Moral dilemma is situation in which a certain moral conflict occurs and in which people choose one solution or another according to their level of moral development. Concrete work with moral dilemmas was advocated by Kohlberg as a useful measure to encourage critical thinking in people and thereby promote their moral development.
In this article, we will expose what moral dilemmas are, types and some examples used in Kohlberg’s works. We will conclude by highlighting the importance of using such a tool within the educational field as an effective means of working on the moral development of young people.
If you ask yourself what a moral dilemma is, it is a vital moment in which a moral conflict situation occurs , or a conflict of values, whose resolution implies choosing a concrete answer that will be determined by our level of moral development. Solving moral dilemmas involves a complex process of critical reasoning and introspection about one’s own values and about the way considered most correct to resolve the situation.
Types of moral dilemmas
According to Omar A. León, in his book “Moral dilemmas, a pedagogical strategy for the development of moral conscience”, there are two types of moral dilemmas:
- Hypothetical : those who plan situations with close and familiar elements, but which, despite not having the “identification” component with the situation, also serve to favor the development of discursive skills and moral reasoning in the face of new and different situations of the known.
- Real : are those based on events that are more realistic and meaningful to those affected. The solution to these dilemmas comes from identifying with this type of situation, which generates a process of introspection about one’s own moral conduct.
Examples of moral dilemmas used by Kohlberg
Kohlberg used short texts that exposed moral dilemmas to work on moral development in young people. For him, the importance of using this tool was not so much to offer one or another solution to the moral dilemma, but to the ethical reflective process to which the young person was induced to conclude a certain solution. Some of the examples of moral dilemmas used by Kohlberg are the following:
- The escaped prisoner : a person is sentenced to 10 years in prison and, about to be arrested, escapes. He changes his name and starts a new life. He works in a dignified manner and ends up setting up a company in which he offers decent work and wages to his workers. A neighbor of yours recognizes you as the escaped prisoner from prison years ago, what behavior should the neighbor adopt?
- Heinz’s Dilemma : It concerns a man whose wife is sick with cancer. His treatment is excessively expensive and the pharmacist does not want to reduce his price. Heinz is desperate and considers stealing the drug as an option to save his wife. What should he do?
In both examples of moral dilemmas, the two response alternatives compromise moral values. In the first case, the neighbor must choose between reporting an escaped prisoner, complying with the law, or ignoring and hiding him, prioritizing the value of her own reconstruction as a more ethical and respectful person.
In the second case of moral dilemma, the protagonist finds himself between two compromising options: stealing the medicine, with the risk of being punished by the law, or not doing so, making his wife’s possible recovery process difficult. Each answer, and even more so, each reflective process shows the level of moral development in which a specific person is found, as L. Kohlberg exposed in his Theory of Moral Development .
Importance of moral dilemmas in the educational field
Moral dilemmas are situations that, in one way or another, continually present themselves in our lives and respect their ethical and moral development. Let’s see what these possible directions are:
- If a community or society encourages values far from ethics , the solution to the different moral dilemmas that arise among citizens will be resolved with low levels of prosocial development, which will trigger a climate of little solidarity, of scarce empathy and with high levels of conflict .
- If the society is characterized by promoting universal ethical values , the moral development of its members will be favorable and the resolution of moral dilemmas will happen in a peaceful manner and fostering cordial, solidary and respectful solutions for all.
For all these reasons, it is important to include work with moral dilemmas within the educational scope, since it fosters, from a very early age, the reasoning and ethical and moral development of children and adolescents. In this way, the processes of introspection and critical reflection will be favored , and being processes innate to human beings, they need to be encouraged and duly accompanied in order to develop properly.
This whole process will favor pro-social behavior in people and, as a consequence, more cooperative, solidary and united societies.