A dilemma is more demanding than a problem and it comes with a prescription to argue, not act. Comment. (15 Marks)

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  • http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/CAFRAD/UNPAN009319.pdf
  • Ethics, particularly the practical aspect of it, more or less revolves around dilemmas of various sorts. However, the concept is often confused with “problem”, which has a very different meaning altogether. This is one of the basic concepts in ethics and is related to GS-4 syllabus under the following heading- Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance.
  • The question wants us to explain and bring out the difference between a problem and a dilemma and explain how the dilemma is wider and demanding than a problem.
  • In the introduction define what is a problem
  • In the main body start with defining a dilemma
  • Discuss its meaning in relation to a problem-  e.g two possible alternatives none of which is more desirable than the other caught on the horns of a dilemma, the sacrifice of one alternative in favour of another, more inclined to argue rather than act as taking the decision is more protracted and difficult etc.
  • Discuss how to solve a dilemma- i.e the terms of reference should be altered and the whole situation is reformulated and redefined so that full account is taken and due respect paid to the warring value options, which are then ordered and linked among themselves in a more systematic and coherent manner.
  • Present your conclusion of the above discussion in relation to the demand of the question.


A problem is a situation in which a gap is found between what is and what ought to be. How a problem is framed depends on who is doing the defining. Dilemmas are messy, complicated, and conflict-filled situations that require undesirable choices between highly prized values that cannot be simultaneously or fully-solved. In short, problems can be solved, but dilemmas only managed.

Example: A classroom teacher wants to video, digitize and then upload as a videocast his classes so students who are absent or want to review can download and watch the lesson. The tech director is concerned that students privacy rights (and board policy) will be violated if students can be recognized in the videocast.

The above example shows that dilemmas are conditions that can only be managed, not solved because they involve conflicts in values. Because of individual priorities and problem frames, it is impossible to deal with these issues so that everyone gets what she/he desires.

It is not surprising that organizations, especially those suffering from bureaucratic deficiencies in their reasoning and decision-making procedures, tend to confuse problems with dilemmas, and treat them indiscriminately

Usually, problems can be solved with a single, discrete solution. Dilemmas do not present a clear solution and in most cases are unable to be solved, but have to be managed over time towards a resolution. 

Dilemmas, unlike problems, cannot be solved in the terms in which they are initially presented to the decision-maker. Caught on the horns of a dilemma the decision-maker is not only faced with opposed and perhaps equally unwelcome alternatives; even worse their incompatible juxtaposition also implies that they are mutually exclusive in the sense that the satisfaction of the one can only be made if the other is sacrificed.

It is then the case that solving a dilemma resembles a zero-sum game, whereby the choice of one value alternative is necessarily followed by the negation of the other. ‘Solving’ the dilemma in such a way would, therefore, be a contradiction since the solution reached likewise would seem to be no more than a dichotomic split of the intertwined aspects of the issue at hand.

Dilemma is content specific whereas the problem is target specific and so in case of problem always a desired set of target is achieved whereas in case of dilemma a set of targets are sacrificed in lieu of a befitting one which not very often leads to accomplishment.

A dilemma may be dealt with in a more effective and appropriate way if the terms of reference are altered and the whole situation is reformulated and redefined so that full account is taken and due respect paid to the warring value options, which are then ordered and linked among themselves in a more systematic and coherent manner.


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Vishal Agrawal
Vishal Agrawal
2 years ago


Dilemma vs problem_2.jpg
Dilemma vs problem_1.jpg
yaksh madaan
yaksh madaan
2 years ago


Deepanshu Gulyani
Deepanshu Gulyani
2 years ago


New Doc 2020-01-06 23.16.31_2.jpg
New Doc 2020-01-06 23.16.31_1.jpg