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Science and Problem Solving Techniques

Writing Project

The Search for Solution


  1. Theory versus Reality: One Professions Approach to Identifying Values
  2. Influencing Factors
  3. Story
  4. Some Different Types of Perspectives

Theory versus Reality: One Professions Approach to Identifying Values

Ethics or moral philosophy is the study of the principles and methods for distinguishing right from wrong and good from bad. A related field called metaethics tries to determine the meaning of ethical terms such as the words "right" or "wrong". Philosophers such as Kant, Aristotle, and Plato have written complex texts about these fundamental issues.

Ethical problems in medicine have long posed real life tests of how well these theoretical principles are able to assist physicians in making responsible decisions which may have legal and moral consequences. Bioethics and medical ethics are fields of study composed of experts using a multi-disciplinary approach to analyze possible options in complicated cases. A professional code for ethical behavior, which has grown out of Western traditions, helps make these hard decisions. Health providers should choose an action which:

  1. Benefits the patient - life is sacrosanct (beneficence).
  2. Does no harm unless balanced by the hope for improvement (non-maleficence).
  3. Is even handed in allocating scarce resources- characterized by fairness (justice ).
  4. Respects others as equal partners in making a decision (autonomy).

The tricky part is that in any given situation, some of these values may be in direct conflict and require prioritizing. (Ref: Ernle Young, Alpha and Omega; Ethics at the Frontiers of Life and Death)

Other Influencing Factors:

Looking at all sides of a conflict is not an easy task. Factors, which we may not be aware of, contribute to our understanding (or misunderstanding) and hence, influence the final choice. Consequently, people involved in the same conflict may arrive at different solutions using the following:

  • Context, the circumstances surrounding the issue, influences what parts are thought important or unimportant. For instance, if the individuals in a conflict are acquainted, the nature of the relationship matters. The bond between family members is very different than the one between friends. Gender, past experiences, education and age also act as a frame, modifying how the problem and the consequences are viewed.
  • Values, which are personal beliefs, are learned from traditional sources such as family, religion and school. They form an underlying framework which focuses our attention on certain aspects of a problem and advocates a particular course of action. Values vary from individual to individual reflecting cultural, religious and other personal experiences.
  • Principles are equations which assist with conflicting values by giving greater "weight" to one particular value. Adhering faithfully to a particular principle is a requirement of our conscience, although experience may modify the priority given to any one value.
  • Perspective is a way of viewing the world - a particular frame of reference or "lens" through which certain principles are filtered.

Here is a story which might help clarify your understanding of some of the words just described:


The setting is in California and the conflict about the use of medicinal marijuana. In November of 1996, Californians were asked to vote on a voter's initiated ballot measure. Among other things, Proposition 215 exempted patients and defined caregivers from criminal prosecution for the possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical treatment when recommended by a physician. As of November 6, 1996, with 78% of the precincts reporting, 56.1% of California voters, voted "yes" on Proposition 215. The results of court challenges are not known as of the publication this date.

Jane, who is a law abiding, caring person, believes that people should have access to drugs which provide relief to those suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy used to treat cancer and AIDS. Jane's friend, John is confined to bed while receiving intravenous therapy. He has nausea and weight loss from his chemotherapy and he requests that Jane purchase some marijuana for him, as has been recommened by his doctor.

Jane is genuinely concerned about her friend's physical health, but she has observed what she believes is John's developing psychological dependence on marijuana. To be consistent with her view about access to drugs in the face of suffering, she feels obligated to buy the marijuana for John. However, she is troubled by the thought that giving drugs to her friend might also be harmful. What if John were injured or injured someone else while driving under the influence of marijauna?

Jane's values include honoring the quality of her friend's life, responding to requests for help, and obeying the law. These values are in conflict, creating a dilemma. Jane must set some priorities and realize that a course of action can, on the surface, appear contrary to her feelings about drug access, but at the same time, be internally consistent with principles having higher priority such as obeying the law or not harming others. Meeting her friend's need for more marijuana does not have to outweigh all the other values. Her perspectives may include both a belief in law and order and a strong need to maintain her friendship.

How does she go about prioritizing the conflicting values and arriving at a decision which honors her values and also respects her friendship?

Some Different Types of Perspectives:

The following are examples of perspectives which have been described by educators and psychologists after interviewing adolescents and adults. These perspectives, which are practical rather than theoretical, may co-exist in one individual and are not mutually exclusive. They may produce different approaches to the same conflict and lead to different courses of action.

  • Perspective of Justice: Conflicts are: viewed from the perspective where you think of yourself as a separate person from others. You think of others as you would like them to think of you. Relationships are defined by rules and obligations to a particular role in life. approached by referring to impartial rules or standards. When deciding on a course of action, you consider what your obligations are and how you would like to be treated if you were in the other person's place.
  • Perspective of Care: Conflicts are: concerned with issues that involve maintaining relationships. You might see yourself connected rather than separate from others. You view others in their own situations and contexts. approached by responding to others on their own terms. The welfare of others is emphasized. You try to do no harm and to relieve suffering.
  • Perspective of Fairness or Equality: Conflicts: come from a need to balance resources or desires among individuals or groups. are evaluated by deciding on how an ideal group of people, blind to their own needs and desires, might have concluded was fair when originally faced with a similar problem. In principle, no one benefits at the expense of another, particularly if that person can least afford the sacrifice.

In selecting a course of action, a particular perspective is defined by the answers to these questions:

  1. What is more important, my needs or the other person, group or society?
  2. Are maintaining relationships or adhering to impartial standards or rules more important?
  3. Are there inherently right and wrong choices or are the standards for deciding what is fair purely arbitrary? What makes an action right? By whose rules do we abide?
  4. Is equality the best definition of what is appropriate behavior for society?

Anxiety plays a big role in making the final decision. Too many trade-offs or compromised principles increase the level of anxiety felt. If a choice becomes too difficult, then no course of action is taken, which, of course, represents a decision. Experience gained from any course of action often affects subsequent behavior by modifying priorities and perhaps reducing anxiety.

Making Decisions: A Practical Model

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