Master of Arts (MA)


Philosophy and Religious Studies

Document Type



A simple definition of a moral dilemma is a situation where an agent ought to do two different things but can only do one. Though this definition may seem straightforward enough, it has created a stir over the last fifty years. Bernard Williams first used the concept of moral dilemmas to call the adequacy of the major ethical theories into question, challenging the possibility of consistent ethical systems. More recently, virtue ethicists, like Rosalind Hursthouse, have used moral dilemmas to challenge the two dominant schools of moral philosophy: deontology and utilitarianism. These attacks have been instrumental in setting up virtue ethics as an alternative to the other two schools. But, is virtue ethics really able to account for moral dilemmas in its theory? This will be the focus of this thesis. The first two chapters of this thesis are expository. They try to clearly present some of the major ideas of Williams and Hursthouse. After establishing some of the key concepts in contemporary virtue ethics and elaborating on the structure and problem of the concept of moral dilemmas, the remaining four chapters critically examine the strength of Williams' and Hursthouse's arguments in favor of the existence of moral dilemmas. Partly drawing upon the work of Terrence McConnell, I attempt to argue that both philosophers' theories face tremendous odds and are unable to offer a satisfactory account of moral dilemmas.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Sarkar, Husain