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Generating Your Own Case-Based Ethical Dilemmas

Generating Your Own Case-Based Ethical Dilemmas


Sometimes a case that is just right for what you want to teach cannot be found. In these situations, you can create your own case by drawing on resources within your field.

The teaching tip

Making an ethical decision involves appying an abstract set of values to a concrete set of circumstances. Therefore, the key to developing an ethical dilemma is identifying when two "rights" in a given circumstance oppose each other.

One place to find codified sets of values is the professional ethics code of your discipline -- sometimes also called Statements of Standards of Professional Conduct. From these lists of value-driven behavior, pick two or three that you can see conflicting in a set of real-life circumstances.


According to the American Historical Association's Statement of Standards of Professional Conduct, "leaving a clear trail for subsequent historians to follow" and "Those who invent, alter, remove, or destroy evidence make it difficult for any serious historian ever wholly to trust their work again. "

How, then, does an archeologist address the problem of removing the remains of an ancient settlement from the ground to identify them? In order to identify what some items are, they must be removed from where they originally were, thereby destroying forever what meaning might be made from the original physical locations (both horizontal and vertical) of the objects in relationship to each other.

(Many cataloging protocols and technologies have been developed to address this dilemma, but it can be instructional for your students to grapple with the dilemma themselves before learning what solutions the profession has generated.)


Generating the ethical case is only half of the instructional task--the other half is getting students to engage various perspectives on the case in discussion. Click here for tips on Facilitating a Case Discussion.