Problem Solving


At its simplest, ethics is a system of moral principles. They affect how people make decisions and lead their lives.

Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy.

The term is derived from the Greek word ethos which can mean custom, habit, character or disposition.

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Problem Solving

  • how to live a good life
  • our rights and responsibilities
  • the language of right and wrong
  • moral decisions - what is good and bad?

Our concepts of ethics have been derived from religions, philosophies and cultures. They infuse debates on topics like abortion, human rights and professional conduct.

Philosophers nowadays tend to divide ethical theories into three areas: metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics.

  • Meta-ethics deals with the nature of moral judgement. It looks at the origins and meaning of ethical principles.
  • Normative ethics is concerned with the content of moral judgements and the criteria for what is right or wrong.
  • Applied ethics looks at controversial topics like war, animal rights and capital punishment

If ethical theories are to be useful in practice, they need to affect the way human beings behave.

Some philosophers think that ethics does do this. They argue that if a person realises that it would be morally good to do something then it would be irrational for that person not to do it.

But human beings often behave irrationally - they follow their 'gut instinct' even when their head suggests a different course of action.

However, ethics does provide good tools for thinking about moral issues.

Most moral issues get us pretty worked up - think of abortion and euthanasia for starters. Because these are such emotional issues we often let our hearts do the arguing while our brains just go with the flow.

But there's another way of tackling these issues, and that's where philosophers can come in - they offer us ethical rules and principles that enable us to take a cooler view of moral problems.

So ethics provides us with a moral map, a framework that we can use to find our way through difficult issues.

Using the framework of ethics, two people who are arguing a moral issue can often find that what they disagree about is just one particular part of the issue, and that they broadly agree on everything else.

That can take a lot of heat out of the argument, and sometimes even hint at a way for them to resolve their problem.

But sometimes ethics doesn't provide people with the sort of help that they really want.

Ethics doesn't always show the right answer to moral problems.

Indeed more and more people think that for many ethical issues there isn't a single right answer - just a set of principles that can be applied to particular cases to give those involved some clear choices.

Some philosophers go further and say that all ethics can do is eliminate confusion and clarify the issues. After that it's up to each individual to come to their own conclusions.

Many people want there to be a single right answer to ethical questions. They find moral ambiguity hard to live with because they genuinely want to do the 'right' thing, and even if they can't work out what that right thing is, they like the idea that 'somewhere' there is one right answer.

But often there isn't one right answer - there may be several right answers, or just some least worst answers - and the individual must choose between them.

For others moral ambiguity is difficult because it forces them to take responsibility for their own choices and actions, rather than falling back on convenient rules and customs.

  • Ethics is about the 'other': when a person 'thinks ethically' they are giving at least some thought to something beyond themselves.
  • Ethics is not only about the morality of particular courses of action, but it's also about the goodness of individuals and what it means to live a good life.
  • One problem with ethics is the way it's often used as a weapon: If a group believes that a particular activity is "wrong" it can then use morality as the justification for attacking those who practice that activity.

At times in the past some people thought that ethical problems could be solved in one of two ways:

  • by discovering what God wanted people to do
  • by thinking rigorously about moral principles and problems

If a person did this properly they would be led to the right conclusion.

But now even philosophers are less sure that it's possible to devise a satisfactory and complete theory of ethics: modern thinkers often teach that ethics leads people not to conclusions but to 'decisions'.

In this view, the role of ethics is limited to clarifying 'what's at stake' in particular ethical problems

  • Ethical realists think that human beings discover ethical truths that already have an independent existence.
  • Ethical non-realists think that human beings invent ethical truths.

But the ethical properties of the world and the things in it exist and remain the same, regardless of what people think or feel - or whether people think or feel about them at all.

  • Moral realism is based on the idea that there are real objective moral facts or truths in the universe.
  • Subjectivism teaches that moral judgments are nothing more than statements of a person's feelings or attitudes, and that ethical statements do not contain factual truths about goodness or badness.
  • Emotivism is the view that moral claims are no more than expressions of approval or disapproval.
  • Prescriptivists think that ethical statements are instructions or recommendations.

hilosophers have several answers to this question:

  • God and religion
  • Human conscience and intuition
  • a rational moral cost-benefit analysis of actions and their effects
  • the example of good human beings
  • a desire for the best for people in each unique situation
  • political power.

Supernaturalism makes ethics inseparable from religion. It teaches that the only source of moral rules is God.

So, something is good because God says it is, and the way to lead a good life is to do what God wants.

Intuitionists think that good and bad are real objective properties that can't be broken down into component parts. Something is good because it's good; its goodness doesn't need justifying or proving.

Intuitionists think that goodness or badness can be detected by adults - they say that human beings have an intuitive moral sense that enables them to detect real moral truths.

This is the ethical theory that most non-religious people think they use every day. It bases morality on the consequences of human actions and not on the actions themselves.

Consequentialism teaches that people should do whatever produces the greatest amount of good consequences. One famous way of putting this is 'the greatest good for the greatest number of people'.

  • Virtue ethics looks at virtue or moral character, rather than at ethical duties and rules, or the consequences of actions. Virtue ethics is particularly concerned with the way individuals live their lives, and less concerned in assessing particular actions.
  • Situation ethics rejects prescriptive rules and argues that individual ethical decisions should be made according to the unique situation. Rather than following rules the decision maker should follow a desire to seek the best for the people involved.
  • Moral absolutism: Some people think there are such universal rules (that are always true) that apply to everyone. Religious views of ethics tend to be absolutist.
  • Moral relativists say that if you look at different cultures or different periods in history you'll find that they have different moral rules; "good" refers to the things that a particular group of people approve of.
  • Moral somewhere-in-between-ism: Most non-philosophers think that both of the above theories have some good points and think that there are a few absolute ethical rules, but a lot of ethical rules depend on the culture.
Overwhelmed With Clutter

Clutter can be defined as anything that keeps us from living the life we are meant to lead, anything that stops us from our accomplishments and the true joy of living.

We clutter everything. Our homes, cars, storage compartments, offices, phones, and even our minds are filled with more clutter than we can possibly manage.

Clutter is not just the physical things but can be digital, mental, emotional and spiritual.

  • Physical clutter is the stuff we accumulate.
  • Digital clutter is our overflowing inbox and the thousands of files saved on our phone/PC.
  • Mental clutter is our to-do list and our anxieties.
  • Emotional clutter can be the biases, negative thought patterns and obsolete beliefs we carry around like extra luggage.
  • Spiritual clutter can be not being at peace or the lack of forgiveness.

Clutter, whether physical, mental or spiritual, can be distilled down to delayed and postponed decisions and the constant procrastination going on in our lives.

Take the physical paper files and email cluttering our office (or home) and our computers. Each email or piece of paper needs a decision we are not willing to make, postponing it and filing it away.

Taking care of physical, emotional and mental clutter is hard enough, as our constant anxieties and thought patterns create a cobweb that paralyses us.

Spiritual clutter is even harder to take care of, as we don’t even know what is stopping us. It can be our guilt, our deep fears, hidden emotions, and even the ideas lying in the freezer that we have not worked on.

Having clutter isn’t bad, but the guilt associated with the burden of postponed decisions is the real culprit. We need to face our fears and find ways to get rid of the emotional and spiritual clutter. A few ways can be:

  1. Journaling daily.
  2. Meditating daily.
  3. Going out for a long walk in nature.
  4. Talking to someone.
  5. Taking positive action and moving forward.
The role of effort

For most types of work you can increase your productivity by increasing the intensity of your work. No more watercooler chats or lingering over emails.

Some productivity systems admit that we can get more done within the same time. But scheduling every moment of your working day takes extra effort.

Incentives: If you're paid hourly, then the expectation is that you will work for a certain amount of time. Nobody pays you directly for working harder within the same time. Working harder often simply means raised expectations.

Incentives may explain laziness but are seldom the only factor. Students use inefficient methods, even if it will cause them to suffer. Freelancers and entrepreneurs may procrastinate, even though lowered productivity directly impacts their income.

Our default position is not to work particularly hard. Farming societies overcame this default with cultural exhortations to work harder and social norms about when to work and rest. Also, the relative poverty of pre-industrial people ensured an incentive to work hard. If you didn't, you had nothing to eat.

In our more recent affluence, we tend to work less intensively than we should, even if we could reap more rewards for hard work.

  • A compelling reason to be productive can increase the intensity. Big ambitions can also inspire greater productivity. It is one reason why we should set big goals.
  • Working harder in bursts. Cycles of productivity are natural. If we recognise the existence of energy cycles, we can use them by relaxing in the slower phases.
  • Working on systems can make effort easier. We can make tasks easier by limiting alternatives. Reading books on your phone is much easier if you don't have Instagram next to it.
Practising Failure
  • We all normally learn from our mistakes, getting to know how to not handle something or what not to do in a situation.
  • Most of our failures happen while we are trying our best to succeed. No one actively seeks failure and makes deliberate mistakes to gather learning.
  • No amount of preparation can help us in various obstacles, and failure becomes the rite of passage to increase our adaptability, flexibility and eventual mastery in any skill.

Practising failure is a great learning tactic, however unintuitive it may sound. One has to move into 'failure' territory to be able to attain mastery on a skill or subject.

One can commonly see it in tools like flight simulators, and other training modules where one has to go through the failure in order to learn the entire concept.

People look for experienced professionals in senior job roles with extreme levels of responsibility because they know that when there is no time to think about the process, and a split-second action or decision has to be made, only real experience counts.

Example: A pilot who has never stalled a plane and then recovered would not know the pressure, time and space that is necessary to make the split-second judgement.

There are two kinds of historical events to learn from
  • Specific events. Their usefulness is limited to particular events that will not be repeated in the exact same way. What did this person do right, or wrong? What ideas worked? What strategies failed?
  • Broad behaviours that repeatedly surface in many fields and eras. These behaviours are often ignored. How do people think about risk? How do they react to surprise? What motivates them, cause them to be overconfident, or unsure?
  • Good times often breed complacency and scepticism of warnings. Until 2020, the public assumed pandemics were things of the past. 100 years ago, people had a better understanding of how dangerous an outbreak could be.
  • Carl Jung thought that an excess of something gives rise to its opposite. When there are no recessions, people get confident. Confident people take risks, leading to recessions.

Optimism and pessimism go hand in hand. In finance, we are told to save like a pessimist and invest like an optimist. The short term is full of setbacks, problems, breakages, depressions, pandemics, errors, but if you can stick around long enough, you can experience long-term growth.

The long-run is usually rather good and the short run is normally quite bad. In reconciling the two, we learn how to manage both.

  • Everyone has a model in their head of how they think the world works. That model is built mostly from what you've experienced and what people you trust have told you. But everyone has different experiences and a different set of people, leading to different models.
  • We also believe something if our income or approval in a social circle depends on believing it.

It is then essential to understand that no one thinks independently. We all suffer from some degree of blindness.

An important lesson from history is that big events are more complicated. It makes forecasting difficult, politics nasty, and lessons to learn from it harder.

We may demand simple answers to explain outlier events. However, it's almost impossible for something big to happen because of one event, person, or group. Unrelated things often culminate into something significant. For example, the Great Depression was the result of a stock market crash, a banking crash, a real estate bubble, an agricultural disaster, and an inadequate policy response. When all these things happened at the same time, it was a catastrophe.

The risks we talk about are seldom the most important in hindsight. The real risk is what no-one sees coming. For example, September 11th, Pearl Harbor, The Great Depression. These events surprised nearly everyone and instantly shoved the world in a new direction.

When we are caught off guard, two things happen: One is that we are vulnerable. The other is that surprise shakes our beliefs in a way that leaves us paranoid and pessimistic.

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