Dilemma

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For other uses, see Dilemma (disambiguation).
"Between a rock and a hard place" redirects here. For other uses, see Between a Rock and a Hard Place (disambiguation).

A dilemma (Greek: δίλημμα "double proposition") is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is unambiguously acceptable or preferable. One in this position has been traditionally described as "being on the horns of a dilemma", neither horn being comfortable. This is sometimes more colorfully described as "Finding oneself impaled upon the horns of a dilemma", referring to the sharp points of a bull's horns, equally uncomfortable (and dangerous).

The dilemma is sometimes used as a rhetorical device, in the form "you must accept either A, or B"; here A and B would be propositions each leading to some further conclusion. Applied incorrectly, it constitutes a false dichotomy, a fallacy.

Types[edit]

Colorful names have been given to many types of dilemmas.

  • Chicken or egg: which is first of two things, each of which presupposes the other
  • Double bind: conflicting requirements ensure that the victim will automatically be wrong.
  • Ethical dilemma: a choice between moral imperatives.
  • Extortion: the choice between paying the extortionist and suffering an unpleasant action.
  • Hedgehog's dilemma: the desire for intimacy going unfulfilled due to accompanying substantial mutual harm.
  • Fairness dilemmas: when groups are faced with making decisions about how to share their resources, rewards, or payoffs.
  • Hobson's choice: a choice between something and nothing; "take it or leave it".
  • Morton's fork: choices yield equivalent, often undesirable, results.
  • Prisoner's dilemma: an inability to coordinate makes cooperation difficult and defection tempting.
  • Samaritan's dilemma: the choice between providing charity and improving another's condition, and withholding it to prevent them from becoming dependent.
  • Sophie's choice: a choice between two persons or things that will result in the death or destruction of the person or thing not chosen.
  • Traveler's dilemma: you could make the best move possible to win the game according to its rules. But in doing so, you forfeit almost the entire value of a lost suitcase full of antiques of which you are the owner.
  • Zugzwang: one must move and incur harm when one would prefer to make no move (esp. in chess).

Related terms[edit]

Several idioms describe dilemmas:

A dilemma with more than two forks is sometimes called a trilemma (3), tetralemma (4), or more generally a polylemma.

Use in logic[edit]

In formal logic, the definition of a dilemma differs markedly from everyday usage. Two options are still present, but choosing between them is immaterial because they both imply the same conclusion. Symbolically expressed thus:

Which can be translated informally as "one (or both) of A or B is known to be true, but they both imply C, so regardless of the truth values of A and B we can conclude C." This is a rule of inference called Disjunction elimination.

There are also constructive dilemmas and destructive dilemmas.

Constructive dilemmas[edit]

1. (If X, then Y) and (If W, then Z).
2. X or W.
3. Therefore, Y or Z.

Destructive dilemmas[edit]

1. (If X, then Y) and (If W, then Z).
2. Not Y or not Z.
3. Therefore, not X or not W.

See also[edit]

References[edit]