Consider the following situation: a mayor is holding captive the leader of a terrorist group that has placed bombs throughout the city. It is determined that the only way to get the terrorist to confess where the bombs are hidden is to torture his child in front of him. Should the mayor torture an innocent child to save the lives of many?
In Perplexity in the Moral Life Santurri discusses how situations of moral perplexity are to be construed and how the interpretation of these situations might be constrained by the presuppositions of Christian ethics. Often in our practical lives we are perplexed about what morality requires of us: any course of action appears as a moral transgression. Santurri examines the thesis that situations of moral perplexity may actually be cases of genuine moral dilemmas in which a moral transgression is unavoidable.
Proponents of the moral dilemmas thesis collide with an established philosophical tradition holding that no adequate ethical theory can countenance the existence of genuine dilemmas. It has been suggested that admitting the existence of dilemmas is tantamount to acknowledging the presence of a debilitating incoherence in one's system of moral reasoning.
Santurri contends that the issue of whether or not genuine moral dilemmas exist cannot be resolved on the basis of philosophical arguments typically advanced either by the traditional or by the revisionist views, and maintains that moral perplexity is a phenomenon which cannot be interpreted apart from answering certain fundamental questions of moral ontology. He then goes on to consider what sort of constraints a Christian view of morality imposes on the interpretation of moral conflict and argues that there are good reasons for Christian ethics to deny the existence of genuine dilemmas. He concludes with a critical discussion of the positions that have been or might be employed in Christian ethical arguments for the reality of irresolvable moral conflict.