Problem-Solving 101

PROBLEMS

Problem-Solving: Job Applicants

You receive an excellent and well-written job-application letter from a student, whom you hire for an internship, but you then discover that the student cannot write well. Apparently, the student had lots of help writing the job-application letter (and resume). What can you do to ensure that the next student whom you hire for an internship can write well?

Problem-Solving: Escort Service

A grandmother was frequently awakened late at night and early in the morning by drunken men asking for an escort. She investigated and discovered that an escort service had opened up in town, and its telephone number was very similar to her telephone number. The drunken men were misdialing the escort-service number and calling her instead. She called the escort service and asked it to change its number, but the escort service declined to do that. What can the grandmother do to solve the problem of drunken men calling her late at night and early in the morning?

Problem-Solving: Strapless Gowns

When Jerry Spinelli, author of the Newbery Medal-winning Maniac Magee, made plans to attend his ninth-grade prom, the girls were angry because they were not allowed to wear strapless gowns. They held a meeting with the principal, but they were still not allowed to wear strapless gowns. What can the girls do to wear strapless gowns at the prom even though the authorities say that they aren’t allowed to?

SOLUTIONS

Problem-Solving: Job Applicants

Solution(s)

Sit the student in front of a computer and have the student write a memo or a business letter. This will let you know whether the student can write well.

Problem-Solving: Escort Service

Solution(s)

Every time the grandmother received a telephone from a man asking for an escort, she told the man, “I’m sorry, sir, but we have gone out of business.” Very quickly, the escort service changed its telephone number.

Problem-Solving: Strapless Gowns

Solution(s)

Each girl carried a pair of scissors in her purse. During the prom, each girl disappeared into the girls’ bathroom and reappeared without straps. Because so many girls did this, the authorities were unable to do anything about it.

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John Stuart Mill (1806-1873): The Case for Liberty and Law

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873): The Case for Liberty and Law

John Stuart Mill is known for his work in such areas as morality, logic, the emancipation of women, and political science. In On Liberty (1859), he defends Humankind’s freedom against the encroachments of governments.

Civil, or Social, Liberty

Mill’s subject in On Liberty is civil, or social, liberty — that is, “the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.” As part of the background of this topic, he traces the history of struggles of the individual (for Liberty) against government (Authority). Liberty here means “protection against the tyranny of the political rulers.”

In the early history of society, Humankind was much afraid of the power of governments, although this power was regarded as necessary. (Hobbes believed that the Commonwealth should have power to make sure everyone obeys the rules.) However, individuals were afraid of this power. To limit the power of the government, individuals wanted certain rights recognized and constitutional checks on the power of the government.

In recent history, however, the focus has changed. At one time kingships were hereditary. Now we are governed by politicians whom we can vote out of office. These representatives are supposed to identify themselves with the people and represent their interests.

The result, however, is a “tyranny of the majority.” In a democracy, the groups of people who are most numerous rule over the rest because they have the most influence over the lawmakers, who, after all, are voted into office.

These lawmakers have two ways in which to go wrong:

1) They can issue mandates that require individuals to do wrong, and

2) They can issue mandates in areas where they ought not to interfere at all.

For example, lawmakers can raise taxes for an unjust war, thus forcing citizens to support evil. Or lawmakers can put into effect regulations that interfere in people’s lives without just cause; for example, some people believe that two consenting adults ought to be able to have sex in their own home behind closed doors, even if they are homosexual. The writer Gore Vidal also believes that all drugs ought to be legal and that a woman ought to have the right to choose to have an abortion.

The next question that Mill considers is, Are one’s feelings an adequate guide to making laws? This is something he rejects because people’s feelings vary notoriously. If we are to reform society, it must be on a firmer foundation than that.

Mill’s Principle and Beliefs

So on what foundation ought we to decide “the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual”? Mill has an answer: “[T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.” According to Mill, an adult has this right: “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

This principle, however, does not apply to children. If a child wants to play in the street, we are justified in telling the child no. If a child does not want to go to school, we are justified in making the child go. This principle applies “only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties.”

However, one should also be aware that there are some things a person cannot do. For example, I cannot harm another person. This means, of course, I cannot murder, I cannot rape, I cannot steal, I cannot beat up, etc.

In addition, a person may legitimately be forced to do some things. For example, I may be forced to give evidence in a court of law, I may be forced to defend my country during wartime, and I may be required to save someone’s life (I cannot simply allow someone to die when I can easily save him or her).

Mill writes about what a free society — if it really is free — must have. A free society must have these three things:

1) [F]reedom in “the inward domain of consciousness”; “liberty of conscience”; “liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment in all subjects, practical or speculative.”

For example, I am entitled to my own opinion about evolution — I can either believe in it or not, as I choose. I am also entitled to my own opinion about whether the President of the United States is a good person or not.

2) “[L]iberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow: without impediment from our fellow creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong.”

For example, if I want to join a commune and run naked through the woods, I can. If I want to be homeless, I can — as long as I don’t harm other people.

3) “[C]ombination among individuals; freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced or deceived.”

For example, if I want to join the American Nazi Party, I can — as long as I don’t harm other people.

Majority opinion does not count here. According to Mill, “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

Two Objections

Mill’s position is very clear. However, in addition to stating what he believes, he also responds to two objections that people could level against his thesis.

Objection #1. There should be no discussion in the case of a false belief.

Mill’s response: “However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that, however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.”

Even if you are absolutely sure that you are right, you need arguments supporting what you believe. Otherwise, when you finally come across someone who does not believe as you do, you will be unlikely to withstand his or her arguments.

Objection #2. We should allow free discussion only when the manner of arguing is temperate and fair.

Mill’s response has four parts:

  1. Any opinion that is silenced may, for all we know, be true.
  2. Even if the opinion is in error, part of it may be true. The only way that we are able to improve our own opinions, and make them truer, is to subject them to criticism. We ought not to silence the critics for they perform a valuable function, even when they are wrong.
  3. Let us suppose that the majority opinion is the whole truth. Unless it is debated, it is in danger of becoming merely a prejudice — with people not realizing the grounds for believing it. (Frequently, people become Republicans or Democrats simply because that is the way their parents voted.)
  4. Unless an opinion is debated, people will pay only lip service to it. For people to truly believe it, it must be debated.

Let me add: If we are truly to understand our own opinion, we must understand the opinions of those opposed to us. In philosophy, we try to do this. We do our best to formulate arguments supporting our opinions, but we also listen to the arguments supporting the other opinions. Only in this way can the truth be known.

Two Maxims

As kind of a summary of his main points, Mill states these two maxims:

  1. “[T]he individual is not accountable to society for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself.”
  2. “[T]hat for such actions as are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable, and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishment, if society is of opinion that the one or the other is requisite for its protection.”

Objections to Governmental Interference When Infringement of Liberty is Not an Issue

Finally, Mill considers objections to governmental inference when infringement of liberty is not an issue. According to Mill, we ought not to give the government power to do something when:

  1. The thing to be done is likely to be better done by individuals than by the government.
  2. Though individuals may not do the thing so well as the government, it may be desirable that it be done nevertheless by individuals.
  3. Adding unnecessarily to the power of the government may be a great evil.

Conclusion

Mill’s essay is titled On Liberty for a reason: he believes in the liberty of the individual to think for him- or herself. This right is unqualified.

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LadyMacDeath: “Painted on the Ladies Room floor. Not cool, guys!”

pider

Source: LadyMacDeath, “Painted on the Ladies Room floor. Not cool, guys!” Imgur. 16 April 2015

http://imgur.com/eu3BGaq

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Where Do the Neutral and the Uncommitted Go in the Afterlife?

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. — Dante

The above quotation is not quite accurate. Actually, these people are not allowed in Hell — Hell doesn’t want them.

Following is 630 words explaining this. If you are interested in the subject, search online for Dante’s Inferno: A Discussion Guide by David Bruce. It is a free download. You can also download it here:

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Which souls can be found in the Vestibule of Hell? What is a Vestibule, and why is the punishment of the souls found there appropriate?

A Vestibule is a passage between the door and the interior of a building. Even before we reach the first Circle of Hell, we see souls being punished.

The punishments of the Inferno begin even before the doorway of the Inferno is passed. Outside the doorway are the souls of those who never took a stand in life. While living, they were neither for good nor for evil, and now that they are dead, neither Heaven nor Hell wants them. In life, they did not follow a banner; in death, they follow a banner endlessly, running after it as it travels here and here, never remaining in one place. Similarly, in life, these noncommitted souls never staked out a firm position. In life, these souls never felt deeply, either for good or for evil. Now, these souls do feel deeply, as wasps and hornets bite them. They bleed from the bites, and maggots eat the pus that flows to the ground. This punishment is fitting. What these souls avoided doing in life, they now do in death. In addition, these souls did no lasting good or harm on Earth, and they will be not be remembered on Earth. In the Inferno, Dante mentions none of them by name.

The uncommitted who are punished here include angels who fought neither for God nor for Lucifer when Lucifer rebelled against God.

Sometimes people say that Dante put the morally neutral in the deepest pit of Hell. That is not true. Not even Hell wanted them, so they are not even in a Circle of Hell.

One thing to learn here is that Dante is letting us know that choosing not to make a choice is in itself a choice. These people chose not to choose to be committed to good.

John Ciardi sees the human beings being here as Opportunists. They did not act either for good or for evil; they acted only for themselves (Ciardi, The Divine Comedy, 30).

In addition, some commentators believe that these souls are the Slothful. Because the sin of Sloth is purged on the Mountain of Purgatory, the sin of Sloth ought to be punished in (or near) Hell. The Slothful may be punished here in the Vestibule of Hell, or the Slothful may be punished in Circle 5. Many commentators believe that the Sullen are punished in Circle 5, but Mark Musa believes that the sinners punished there are the Slothful. The Angry or Wrathful are also punished in Circle 5, and since Sullenness is a form of bottled-up anger, perhaps the Sullen are punished in Circle 5. Sloth means not loving the right things enough, and the souls in the Vestibule of Hell did not love what is good and right enough to pursue those things, so perhaps these are the Slothful.

Hell does not want these uncommitted souls because “the damned might glory over them” (Musa Inferno 3.42). The verb “to glory” means “to exult.” Apparently, the sinners in Hell would feel superior to the uncommitted. The uncommitted never took a stand, either for good or for evil, but the damned at least took a stand, even though it was for evil.

Who keeps the uncommitted souls out of Hell Proper? Although Hell does not want these uncommitted souls, the proper answer is not Lucifer because we will see that Lucifer has no power in the Inferno. The proper answer is that God keeps these souls out of Hell Proper. After all, we know that God created the Inferno, and therefore God created the Vestibule of the Inferno.

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John Baillie (1886-1960): I am Immortal

One philosopher who argues from a Judeo-Christian standpoint that we are immortal is John Baillie, who was born in Scotland in 1886 and who died in 1960 after a long career in philosophy and theology. During his long career, he was even appointed Chaplain to the Queen of Scotland. In his 1934 book And the Life Everlasting, he argues that we are immortal. His writing is very clear.

Baillie’s argument for immortality is given in what he calls a “syllogism of hope.” A syllogism is an argument that consists of two premises and a conclusion. That he uses this form is an advantage to the reader because it clearly identifies his premises and his conclusion; thus, the reader is aided in determining whether the premises are true and whether they provide adequate support for the conclusion.

The first premise of the syllogism of hope is “God is Omnipotent Love.” Baillie starts with belief in God; he assumes the existence of God — an omnipotent, omnibenevolent Being Who is the object of worship in Judeo-Christian religions. For Baillie, two characteristics of God are that He is all-powerful and all-loving.

One must ask whether this premise is true. When Baillie evaluates the truth of this premise, he writes,

“The question I find myself asking is not whether God is omnipotent, but whether Omnipotence is God; not whether the Eternal Lover of our souls is truly in control of the universe, but whether that which is in control of the universe is truly such as to be a Lover of our souls. My own temptation, accordingly, has never been to doubt the power of a God unmistakably revealed as love, but rather to doubt the love of a God unmistakably revealed as power. The almightiness of reality is only too plain; it is the love that so often seems hidden.”

However, Baillie believes that the first premise is true.

The second premise of the syllogism of hope is this: “Therefore, God will preserve the persons He loves and values.” One thing that has been suggested as human beings’ intrinsic value is that through using their free will they are able to choose to bring good into the universe. (Of course, through their free will they are also able to choose to bring evil into the universe.)

One thing that Baillie believes is “The Omnipotence behind the universe is our Father and our Friend.” Therefore, he asks, if these two premises should be allowed, would not this conclusion follow: “Therefore, God will preserve the persons He loves and values.” Indeed, Baillie asks, “Is it possible to believe that the Eternal Father, if He veritably is, should consent to the annihilation of the souls He loves?”

Here is the completed syllogism of hope:

P1: God is Omnipotent Love.

P2: Something of intrinsic value resides in human individuality.

C: Therefore, God will preserve the persons He loves and values.

Baillie finds the syllogism of hope convincing; he adds that if we do not, we ought to ask ourselves which of the two premises we doubt. (Baillie believes that the two premises provide adequate support for the conclusion; therefore, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is also true.)

According to Baillie,

“If the truth […] of [the syllogism of] hope’s [premises] be granted, then its conclusion cannot possibly be resisted. Hence it is of the utmost importance that those who doubt or deny this conclusion should make it clear to others which of the two premises they are doubting. It seems to me that there is no small degree of equivocation in contemporary literature on this vital point. Every one who denies the doctrine of personal immortality is denying either the ultimate conservation by the universe of the values that emerge during its process or the intrinsic nature of the value that resides in personality. Either he is doubting the reality of God the Father Almighty or he is holding possible that God should will the annihilation of the souls He loves — or at the very least the dissipation of their individualities […].”

In conclusion, Baillie offers a way for people to become more assured of their immortality. It is a very simple way, based on Scripture:

“The way to attain to a surer hope is thus not to so much to attend to the sharpening of our wits, though that too may have its measure of importance, as to deepen our human experience of fellowship with God and, as a fruit, increase our sense of the preciousness of human souls. Here as everywhere the two great commandments are to love God with all of our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.”

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Zen Stories

When Zen master Hakuin was a young Zen student, he learned that hidden virtue is rewarded. He was traveling with two older monks; all three travelers were carrying baggage. While he walked, Hakuin meditated. One of the older Zen monks pleaded that he was ill and asked Hakuin to carry his baggage for him. Hakuin agreed. The other monk then decided to take advantage of Hakuin by claiming that he also was ill and asking Hakuin to carry his baggage, too. Heavily loaded, Hakuin meditated while carrying all the baggage until the three monks reached the boat on which they would travel. Exhausted, Hakuin slept for a long time. When he awoke, he was surprised that the boat had traveled through a storm. While the other monks had been terrified by the storm, become seasick, and vomited, Hakuin had slept peacefully. (Source: Thomas Cleary, translator, Zen Antics, pp. 21-22.)

Two monks were out walking, and they came to a river that they needed to cross. On the bank of the river was a woman who also needed to cross the river, so one of the monks offered to carry her, an act of kindness to which she agreed. The monks and the woman crossed the river, then the woman went in one direction and the monks in another. Long afterward, one of the monks told the monk who had carried the woman, “We have taken a vow to stay away from women. Why did you carry the woman across the river?” The other monk replied, “I set the woman down a long time ago. Why are you still carrying her?” (Source: Chih Chung Tsai, Zen Speaks, p. 26.)

The Zen master Mokusen Hiki visited a rich man, who was very miserly. Mokusen Hiki held out a closed hand to the miser, and he asked, “If my hand were always like this, what would you call it?” The miser answered, “Deformed.” Mokusen Hiki then held out a hand that was opened wide and asked, “If my hand were always like this, what would you call it?” The miser again answered, “Deformed.” Mokusen Hiki then said to the rich man, “If you understand this, you are a happy rich man.” The miser thought for a long time, and then he changed his ways. When there was a reason to be thrifty, he was thrifty. When there was a reason to be generous, he was generous. (Source: Chih Chung Tsai, Zen Speaks, p. 37.)

A thief went to Zen master Shichiri to rob him. Shichiri told the robber where his money was located, then as the robber was leaving, he told the robber, “It’s polite to say ‘Thank you.’” The robber was so startled that in fact he said, “Thank you.” A few days later, the robber was caught and taken to Shichiri, and the police asked Shichiri, “Did this man rob you?” Shichiri answered, “No. I gave him the money — he even thanked me for it.” The robber did serve a prison term — for his other crimes — but after getting out of prison, he became Shichiri’s disciple. (Source: Chih Chung Tsai, Zen Speaks, p. 37.)

Zen master Rinzai once told an assembly of monks, “I spent 20 years with Obaku. When three times I asked him about the cardinal principle of Buddhism, he gave me three blows with his stick. It was like being patted with a branch of mugwort. I’d love another taste of that stick now. Who can give it to me?” A monk said, “I can.” Rinzai then held out his stick toward the monk, but when the monk tried to take it from him, Rinzai used the stick to hit him. (Source: Perle Besserman and Manfred Steger, Crazy Clouds, p. 39.)

In 1693, Zen Master Bankei knew that he was dying. When one of his disciples asked him to compose a traditional death poem, he replied, “I’ve lived for 72 years. I’ve been teaching people for 45. What I’ve been telling you and others every day during that time is my death verse. I’m not going to make another one now, before I die, just because everyone else does it.” (Source: Sushila Blackman, compiler and editor, Graceful Exits, p. 82.)

Dasui Fazhen, a 10th-century Zen master, was once asked, “How are you at the time when life-death arrives?” He answered, “When served tea, I take tea; when served a meal, I take a meal.” (Source: Sushila Blackman, compiler and editor, Graceful Exits, p. 73.)

Zen Stories Bibliography

Besserman, Perle and Manfred Steger. Crazy Clouds: Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers. Boston, MA: Shambala, 1991.

Blackman, Sushila, compiler and editor. Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die. New York: Weatherhill, Inc., 1997.

Chung, Tsai Chih (editor and illustrator) and Kok Kok Kiang (translator). The Book of Zen. Singapore: Asiapac, 1990.

Cleary, Thomas, translator. Zen Antics: A Hundred Stories of Enlightenment. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1993.

Tsai, Chih-Chung. Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

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‪“Dumb Ways to Die (Game of Thrones Edition)” (YouTube)

‪“Dumb Ways to Die (Game of Thrones Edition)” (YouTube)

“A couple of years ago, Metro Trains Melbourne released a safety PSA called Dumb Ways to Die, featuring a song by Tangerine Kitty that got stuck in our heads. Now that same song has a new animation by Egor Zhgun illustrating the many ways characters on the TV show Game of Thrones have died. Although the Game of Thrones deaths are overwhelmingly murder, the accidents in the song fit some of them ridiculously well. Oh, yeah, this contains spoilers if you’re not current on the series.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgemU-kMvOE&feature=youtu.be

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