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Steps to Follow in Addressing Ethical Dilemmas

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Ethics, as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a system of moral principles. Ethical dilemmas are problems which arise when an action breaks multiple ethical codes. The broken codes often cannot be fixed without breaking other codes of ethics. For example, if a ship is sinking, the captain will put everyone aboard into a lifeboat. If the lifeboat holds fewer people than are on board, how does the captain decide who gets to ride in the lifeboat? How does the captain decide who drowns, and who lives?

Solving Ethical Dilemmas Step by Step

First, the problem, or problems, need to be identified. Speak with every individual involved to gather as much information about the incident as possible, if time allows. Consider every viewpoint and every source. Attempt to sort facts from assumptions or suspicions.

Second, analyze the actions to take in response to the dilemma. An ethical dilemma by nature is a set of moral wrongdoings, so question the possible reactions to make sure the final decision is not immoral, or is the lesser of two evils, at the least. How does the decision measure up to moral principles such as honesty, fairness and equality? If possible, ask for another opinion to prevent making decisions based on personal biases.

Third, consider all the consequences of each possible reaction to the ethical dilemma. What will happen if a certain course of action is taken against the immoral behavior or behaviors? If possible, ask for help in role playing each scenario before making a decision. Choose the course of action with the most favorable outcome.

Fourth, implement the plan. The scenarios have been played, the immorality has been researched, and the possibilities have been examined. Proceed with the selected course of action, following up to make sure the plan had the desired effects and consequences.


Addressing an ethical dilemma is never easy. Courage and a strong belief in a code of ethics will assist a confrontation of immorality. Often, a written code of ethics can be used to support the accusation of broken ethics.