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Ethical Dilemmas: Meaning & Types

Updated: Jan 21

Ethical Dilemmas: A Crossroads of Moral Choices

Ethical dilemmas are intricate challenges that we encounter in both personal and professional spheres. As human beings and professionals, we all consistently face ethical dilemmas where an individual must choose between two competing ethical obligations that flow from personally or professionally held ethical principles. Moral dilemmas can also be situations where one is unsure of the right course of action, or where the course of action that one selects is challenging to follow or where the wrong course of action is very tempting. These dilemmas are significant as they test our values, principles, and moral judgments. They are prevalent in everyday life, from simple choices like being honest at the risk of hurting someone's feelings to more complex decisions in professional settings.

Categories of Ethical Dilemmas

Ethical dilemmas can be broadly categorised into personal and professional dilemmas. Personal ethical dilemmas are those that individuals face in their daily lives, involving personal values and moral choices. Professional ethical dilemmas, on the other hand, occur in the workplace or professional settings. Academically speaking, scholars have identified the following ethical dilemmas commonly found in professional settings. They are:

= Truth vs. loyalty: Truth versus loyalty can be seen as honesty or integrity versus commitment, responsibility, or promise-keeping.  

= Individual vs. community: The individual versus community paradigm can be restated as us versus them, self versus others, or the smaller versus the larger group.  

= Short-term vs. Long-term: Short-term versus Long-Term, or now versus then, reflects difficulties arising when immediate needs or desires contradict future goals or prospects.

= Justice vs. virtue: The point of the justice versus mercy dilemma is that fairness, equity, and even-handed application of the law often conflict with compassion, empathy, and love.  

Types of Ethical Dilemmas in Public/Civil Services

In their professional lives, civil servants will constantly face ethical dilemmas where they may have to decide on a course of action involving two "rights." Such decision moments are challenging and are no wonder called career "defining moments." 

One of the most common ethical dilemmas civil servants confront is a situation where personal duties/commitments conflict with official obligations—such dilemmas concern commitment to your career and caring for your family. 

Further, Terry Cooper notes two distinct types of ethical dilemmas in public services, and they are:

= Conflict among interests (such as personal interests, Departmental interest and Public Interest) 

= Conflict among various sources of authority (Such as organisational superiors, political officials, and laws)   


For more on the meaning and types of ethical dilemmas, please follow the YouTube link below.👇

Happy Learning!!

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