Moral Dilemmas and Virtues

Dissertation, The University of Western Ontario (Canada) (1992)

The standard view of moral dilemmas is that they are occasions where a person is faced with conflicting obligations, both of which cannot be performed. Moral obligations are usually seen as arising from systems of moral rules or principles. On this account we have the dilemma of dilemmas; either moral dilemmas exist, in which case the systems that give rise to them are inconsistent, with all the logical damage that entails, or they do not, in which case we have been floundering in confusion since first we started to make moral decisions. ;The first step is to distinguish moral dilemmas from other types of moral problem. A moral dilemma is a personal moral problem as opposed to a multi-person moral dispute or a problem of institutional policy. Having defined moral dilemmas I then argue that they exist. The two most cogent arguments for the existence of moral dilemmas come from the rationality and existence of moral residues, such as the requirement to apologise for obligations not fulfilled and the feeling of remorse, and the existence of a plurality of moral values. ;I then argue that moral dilemmas are more perspicuously seen as clashes of competing moral values than as conflicts of moral obligation. This leads to a rejection of the language of principle and rule for personal morality and turns instead to a discussion of personal morality in terms of values and virtues. ;Viewing personal morality in terms of values allows us to see how it is that literature can be morally instructive. Literary treatments of significant moral choices can be seen as explorations of clashes of values within the context of the life of the protagonist. ;The virtue based account that I propose is a return to Aristotle and his conceptions of human flourishing, deliberation and moral choice. This is a superior conception of personal morality, for it accommodates moral dilemmas and explains how it is that those of us who face them should conduct our search for solutions
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