Let’s talk about the dilemma. This is a fairly common issue: every day we go through dilemmas that force us to make decisions . That is one of the keys to understanding the relevance of dilemmas.

What are we going to expose in this post? Well, first we want to clarify the concept of dilemma. Then, we talk about the types of dilemma.


Etymologically, the word “dilemma” has its origin in the Latin word dilemma , and this comes from the Greek term δίλημμα ( dílēmma ), composed of the particle δίς ( di ) and by λῆμμα ( lêmma ), ‘premise’. That is, two premises.

According to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, in Philosophy, the notion of “dilemma” refers to an argument made up of two disjunctively inverse propositions, which implies that, rejected or accepted either of the two, a specific conclusion is indicated.

Types of dilemmas

Types of dilemmas

The dilemmas are not homogeneous. One of the problems in solving them is precisely their variety. Therefore, it is an issue that we cannot avoid in the development of this text.

As indicated, the dilemma is a problem of choice between two mutually exclusive options. There are a few types of dilemmas, including:

1.- Logical dilemmas pose two discordant propositions within a theory. In Logic, a dilemma is an argument with a syllogism structure, in which a disjunction is presented that entails two statements – called “horns of the dilemma” -, from which an eventually paradoxical conclusion emerges. Several classes are distinguished, namely:

1.2.- The constructive dilemma dictates that if two conditionals are true and at least one of their precedents is true, it must turn out that some of its options must be true.

In terms of statements, an example of this type of dilemma could be:

-If nuclear energy is chosen, humanity is exposed to a nuclear accident / But, if energy based on hydrocarbons is chosen, the greenhouse effect is aggravated.

-You must choose nuclear or conventional energy.

-The risk of a nuclear accident is assumed or the greenhouse effect is aggravated.

The above statements are placed in the form of premises, which makes a dilemma easier to understand:

A = Nuclear energy is chosen.

B = You are exposed to a nuclear accident.

C = Energy based on hydrocarbons is chosen.

D = The greenhouse effect is aggravated.

Let N, A, C and I then be propositions, the constructive dilemma is expressed as follows: (A → B) ∧ (C → D) ∧ (A → C) = B ∨ D. The conclusion is a disjunction that arises of the consequences of conditional premises.

1.2.- The destructive dilemma this is a peculiar norm of valid deduction of propositional logic. That is, it is a deduction that can be expressed in the following terms:

If A implies B; and C implies D; and, either B is false or D is false; then necessarily or A is false; or C is false. In conclusion, if two conditionals are true, but one of their consequents is false, then one of their antecedents must be false.

The above sounds a bit complicated, so it is necessary to expose it to readers through examples:

-If snow falls, the neighbors will stay at home.

-If the sun rises, the neighbors will go out to the park.

-Neighbors will not stay at home or neighbors will not go out to the park, or both. In conclusion, either there will be no snow or it will not be sunny, or both.

2.- Moral dilemmas This type of dilemmas basically comes from two opposing interests.

It must be taken into account that moral dilemmas involve a great dilemma, because the choice involves the fracture of one or more moral norms versus that of one or more ethical norms , or a combination of them.

It is, in effect, a problematic choice between two alternatives, because both are not entirely correct or desirable based on that matrix of values. It can be said that they force to choose between “the least bad”, which entails a complicated decision, since there is no logical or ethical basis to use.

According to Guillermo Lariguet [ Dilemmas and tragic conflicts. A conceptual investigation , Bogotá: Palestra-Temis, 2008, p.90], three types are distinguished: the dilemmas of incommensurabilities, the dilemmas of draws and the dilemmas of sacrifices, which will be described in the article entitled Moral dilemma .

3.- Ethical dilemmas occur in cases where one must choose between two alternatives, but there are not enough elements to tip the balance towards one of them according to the human values ​​that have been assumed in life, due to that both have positive and negative aspects, and any decision would go against them.

Faced with a moral dilemma, a person, in particular, turns to the rules of conduct of their culture, relating to what is good, what is bad or what is tolerable and correct. Moral rules that are acceptable in one context and culture are not necessarily acceptable in another. In short, the dimension is cultural and temporary, while ethical dilemmas are framed in universal and permanent behaviors.

4.- The philosophical dilemmas are based on transcendental paradoxical reasoning, without the possibility of solving it at all. There are many philosophical dilemmas, only two of the most important are described here.

4.1.- The hedgehog’s dilemma : it is due to the German philosopher Arthur. Schopenhauer. We proceed to describe it below.

A group of hedgehogs urge to keep warm on a very cold day, so they seek to get closer to each other to warm themselves. But the closer they get, the more pain their sharp quills cause them. If they move away they stop feeling pain, but they can’t stand the cold. If they get close, they leave you feeling cold, but you can’t bear the pain.

What is more important? Heat with pain or cold without pain. Here the human dilemma of the impossibility of finding the middle point in the relationship between two people is emphasized so that they do not hurt each other.

This dilemma has a lot to do with human relationships, especially sentimental ones. However, it adapts to many life circumstances.

4.2.- Pascal’s bet : the French intellectual Blaise Pascal preferred to believe in God, because he did not deserve a greater effort and, on the other hand, if his existence were true, eternal glory would be assured.

The bet is summarized as follows: “ you believe in God, if he exists, you win eternal glory; you believe in God, if he doesn’t exist, you don’t win or lose anything; You don’t believe in God, if He doesn’t exist, you don’t gain or lose anything; You don’t believe in God, if He exists, you don’t earn eternal glory . ”

This peculiar bet of Pascal can be transferred to many things. However, in essence it shows that it is better to believe in something than to be carried away by mere circumstances.

5.- Legal or legal dilemmas , which arise from conflicts between legislated rights. Moral dilemmas only have legal importance when in certain legal norms reference is made to morality , which leads to a moral reasoning to establish the solution of the case. The lawsuits pull in opposite directions.

6.- The Cornelian dilemmas (originating in the plays of the French playwright Corneille) recall the moral dilemmas of sacrifices because the choice will always necessarily imply losing something with a negative effect; however, it does not necessarily carry moral implications.

In any case, the tragic dilemmas are all Cornelian. The cornelianos dilemmas can be moral and ethical dilemmas. For example, the young man who is faced with the dilemma of leaving his family to pursue the studies of his dreams outside his country, or staying under the shelter and love of his family. Both options involve a sacrifice.

Are there other types of dilemmas? Of course yes! However, we have only wanted to expose a few. If we realize it, every day we go through the universe of dilemmas . Every day we must make decisions.

Two great ethical dilemmas and the importance in education

We are going to focus on the issue of ethical dilemmas. In this regard, we have selected a couple of cases that are extremely interesting:

Robin Hood’s dilemma

This ethical dilemma is one of the most discussed in existing literature because it confronts the person with the question: does the end justify the means?

Due to life circumstances, you witness a bank robbery ; However, he also knows that the thief did not steal for himself but to donate the money to an orphanage, which can now comfortably feed and clothe the children who live there. If you report the thief, the police will confiscate the money and return it to the bank, so the children will not enjoy its benefits.

The following alternatives are then presented: a) report the subject who robbed the bank or b) stand idly by because the robbery was for a good cause.

Is a crime valid for helping others? How far must the laws be obeyed? Are there more important motives and causes than certain laws? Well, the truth is that all these doubts arise from this dilemma .

The dilemma of the occasional benevolent

Sometimes life places people in dilemmatic situations. Anyone could be involved in the following case: a pedestrian dies due to a road accident involving two cars .

The responsible driver (X), upon noting the death of the pedestrian, realizes that the driver (Y) of the other car, visibly affected, is sure that it was he who hit the pedestrian.

There are no witnesses at the scene, only the two drivers and the victim . Knowing that the other person is not guilty, the driver (X) is faced with two options:

  1. Confess his guilt , because he could not, based on his principles, allow an innocent (driver Y) to lose his freedom for a crime he did not commit
  2. Letting the other person plead guilty , because losing personal freedom would have a high moral, family and economic cost, which is not justified.

In the educational field, the discussion of ethical dilemmas , such as those already mentioned, is an important tool for students to recognize their own scale of values ​​and the hierarchy between them.

In addition, they are useful to stimulate social empathy and value the opinions and behaviors of others, putting tolerance into practice. At the same time, their discussion favors reasoned dialogue and collective harmony, on the one hand, and helps shape moral (ethical) judgment to operate with conscience, on the other.

The issue of dilemmas in today’s world

In these times and in the face of the development of genetic biology, which explores the possibilities for the improvement of the human species , the great ethical dilemmas have gone from an abstract plane to a real plane.

Thus, bioethics is presented as a discipline that seeks to respond to ethical dilemmas that involve essential decisions regarding the health and evolution of the human species.

Posing dilemmas is a way to get into the depths of things. In addition, it is an excellent teaching tool . More than solving problems, or learning things, students must be trained in how to decide on a problem.

Solving problems, many times, is a one-way thing . There are no decisions to be made. The student is only interned to apply a series of practices and obtain a satisfactory result. However, you are not taught that there can be several ways to solve the same problem.

Dilemmas as a teaching strategy

Dilemmas as a teaching

We insist that human life constantly goes through the issue of dilemma . We always have to be making decisions. Perhaps, this is something that has distinguished humans from other living species on the planet.

Many times, people prefer not to make any decisions . They prefer to live a quiet life, in what is called the comfort zone. It is a space where everything is resolved. In addition, each inconvenience already has a way to be solved. It is not necessary to choose how to deal with problems.

Much has been raised that people should, from a young age, get used to making decisions. In fact, this is one of the keys to social life . In addition, it is shown that many people who seem to be very active; they actually slow down when faced with a dilemma.

People stop at dilemmas as they step out of their comfort zone. In addition, solving a dilemma has an additional question: it is a responsibility. The person is responsible for the decision he makes, with all its consequences. People fearful of making decisions for this cause.

Some conclusions about this topic

As we indicated previously, every dilemma carries a responsibility. Therefore, dilemmas involve having a posture . A resolution of a dilemma always as an individual. And this is one of the important aspects: solving a dilemma implies having more self-awareness.

Therefore, the dilemma is something that can only be resolved with maturity . In this sense, it is a subject that must be studied and put into practice. It is not enough to think, to speculate, to philosophize or to speculate about the dilemmas. In fact, the really important thing is to face them constantly.

For example, all political decisions often involve a dilemma. Likewise, a doctor when he must choose the most appropriate treatment for his patient. The simple fact of choosing I want to propose every day.

Learning to solve problems is very important. But making decisions in the face of dilemmas much more forges the personality and gives people the ability to solve their daily lives.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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