Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The debate about the possibility of genuine moral dilemmas began in earnest forty years ago with the publication of a paper by Bernard Williams which challenged the accepted wisdom in moral theory that moral dilemmas are impossible. Forty years later the debate carries on in much the same manner as it originally did, with the same sorts of claims being made both supporting and opposing Williams' position. Although arguments may have become more refined, they do not really appear to have advanced the debate, and so it seems the debate is in danger of stagnating and degenerating into a series of cross-assertions.
This thesis serves as a critique of the debate and an attempt to revitalize it by expanding the focus of its inquiry. Its primary claim is that the debate has been . superficial in that it has concerned itself with the expression of worldviews but not with those worldviews themselves. By pointing out presumptions that are made by leading figures on each side of the debate, the suggestion is made that one's position on dilemmas is a function of one's meta-ethical commitments. Any consideration of the possibility of moral dilemmas must consequently take place at this level of meta-ethical commitment, and the suggestion is made that the best way to do this is in terms of one's commitment to moral purity or moral tragedy, the respective beliefs as to whether or not moral perfection is a guaranteed possibility in life.
Johnson, Christopher M., "Purity and Tragedy: The Insolubility of the Dilemmas Debate" (2005). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5637.
McMaster University Library