Dilemmas and Decisions

A Critical Addition to the Curriculum


In Dilemmas and Decisions the author argues that dilemmas, medical, political and personal are clearly universal, requiring decisions with a painful choice. Nevertheless, we are witnessing an increasing tendency amongst opinion leaders, from management consultants to religious fundamentalists, to inform us that dilemmas either do not really exist or are merely problems awaiting the “right” solution (which they happen to possess).

Such moral certainty is dangerously mistaken, breeding extremism and undermining democratic values. Education can become a kind of preparation for Multiple Choice Question-type exams or TV quizzes, with facts recalled under pressure of time and problems needing fast solutions.

Problems, however, are different from dilemmas; they have solutions and disappear as soon as these are found. Dilemmas leave you with an aftertaste and a sense of regret about the rejected alternative.

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Patrick F. Miller, Ph.D. (1995), University of Surrey, formerly Principal of Esher College, taught at Manchester Grammar School and Queen Mary’s College Basingstoke and was Canon Residentiary at Southwark Cathedral. Publications on Religious Studies include Creeds and Controversies (E.U.P. Ltd., 1969).
Prologue ix
Acknowledgments xiii
Introduction xv
Chapter 1: What Is a Dilemma? Defining the Concept for Schools and Colleges 1
A Working Definition 1
Dilemmas versus Problems 2
Remainders, Regret and Guilt 4
Moral and Non-Moral Dilemmas 5
Favourable and Unfavourable Dilemmas 6
Summary of Characteristics 7
Chapter 2: Do Dilemmas Really Exist? Facing the Sceptic’s Challenge 9
Do Genuine Dilemmas Really Exist? – Traditional Opposition 9
The Case for the Existence of Genuine Dilemmas 17
Chapter 3: Evidence from Secondary School Teachers and Counsellors:
Examples of Dilemmas across the Curriculum 31
Teachers and “Dilemmatic Spaces” 31
Constraints and Pressures 33
Dilemma Research Group 35
A Study Visit to the USA 38
A Survey of Heads of Department 41
The Role of the Counsellor 43
Chapter 4: How Awareness of Dilemma Can Enrich Education: Seeking a
Philosophical Rationale 47
On Being Open Minded 47
The Experience of Conflict 48
Philosophy Should Not Prescribe 49
A Liberal Education 50
Objections to a Liberal Education 52
Conclusion 53
Chapter 5: Preparation at School for Public Responsibility: The “Dirty Hands”
Dispute 55
Public and Private Morality 55
Taking up Arms: The Pacifist and the Expedient Arguments 57
Machiavelli: Compromise and Expediency 58
Sartre: “Dirty Hands” 59
The Dilemma of Nuclear Deterrence 59
Wider Applications 60
Is There a Distinctive Public Morality? 60
Chapter 6: Conflict, Common Sense and the Thinking Society: The Perspective
from Social Psychology 65
Conflict and Contradiction in Sociological Theory 66
Dilemma and Rhetoric 71
Conclusions 74
Chapter 7: Young Adults, Dilemmas and Decision Making: The Perspective
from Psychology 77
Formal Operational Thought 78
Stages in Moral Development 78
Adult Reasoning, Relativism and Empathy 81
Adult Cognition and Ageing 83
Decision Making 84
Problem Solving 89
Specific Cognitive Abilities and Types of Thinking 89
Conclusion 93
Chapter 8: Learning to Live with Marginal Decisions: The Positive Outcomes
of Dilemmas 95
Recognizing and Accepting Dilemmas 95
The Response to “Dirty Hands” 96
Not Possible to Do Good and to Save One’s Soul 97
Innocent Criminals Prepared to Pay the Just Price 98
Appendix: Dilemmas from Classical Literature: Some Classroom Exercises 101
References 107
Index 113
The teacher educator, those on B.Ed. and Teacher Training Courses, Newly Qualified Teachers, as well as experienced teachers in secondary education; also students of philosophy, politics, ethics or religious studies.