ethical dispute

An ethical dispute is, according to Rushworth Kidder, characterized by a conflict of "right versus right". That is, two positions that both invoke the concept of rightness or goodness or human rights, one of which is "more right" than the other from the perspective of the judge assessing claims. What turns a moral conflict into an ethical dispute is the invocation of moral principles:

One classic example is the Wisdom of Solomon as documented in the Bible: When presented with a child that two women each claim is their own, Solomon proposes cutting the baby in half, killing it, but letting each mother carry half home. The woman who abhors this solution and, as anyone who wished to protect their child would, begs the King to give the child to the other (who accepts the King's original solution), is the genuine mother. In this case the mother is identified by her insistence on the right of the child to live, as opposed to the right of the mother to raise that child herself. The wisdom of Solomon is to identify who puts the rights in their correct order according to God's own rules.

An "ethic" (singular), is in some analyses an ordered list of which right takes precedence over which.

When an ethical dispute is carried into an arena where public opinion influences the result it is called a political dispute. According to Bernard Crick, the political virtues are then required to settle it. These bear little or no resemblance to the more principled, rational, moral reasoning techniques that would be employed by a King Solomon.

The study of ethics is thus somewhat divorced from the study of politics. As Crick put it however the mastery of these virtues and capacity to discern situations and contexts was of higher merit than any "absolute-sounding ethic".