Encyclopedia of Business and Professional Ethics

Living Edition
| Editors: Deborah C Poff, Alex C. Michalos

Ethical Dilemmas

  • Johan WempeEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-23514-1_73-1



A dilemma is defined as “a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two (or more) equally undesirable things or course of action.” A dilemma is “a state of indecision between two or more unpleasant alternatives” (Oxford Dictionaries).


A moral dilemma concerns situations in which one is morally obliged to act and, at the same time, to refrain from acting due to another obligation. It may be that we are required to act to achieve a certain end but that the side effects render the action unacceptable (Wempe and Donaldson 2004). In a moral dilemma, we have to cope with conflicting moral obligations or conflicting underlying moral values.

Dilemmas play an important role in ethics. They particularly occur when we want to translate ethical theory into practice. Theory often starts with ideal situations in which a problem is...

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.VU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Section editors and affiliations

  • Muel Kaptein
    • 1
  1. 1.Business Ethics and Integrity ManagementRSM Erasmus UniversityRotterdamNetherlands