Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with moral duty and obligation. Or, in simple terms: What is the 'right' or 'moral' thing to do in a situation where there are conflicting choices.
Here is a simple example of a moral dilemma...
A friend has inherited a collection of old postage stamps from an uncle who has recently died. The friend likely has no idea what the collection is worth but, knowing you like to collect old stamps he offers them to you for $50. You go through the collection and realise that it is worth at least $700. What do you do?
You might think: My friend will be happy if I gave him the $50 he asked for – perhaps he knows the stamps are worth more and as my friend he is offering me a good deal. I will give him $50, accept the stamps and we will both be happy.
Or you might think: I know that these stamps are worth much more than he is asking for and I can't take advantage of my friend's generosity or possible lack of knowledge. I will tell him what I think they are worth and see what he says.
Which choice you make would depend on your personal moral code.
Here is a broader, more complicated moral dilemma:
Embryonic stem cell research offers huge potential benefits in terms of finding cures for common diseases. Yet, if an individual believes that a human embryo is a human life entitled to protection, then that person will have difficulty supporting a scientific activity that could bring benefits to society as a whole... and perhaps even to themselves.
And here is an example related to the working world of the Technology Professional:
An engineering technologist prepares a report for a manufacturing company that, like other plants in the area, routinely discharges water into a lake with a significant fish population and which adjoins an area used by tourists. The report indicates that the pollution level in the discharge is higher than legal limits but the cost to the company of addressing the problem is estimated at $350,000. The supervisor asks the technologist to modify the data so that the plant appears to be complying with the legal requirements. What should the technologist do in this situation?
This section of the Professional Practice and Ethics manual looks at such issues and the approaches and tools to help resolve them.