). It is not ethical for the person to simply shrug their shoulders and leave it to fate. Morality mandates us to attempt to save the children, at whatever cost. No reasonable person would simply ignore the situation. As such, the bystander tries their best to think of the best way to save the five children. Then it occurs to them that standing next to them is an obese man, who is leaning on the rails curious about the situation as well. A thought comes to their mind that, they can push the fat man just a little (hoping not to seem intentional, and void of any ill motives), he, on the other hand, would fall on the road, block the trolley car that was fast-moving down the slope without any breaks, and save the five children. At this point, we are assured of two things, one, that the fat man will die, and the other, the five children will be saved (Jordan, 2019).

It should be noted that similar to the first case, the fat man does not consent to die to save the five children. Is it ethical for the bystander to push the fat man and decide that he should die so that the five children could live? Most people would argue that it was wrong for the bystander to push the fat man to save the five children.

The second part of the thought experiment’s problem is that the principle used to justify the driver killing one child to save the five has not been faulted. Most people would not ascribe to the idea of killing the fat man to save the five children. The problem is that one person is being killed under two different circumstances, but the motive is the same, to save the five children. The ethical question to ask is, is morality or ethics circumstantial? Does it merely depend on the situation? According to Sarkissian (2016), morality is not absolute—any ethical principle is based on the situation being applied. In the trolley car thought experiment, the driver in the first case felt it was right to turn the trolley to the side lane, kill the one child on it and save the five on the main lane who are oblivious of the situation. And most people would agree with him that it is morally correct to kill one person to save five. That principle is based on the Value Theory, which asserts that the alternative that offers the greater good, and lesser evil, should be chosen. In the first experiment, the driver chose the greater good (to save the five children), and lesser evil (he only had to kill one child). But this theory does not work for the second part, even though the bystander saved five (the greater good), and chose lesser evil (killed the fat man). In both cases, the driver and the bystander are trying to be good, based on the same Principe, but one seems to be more wrong than the other. However, both situations leave the decision-maker in a dilemma, since none of the options ascribes to the morally acceptable ethical standards.

The first part that most people see as a better alternative is based on utilitarianism’s theory, which was proposed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. This theory holds that the most ethical decision is one that produces the greatest good for the most significant number (Mill, 2016). Not the one that makes you feel right. This presents a challenge to ethical decision making. Should moral and ethical decision be made based on ethical and moral principles or how a person feel? The utilitarian theory was the one that was used to justify world war one and war two. In the Bible, Jesus Christ is crucified on the cross to save the lives of humanity from eternal damnation (Keller, 2019). The argument is the same, the highest good for the most significant number of people—kill one to save five. However, it is impossible to predict the futures; it is difficult to estimate or predict the expected good of an outcome based on the decision made.

Let’s, for instance, let’s consider that the child who died in the first cases would have become a skilled doctor who saved millions of lives. Would the driver have considered killing that child if they had known this? Let’s complicate it a little. What if the five children would have all been serial killers and lead to the death of many of the people? If the driver knew this, surely his decision would have been different. But unfortunately, no one can predict future occurrences, and the Utilitarian theory fails to justify morality in decision making. Therefore it can be argued that there is no ethical ruler, which we can use to justify our decision making. As tricky as some situations can be, we will always be faced with a hard decision to make, since we will either benefit or violate the other. For example, if a person visits a game park and witnesses a lion hunting a baby gazelle who is frantically trying to flee, will it morally correct to intervene and save the baby’s gazelle from the hungry lion? Considering that the lion is also hunting to feed his little curbs, the action of intervening to save the baby gazelle would end up killing the lion curbs (they will starve to death if they do not have something to eat). So, it is right or wrong. Just like in the two trolley cases, the act of interfering presents the person with an ethical dilemma, which is not easy to solve. Even in business, most business people lie to make more profit, and the main aim of a business is to maximize profits—are they justified to lie, if it is just business. More so, we all know that killing is wrong, but when a person tries to kill you, and kill them first to defend yourself, it is still wrong. Morality is relative, and based on the current circumstances—it is not absolute and cannot be used to justify all decisions as a standard rule.

In summary, ethical dilemmas are hard to solve using a standard moral rule. This is because they present situations where one is doomed when they act or choose not to act.  And to be good, Aristotle asserts that they have to act. And in the principle of Eudaemonia, have a moral obligation to be good, and as such, would feel coerced to act even in ethical dilemmas. In the trolley car experiment, it seemed right to kill the one child on the side lane and save the five on the main road. However, in the second part of the thought experiment, it seemed wrong to kill the fat man and save the five. This shows the complexity of ethical dilemmas that cannot be simply solved using the universal utilitarian theory that supports the decisions with the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The problem with this theory is that it is hard to predict the expected good from the decision made. Therefore, morality is relative, and each case should be dealt with individually—there is no absolute right or wrong.

Works Cited

Cohen, Hermann. Ethics of Maimonides. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

Jordan, Michael. “Ethics & Uncertainty.” Philosophy Now, vol. 132, 2019, pp. 28–29.

Keller, Rich. Salvation And The Inseparability Of The Person And Work Of Christ. 2019.

Mill, John Stuart. “Utilitarianism.” Seven Masterpieces of Philosophy, Routledge, 2016, pp. 337–83.

Rae, Scott. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Zondervan Academic, 2018.

Sarkissian, Hagop. Aspects of Folk Morality: Objectivism and Relativism. Wiley Online Library, 2016.

 

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