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28 Top Moral Dilemma Questions
Morality is defined as the principles concerning the distinction between right
and wrong or good and bad behavior (Oxford Dictionary). What makes these
questions dilemmas is an individual’s definition of right and wrong or good
and bad. However, in a time when many question our national moral
character, pondering what to do in various situations can be a positive
exercise preparing an individual for worst and best case scenarios.
Moral Dilemma Examples
A moral dilemma is a conflict in which a person must choose between two or
more actions, all of which they have the ability to do. There are moral reasons
for each choice. No matter which choice you make, someone will suffer or
something bad will happen. In order to help you understand exactly what is
meant by “moral dilemma” we have provided some examples, some of which
are classic moral dilemmas.
The Unfaithful Friend
You go out with your husband for dinner at a new restaurant you have not
frequented before. It is in a part of town you rarely visit. You are shocked to
see your friend’s spouse having dinner with a very young, attractive person.
From the way they are behaving, it is obvious they are more than friends. The
couple finish their meal and leave without seeing you. They behave very
affectionately on the way out the door. Do you:
Tell your friend, knowing you probably will not be believed and that it may ruin
your friendship?
Say nothing about seeing the couple as it is none of your business; they may
even have an open relationship?
A Difficult Choice
You and your family love the beach and decide to spend a weekend at an
isolated beach cabin. Your teenage daughter often gets bored on your
getaways, so you make plans to take your niece along. As soon as you arrive, a
storm is looming on the horizon and the water looks rough. You tell the girls
they can get ready to swim, but to come back and help unload the car. They
are so excited, they do not pay attention to the last part of what you say and
run down to the beach to swim. You do not realize they have done so until
you hear your daughter scream. You realize they are both caught in a strong
current and might be swept out to sea. You are a good swimmer and know
you can save one of them. You have a difficult choice to make. Do you:
Save your niece first as she is a poor swimmer and will not be able to last as
long as your daughter?
Save your daughter first, because, although she is a strong swimmer and may
be able to last long enough for you to come back after saving your niece, you
cannot stand the idea of losing her?
An Office Theft
You are in charge of the petty cash at the office. However, a co-worker is
responsible for making a weekly trip to the bank to make the business deposit
and obtain petty cash for the following week. In a conversation with your
mutual supervisor, you are asked if the increase in the petty cash amount was
enough. You, however, have not seen any additional money. You realize your
co-worker has been pocketing the additional money. Do you:
Tell your supervisor you have neither asked for nor received any additional
petty cash and that you suspect your co-worker is pocketing the money?
Tell your co-worker your suspicions and give them a chance to pay the money
Say nothing and just wait to see what happens?
Midnight Death
You have worked years to be successful in your father’s business. You felt you
were obligated to take over as he worked his whole life to build the business
left to him by his father. However, the large businesses in town have seriously
cut into profits and for several years you and your family have just managed
to scrape by.
Your father’s health has declined and he has been hospitalized. He has a
substantial life insurance policy that expires at midnight. If he dies before
midnight, you will inherit enough money to pursue a career you have always
dreamed of and provide adequately for your family. Do you:
Pinch the oxygen line making it possible for your Dad to die or smother him
with a pillow?
Tell your Dad the problem and let him suggest a solution and go by what he
Do nothing as you cannot imagine living with yourself if you terminate your
Dad’s life?
Get Rich
Your friend offers you an opportunity to make a great deal of money very
quickly. He has arranged to set up an off-shore account for your profits. He
will not tell you exactly how he is making this money, but you get the
impression it is not exactly legal. He only wants an investment of $500 and
promises you will have enough from your minimal investment that you will
never need to work again. Do you:
Give him the $500, deciding if you don’t know how he is making it, you’re in
the clear?
Demand to know the details before getting involved?
Decide you want no part of this deal, as you trust your instinct that the offer is
shady and you might even get in legal trouble?
Telling a Secret
Your friend tells you that they committed a crime. They explain that they are
having trouble sleeping at night and feel you are the only one they can trust
with their confession. A few days later, you read in the paper that someone
has been arrested for your friend’s crime. Do you:
Go to the police and tell them what you know?
Encourage your friend to confess and warn him if he does not do so, you will
Say nothing because you will not betray a friend’s confidence?
Moral Dilemma Scenarios
Now we are going to look at some moral dilemma scenarios for you to
ponder. Each scene is characterized by the need to make a difficult decision.
As with all moral dilemmas, there is no right or wrong answer. Think carefully
before responding. And remember, you may think of a better choice than
those presented.
The Life Boat
You are on a cruise and the ship encounters an unexpected storm. The storm
continues to rage and eventually you and the other passengers are told you
must head to the lifeboats and abandon ship. As people begin to line up, you
realize some lines have fewer people, some have families, and some seem to
have younger, single people. You know you are strong and capable. Do you
choose to help a group composed of three families with a few young children,
a group of seniors who obviously could use your help, or go with the young,
strong people, with whom you might have a better chance of survival?
Sarcastic Friend
Your friend has a great sense of humour. However, sometimes his jokes
involve making fun of others in inappropriate ways. He will point out a
physical flaw or look for something odd or different about a person and make
an unkind comment. You feel uncomfortable when your friend does this. Do
you say something or just laugh along with him?
Hit and Run
Late one night you are driving home in a bad rainstorm. A drunk reels out in
front of your car and you try to stop, but hit him. Nobody sees you. The guy
looks and smells as if he is homeless. You check to see how badly he is hurt
and realize he is dead. You have never even had a speeding ticket and are an
upright, professional, with a family and are well-known and respected in your
community. Do you make a report anonymously, confess your crime, or drive
on home and forget about it, knowing no one is going to pursue the death of
a homeless drunk?
Third Strike
Your teenager has had a rough few years. First came an arrest for shoplifting.
The item was of little value, so it was only a misdemeanour. Then your teen
was with some friends who were smoking pot and driving too fast. Your teen
has promised they are turning over a new leaf and seem to be on the right
track, doing better in school, coming home by curfew, and generally having a
much better attitude. Now you get a call from the local police station saying
your son was with a group of kids who broke into a liquor store and stole
beer. Do you go to the station and see how you can get your teen out of this
jam or let him accept whatever consequences befall him?
Reward a Job Well Done
You understand the importance of team work in your job. You share ideas and
responsibilities with your team members on a daily basis. In your weekly team
meeting with your supervisor, one of your co-workers takes credit for a time
and money saving change in operating procedures you devised. Your
supervisor erroneously thinks your co-worker came up with the change and
your co-worker does not correct the misinterpretation, but allows the boss to
not only commend him, but offer a bonus. Do you go to your co-worker and
demand he correct the situation, go to your supervisor and explain you should
receive the commendation and reward, or keep quiet as you do not believe in
ownership of ideas?
Ethical Dilemma Questions
Ethics are defined as moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the
conducting of an activity (Oxford Dictionary). Many of us may never be faced
with many of the previous moral dilemmas. However, our list of ethical
dilemma questions includes many one may encounter in everyday life.
Frequently, it is the small decisions we make that truly define our moral
character. What will your answer be?
When making a purchase at a local store, you are given too much change. Do
you say something or keep quiet?
You receive a package at your home that was delivered to the wrong address.
The shipping label indicates it is a favorite item that you cannot afford to
purchase yourself. Do you keep it or notify the person it was intended for?
Your neighbor leaves their dog out in all kinds of weather. The poor animal
frequently looks like it is miserable. Sometimes it is out of water and seems to
be fed rarely. Do you report what you think is happening or stay quiet?
What if you suspect your neighbor of child abuse? You are not sure if they
have a fit-throwing kid or if something is really wrong.
You are at a party or out on the town with your best friend. They have too
much to drink and will not let you drive them home. What do you do?
Your lunch keeps missing at work. You are pretty sure you know who is taking
it each day. Do you confront them, report it to your supervisor or HR, get them
back by making a cat food sandwich, or just keep quiet?
You really like your neighbors and they are a great couple. The only problem
is that they throw wild parties occasionally. You think they are into drugs,
maybe even dealing. What do you do?
A friend gives you a gift for your birthday. Unfortunately, it is a type of perfume
you are extremely allergic to. Do you say something and ask for a receipt to
return it, or keep quiet?
Your friend has excitedly shared that she has a new love in her life.
Unfortunately, you know the guy is a narcissistic player who only stays with a
woman as long as he is getting what he wants from the relationship. Do you
try to convince her to drop him or let her learn a lesson on her own?
You buy a pile of clothing items on sale at your favorite department store.
When you get home, you realize one of the items is not on the receipt. Do you
go back to the store and pay for it or just let it go?
You are failing a class you were required to take but totally hate. You have an
on-line exam. If you fail the exam, you will fail the class. You can cheat
without anyone knowing. Do you do so and pass the class?
Over the summer, you became friends with a person who moved to your town.
You have the same interest, like the same music and movies, and have had a
great deal of fun. However, your new friend is not attractive and very loud.
When school starts, you are embarrassed by the way your friend acts. Do you
remain friends or drop the relationship?
Moral dilemma questions might be characterized as “What if?” questions. It
can be hard to take a close look at ourselves and ask, “Will I do the right thing
when confronted with a difficult choice?” Many people avoid doing so.
However, there can be comfort in knowing what you are really like and how
you will respond in difficult situations. We hope this article has encouraged
you to weigh carefully the decisions you make every day.