Ethical Lapse and Dilemma Differences

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Ethics refers to the collection of principles which together decide how a person conducts himself or herself in a particular decision-making situation. Unable to divorce ethics from morality.
There is an ethical dilemma if a person has to decide between two possibilities or decisions without being faulty about the alternative. Let a person choose to steal food for his family or not to steal food and let his family die of hunger. The theft of food is ethically unethical in this case. On the other hand, failing to provide food to feed one’s family is wrong. If one steals food to feed their family, they would have been right and evil at the same time. To choose one or the other situation presents a dilemma.

An ethical dilemma should not be confused with an ethical lapse, which is a mistake in judgment, the commission of which results in outcomes that are harmful. In an ethical dilemma, it is possible for the decision made by the individual to result in a positive end whereas a decision regarded as an ethical lapse will always lead to an undesirable culmination. A person involved in a lapse faces no dilemma, they have only made an error in judgment, and the consequence might not be predictable, unlike in the case of the ethical dilemma where the outcome is known.


While the two situations relate to ethics, the distinction between an ethical dilemma and an ethical lapse is clear. A proper consideration of the difference between the two leads to a deeper philosophical understanding and not confusion.

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