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Mark William Nations

Types of Moral Dilemmas

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I tried looking online for some resources that might help break down variations on types of moral dilemmas so that it would be easier to come up with plot scenarios that are interesting. The most valuable piece of information I found was "A moral dilemma occurs when an agent has the motive and opportunity to fulfill two or more mutually exclusive promises and/or responsibilities and must evaluate which course of action to take." I've been trying to find something else that can start breaking things down into concrete categories / types, but I haven't really had any luck.

 

What do you guys use for inspiration of this sort? Have you found any sort of organizational structure online for moral choices?

Edited by facehead1992

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The only reference that immediately comes to mind is Plotto.  That's a book (not online) which contains lists of story goals and conflicts.  There's also a piece of software, Storybase, which contains at least some of the contents of the Plotto book, though I'm not sure it has everything.  And it's not free.

 

Your moral dilemmas seem to basically be two conflicting goals.  As you can arrange the situation within a story to make any two goals conflict, it seems like you only need a list of goals.  It's pretty easy to just list goals:

- gain (money, praise, friendship, love, power, fame, etc.)

- avoid (pain, a guilt trip, uncertainty, insults, revealing a weakness, losing another person's good opinion, etc.)

- protect (a loved one, a secret, a community, a place, a future possibility, a source of nostalgia/memory, freedom, etc.)

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Goals is a good start. Also consider roles and stakes. I can think of examples, if not guiding principles or a formula to find dilemmas.

Head of state: consider the moral dilemmas of Harry Truman and Abraham Lincoln.
- Attack civilian populace of an implacable enemy, killing hundreds of thousands, to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of your own military - or not?
- Curtail the civil liberties of your populace, in order to preserve national secrets and to hold terrorists captive.

Head of military: consider the moral dilemma of Ulysses Grant.
- Whether to allow your own POWs to remain and suffer in the hands of the enemy because the enemy does not treat captured black soldiers the same as captured white soldiers, or to permit the exchange of white soldier prisoners only, knowing that captured black soldiers are enslaved or killed.

Parents:
- How far would a parent go to rescue an offspring who's been captured and held for ransom;
- How far would a parent go to ensure that an offspring wins a beauty contest?

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Add also the cost being ones life or well being    or ones honor or ones principles  - the loss being balanced against whatever is being gained.

 

Also the muually exclusive choice can be between two of the same thing  (ie- which of the two do I save  like Sophies Choice)

 

There can also be the choice of doing nothing  - giving the moral choice (and the blame) to someone else.

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There's always the big picture vs the immediate situation. Let's say you're on a quest to save the kingdom and along the way there's a situation that could very well result in death or severe injury but would help a great deal of people. You have to choose if it's worth risking the whole kingdom over one small section of it. I may not be doing a very good job of explaining it but I hope you get the point.

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Note: if your goal is to make interesting scenarios do not limit yourself to moral dilemmas. These are just a small subset of all plots. There are many more, much more interesting plots than moral dilemmas: revenge, glory, jealousy, love, treachery, ambition, loyalty, sacriface, temptation.

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Ticking time bomb scenario and the trolley problem; also Ring of Gyges - which I mentally pair with The Sleep of Reason, though isn't a 'scenario' so much as a look at the effects of the ring played out on an entire culture.
 
Another ethical dilemma is: Your enemies (Nazi Germany) has taken captive Jews and Gypsies and social outcasts and political prisoners and also prisoners of war from your own army. These prisoners are forced to produce munitions that are being used against your civilian populations.
 
It is of immense strategic value to destroy the factories they are working in to stop bombs being fired, but the only way to stop the bombs is to carpet-bomb the factories killing the forced-labor held inside. Assuming you can't bomb the factories without killing the labor (maybe they sleep and eat within the factories, and never get to leave). Doth thou drop the bombs?

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Care needs to be taken with such dilemmas as they are usually contigent on perfect information,  which for more complex cases might be hard to justify storywise (without it seeming heavily contrived)

 

 

 

Add -  interesting that it is called a "Dilemma" because their is no obvious Right answer....

Edited by wodinoneeye

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