Are There Unsolvable Moral Dilemmas?
In any situation, there is a right thing and a wrong thing to do.
This is not a Q1 violation so long as either you have a consistent method for resolving moral dilemmas or your beliefs never come into conflict.
Although you might disagree with someone else about what the right thing and the wrong thing are, this statement is not, in itself, a Q2 violation.
As we’ve gone through these practical applications of 2Q, we’ve had to examine many situations in which two or more moral principles were brought into conflict. Were you able to find a solution that you felt comfortable with in all of these cases? Or were there some situations where you felt that no matter what decision was made it would be the wrong one?
For some people, certain moral rules — such as the prohibition against murder — are so strong that they override all other concerns. The more of these strong rules you have, the easier it is to judge right and wrong within your system (so long as those rules never come into conflict), and the more likely it is that in some situations what you judge to be the right thing to do won’t feel right.
For purposes of examining your own beliefs, consider the following situations. Which of them have clear moral solutions that you would feel comfortable following, and which (if any) are true dilemmas or only have unacceptable solutions?
- A month after your parents’ bitter divorce, you receive invitations from both of them to stop by on Christmas morning. They now live hours apart so you can’t visit both, but if you choose one the other will spend Christmas morning alone and think you are playing favorites because you blame them for the divorce.
- A train violently derails on a high trestle and you find yourself hanging by one hand over a deep valley. Your other hand grasps the wrist of a stranger you managed to catch during the accident. Your strength if failing. If you let go of the stranger, she’ll fall to her death. If you don’t let go, you’ll both fall.
- After taking fertility drugs, you become pregnant with septuplets. Seventeen weeks into your pregnancy, you begin having serious blood pressure problems. The doctor informs you that if you try to bring the pregnancy to term, you’ll all die, but if you abort one or more of the fetuses, you may all live. You could definitely deliver twins, but shy of that, the more fetuses you have aborted, the better chance of survival you and the remaining babies will have.
- You and four other people are far out at sea in a life raft after your ship sinks. The raft is built to hold four and is barely handling the five of you. In the distance, you see a young man — another survivor — swimming toward your position. If you start the raft’s engine, he’ll never catch you, but he’ll drown.
- A baby is born with a horrible malformation. Even with the best of care, it will die within a year and be in constant agonizing pain. If you don’t feed it, it will be in constant pain for three or four days until it starves to death. If you give it a lethal injection, it will die immediately.
- Two homeless women sit huddled against a wall, one ten feet to your left and one ten feet to your right. Each has a small child and is asking if you have anything you can spare. You actually do have a dollar you wouldn’t mind giving, but that dollar is the only cash you have on you so you can only help one of the women.
- You, a soldier, are ordered to painlessly kill an innocent woman. If you refuse, another soldier will torture her before killing her.
- You are the leader of a country that is in its fourth year of a long, brutal war. Your scientists have developed a horrible weapon that can destroy a large area in an instant, and your generals tell you that if you use this weapon to destroy your enemy’s capital, they will certainly surrender immediately. Using the weapon will kill 50,000 of the enemy’s civilian population. You will likely still win the war without using the weapon, but it is estimated that a half million enemy soldiers and a quarter million of your own will die before you are victorious.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.