We explain what a dilemma is, what types exist and what ethical or moral dilemmas are. Also, how they are used in narratives.

Two young people in the park worry about a dilemma.
In a dilemma, no decision is completely acceptable.

What is a dilemma?

A dilemma or dilemma is an issue or choice in which there are only two mutually exclusive options, that is, in which a decision must be made that denies its alternative and that at the same time is not entirely acceptable.

This is expressed in logical terms as “an argument composed of two disjunctively contrary propositions,” according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Language. In fact, the word comes from the Greek dilemmavoice composed by dis (“two”, “double”) and lemma (“theme” or “premise”), that is, a “double premise.” In some cases, it is even possible to use the term “trilemma”, to refer to similar situations in which three options are presented instead of two.

The dilemmas They are often used in narratives, as a strategy to raise tension and drama in the anecdote. For example, the protagonist must often choose an emotional and another logical decision, out of a sense of duty or the loved one, to cause immediate harm and well-being in the long run or vice versa, among other similar situations.

There are different ways to classify dilemmas. In some cases a distinction is made between real dilemmas (those that truly exist) and hypothetical ones (those that are mere thought exercises). Likewise, depending on the area to which they refer, there may be practical, moral, professional, etc. dilemmas.

See also: Ethical judgments

You may be interested:  Cooperative Learning

Ethical or moral dilemmas

Ethical dilemmas, also called moral dilemmas or moral conflicts, are real or hypothetical situations in which a question arises. dilemma between two morally unsatisfactory and mutually exclusive options. These types of dilemmas can occur in real life or be considered as hypothetical exercises to reflect on the morality of a job, a profession or a specific situation.

In general, these dilemmas They have to do with what is considered “correct”, that is, with morals and ethics. This may mean the existence of two conflicting obligations, or the presence of two or more incorrect options and a single course of action. Generally, these are inescapable situations, which can only be resolved through specific argumentation regarding the common well-being and careful reflection of the available options.

Some examples of ethical or moral dilemmas are:

  • A young man in a country at war is called to the front to fight against invading troops, but his elderly mother is home alone and depends on him for many daily tasks. Should the young man enlist and abandon his mother?
  • In the midst of a deadly epidemic, hospitals become overcrowded and care rooms begin to become scarce. Doctors, then, must make a decision regarding their resources: who should they see first?
  • What is preferable: for an innocent man to go to prison or for a murderer to go free?

Continue with: Examples of ethics and morals


  • “Dilemma” in the Language Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy.
  • “Etymology of Dilemma” in the Online Spanish Etymological Dictionary.
  • “What is an ethical dilemma?” in the Basic Cycle of Teacher Training of the Center for Educational Research and Services (Ecuador).
  • “Ethics and moral reasoning. Moral dilemmas and ethical behavior in organizations” by Luisa Montuschi at the University of the Argentine Macroeconomic Center (UCEMA).
You may be interested:  Immoral