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The Lottery Ticket Dilemma



Decision-making has been a fundamental aspect of human beings for a long time. Every

day, an individual has to make varied decisions, each of which come with conflicting aspects,

benefits and limitations. In most cases, it is not difficult to make a choice as one alternative with

undoubtedly be clearly better than the others. However, this does not in any way undermine or

negate the difficulty that comes with decision-making. Different individuals use different thought

patterns in coming up with the appropriate decision or course of action. These thought patterns

have been coherently devised and summarized into theories that would inform decision-making

in varied instances. This would be the case in the example provided.

In this case, a neighbor has given clear instructions stating that his dollar should not be

mixed in buying a lottery ticket just in case his lottery ticket wins. However, the individual buys

two tickets one with his own money and the other with the neighbors money but does not mix the

lottery tickets. Indeed, the neighbors lottery ticket wins $1.8 million, money which the

individual desperately needs to cover up the financial quagmire in which he is. The individual is,

therefore, in a dilemma as to whether he should give up the ticket and inform the neighbor that

his ticket won the money or he should keep the ticket and tell the neighbor that his ticket was

unlucky. Varied theories would provide different explanations for any course of action that the

individual may take.

Ethical egotist

As an ethical egotist, I would undoubtedly keep the ticket to myself and inform my

neighbor that his ticket did not win. Ethical egoism underlines the notion that it is imperative and

sufficient for a course of action to be morally appropriate as long as it optimizes the interests of
an individual. Ethical egoism is primarily divided into three categories including individual,

personal and universal ethical egoism. Personal ethical egoism underlined the belief that my

actions should only be motivated by self interests but is silent on the motivations for other

peoples actions. Individual ethical egoism underlines the belief that the actions of all individuals

should be geared towards benefiting me (Garsten & Hernes, 2009). Universal ethical egoism, on

the other hand, underlines the notion that all individuals should pursue their own self interests

and seek to benefit themselves. Needless to say, all of them point at taking the course of action

that would be beneficial to me (Garsten & Hernes, 2009). With deficits in my rent and car

payments and needing the money to pay for my college education, it goes without saying that I

could do with some extra money. The action that would be most beneficial to me (or rather one

that comes closest to self interest) is keeping the ticket to myself so I can have the money. As a

personal ethical egotist, the action that comes closest to self interest is keeping the ticket just as

is the case for Universal ethical egoism. For individual ethical egoism, the actions of my

neighbor should be pointing towards benefiting me, which is only attainable if I keep the

winning ticket.

One of the key weaknesses pertaining to the application of this theory is the founded on

the fact that it makes no consideration for moral duties of even prima facie good or benefit

beyond self interests and personal happiness (Moore, 1998). Failure to consider the moral duties

that an individual has would give a leeway for individuals to undertake atrocities in the name of

self interest. In the case study provided, I would undoubtedly not consider my moral duty to give

my neighbor the winning ticket, which was bought with the dollars that he had instructed me to

set aside and not mix with mine just in case his money got the winning lottery ticket.
Nevertheless, this theory comes as extremely easy to apply. All that I would have to worry about

or consider is which of the options would be most beneficial to me. It gives me the capacity to do

what I want in this case and almost affords me personal relativism with regard to freedom of


Cultural or ethical relativism

However, the decision would undoubtedly be different if I was following cultural

relativism. Cultural relativism underlines the prescriptive perspective that different societies or

groups of people should have varying ethical standards for assessing acts as wrong or right

(Moore, 1998). In addition, it holds the notion that these varying beliefs are true and valid in the

respective societies (Garsten & Hernes, 2009). On the same note, the different beliefs should not

be misconstrued as instances pertaining to a fundamental moral principle (Pollock, 2012).

For the case provided, I would have to give my neighbor the ticket that won. This is

because I live in a society that values honesty and would detest any action that tends to go

against this moral action. Considering that the neighbor had, in fact, told me to keep his money

aside just in case it wins, it, therefore, follows that the ticket that I bought with his money was in

all respects his. This is especially considering that I had actually set it aside in which case I know

that the ticket is his. In essence, keeping it to myself and giving him the ticket that I bought with

my money would go against the societal values, norms and guidelines pertaining to what is

considered morally and ethically right. In this regard, I would have to give the winning ticket to


However, following this theory comes with certain weaknesses. This is especially

considering that there is an element of uncertainty, with what is considered morally right being a
matter of opinion (Pollock, 2012). In essence, different people in the society would give different

answers to exactly what I should do depending on their motives. This is all in line with

respective personal opinion. The society in its entirety holds the opinion that being honest is the

right thing to do, yet every case would have to be treated differently depending on personal


Nevertheless, the fact that there is no absolute right as far as following this theory is

concerned makes is easy for decision making as all I would have to consider are the values and

the morals that the society, within which I live, upholds.

However, my personal decision would not be restricted within these theories. In fact,

their application may be a bit difficult, thanks to balancing act that I have to do pertaining to the

interests of the society (my neighbor) and meeting my bills. Needless to say, the money would go

a long way in eliminating the financial problems that I have. This means that I would have to

balance between assuaging my conscience and giving the neighbor what is due to him.

Considering that a lottery ticket comes with the probability of winning or losing, I would divide

the money with my neighbor. This is especially considering that he was simply joking when he

stated that I separate his money from mine when buying. In any case, there is no guarantee that

he would have gotten the winning lottery ticket had he gone to buy it himself. In essence, I

would divide the money with him as a recognition of the fact that winning came as a result of our

combined effort. I had played an immense (and crucial role) of buying the ticket and he had

provided the all-important money with which I had bought the winning ticket. In this way, I

would be assured of calming my heart and conscience in the knowledge that I have not robbed

the individual of his money and my effort has not gone to waste as well. On the same note, I

would have been at liberty to mix up his money with mine and probably still gotten the winning
lottery ticket. This underlines the fact that the winning lottery ticket was not solely assigned to

my neighbors money rather in simply happened to be the lucky buyer, a factor that is

independent of the fact that I was using his money. The winning lottery ticket is not a function of

the money used rather it was of the action of buying itself, in which case even sharing the money

with the neighbor is simply an act of benevolence.



Moore, J. (1998). Moral search: Humanitarian intervention in internal conflicts. Boulder, Colo:

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Garsten, C., & Hernes, T. (2009). Ethical dilemmas in management. London: Routledge.

Pollock, J. M. (2012). Ethical dilemmas and decisions in criminal justice. Belmont, CA:

Wadsworth Cengage Learning.