Perspectives on the recognition and resolution of dilemma within an educational framework
This research is founded on an enduring interest in the concept of dilemma. This interest is in part philosophical (e.g. is it "inconceivable", as Kant believed, to have two equally valid moral obligations?); partly it derives from a concern to enhance the educational experience of adolescents, by giving greater attention to their preparation for the ambiguities of adulthood; partly, it is due to a fascination with its universality. There are dilemmas of personal relationships, public life, medical ethics, military tactics, or the "dirty hands" decisions of politicians. The experience has been captured in literature from Abraham and Agamemnon to Ibsen's Norah and Styron's Sophie. Defined briefly as "a choice between two alternatives which are equally unfavourable", dilemma usually carries as its aftermath a sense of regret or guilt.
There were three research objectives: to illuminate our understanding of the experience, to establish a case for including consideration of dilemmas more methodically in the curriculum, and to assist college counsellors and tutors. The method adopted has been phenomenological. Six perspectives were selected: four theoretical (moral philosophy, political ethics, psychology and social psychology); two empirical
(student experiences, and a survey of the teaching strategies of Heads of Department). The intention has been to cross check the conclusions by illuminative evaluation and triangulation.
The research considered questions about the rationality of believing that two moral obligations can exist simultaneously, the difference between public and private morality, and whether a typology of dilemma can be derived. Further, the coping mechanisms of students and the benefits of including these matters in the curiculum are explored.
Students were interviewed and Heads of Departments surveyed. Amongst the conclusions drawn were: that pluralism accords more closely with experience than monism or single principle solutions; that ideological conflict is an essential precondition of being able to argue or think; that there is a need to prepare for the dilemmas of public office. The study ends with a plea for reflective common sense as the final arbiter in dilemmatic situations.