Here, I am not talking about any or all specific problem's subject's cause(s). I am instead asking about what causes problems themselves.

I was once told "Your problems are only problems because you make them problems." Is this true?

If this is the case then there are at least two solutions I have thought of to solve any specific personal problem.

  • Decide that it isn't a problem. Then by definition it isn't a problem to you.
  • Resolve the subject's root cause. The rest of the problem will 'fit neatly into place.'

Also, I think it suggests if there were no thinkers to think about problems then there also wouldn't be any problems.

  • I was told there was an ambiguity with my definition of problem. hopefully this clears it up, if so, I'll add it into the question officially. taking from google: 1. a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome. i was more talking about not the subject matter of the problem, but the reason(s) people have seen such problems as "unwelcome or harmful." e.g. people who are anti-gay have a view that gays are at least one of unwelcome or harmful. take the descriptions these people use to explain why they think this ... cont. on next comment.
    – 0xFFF1
    Aug 25, 2013 at 3:34
  • and share it with a pro-gay or neutral and [what i am guessing is] they will not see it as a sufficient reason to be anti-gay because the subject matter isn't a problem to a neutral or pro-gay.
    – 0xFFF1
    Aug 25, 2013 at 3:35
  • another example would be that you can't ask to date that pretty girl because you are afraid of rejection. You can either reason that every girl you meet that hasn't accepted you is automatically rejecting you at least until you ask them out. In which case rejection isn't an limiting factor. the reasoning becomes such that your only choice to remove the rejection is to ask them. This method would be removing the problem as a problem. the other way is to "overcome your fear." choosing the solving of the problem subject as the solution. Note: This is pure theory to me; Haven't tried it yet.
    – 0xFFF1
    Aug 25, 2013 at 3:51
  • 1
    Why isn't the answer as simple as 'that which produces a state in which the definition of "problem" is met'? Try to define "problem" and maybe we can narrow this question down a bit. As of now I feel it's far too speculative.
    – stoicfury
    Aug 26, 2013 at 17:07

6 Answers 6


Buddha left his life as a prince to become an ascetic, in order to find an answer as to why there is ageing sickness and death. It's very like the Problem Of Evil, without presupposing a Creator.

The Buddhist response to these sufferings, is The Eightfold Path. That through a process of internal reflection and personal development, we can come to a deep understanding of suffering, and attain unshakeable liberation from adding to or prolonging it in a way that involves lasting change in how to be. This is comparable to stoicism and stoic practices/thought-experiments, that seek to recognise that, just as fortunate circumstances don't guarantee happiness, unfortunate circumstances need not guarantee misery. In Mahayana schools the path does not end there, ending personal suffering is only the beginning of the Bodhisattva path, to help all beings to find this way of being that is to our ordinary way to be, like being awake is to being asleep.

Buddhism I think chimes with your question, in that it makes a deep enquiry into what are our problems, and how and why they arise. It comes with an array of teachings to help. Parables that I would emphasise should be used, applied, like thought-experiments, eg the Parable Of The Poison Arrow, and The Grieving Mother and the Mustard Seed. I would frame realisation of oneness & emptiness in this way too as tools to apply in our lives. Not as declarations, but realisations to be participated it by recognising them in our own experiences - not final stances, but as perspectives to shift between towards letting go of obstacles to ending suffering. Seung Sahn (Sungsan) describes this dynamic view, with The Zen Compass. Anatta & sunyata, not-self and dependent origination in this perspective can be applied in order to help us stop possessing or grasping our suffering, while giving a basis for positive action even so:

"Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found;

The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there;

Nibbāna is, but none that enters it;

The path is, but no traveler on it is seen"

-from the Visuddhimagga

This framing, in relation to your question, shifts the emphasis from make to you in: "Your problems are only problems because you make them problems". That is, shift the focus from your freedom to to act or not on the world (ie what you make), toward recognising that you remain free to choose how be, who to be, regardless of the world.

Anatta, no-self in Buddhism, is not the absence of a thinker, but the recognition that there is no unchanging essence to us, that who we are is dynamic & constantly being redefined, rather than frozen or out of our hands. This goes against our intuition, of metempsychosis, and our us having an essence - which can prevent us reorientating and changing when we start to understand that ways we are being are causing problems.

This survey identifies parallels between Buddhist thought & Western thinkers. Buddhism has The Parable Of The Raft, that we don't carry a raft with us after crossing a river, but instead are no longer halted by rivers because we know what to do. This is like Wittgenstein's Ladder, and Hofstadters Strange Loops, and how a heroes journey often involves arriving back where they started but knowing it for the first time, because they have changed.

You might find these answers interesting in terms of the broader nature of problematising (making questions), and the nature of meaning:

"Why ask why" and its scions

According to the major theories of concepts, where do meanings come from?


It depends, we cannot generalize all types of problems to that. There are also many different definitions for problems, some of them listed on wikipedia.

People usually speak about problems when there is some discrepancy between how reality is and how they would like reality to be. This is the definition that wikipedia lists for bussiness or engineering.

So if we take this as the definition of problem then indeed there would be no problems without anyone wishing reality to be in a different way. That doesn't solve any problem (that doesn't transform reality) that simply eliminates the problems.

Say for example you are thirsty, drinking some water would solve that problem, for a while, until you are thirsty again. Suicide would eliminate the problem (and some others) for ever for you, but it doesn't really solve anything.

Now, this is not part of the question, but:

Problems seem to be bad, which means solving them would be good and eliminating them would be equally good. However people like solving problems, to some extent games provide artificial problems and people enjoy solving them. The brain produces chemicals as a reward for solving some problem, therefore problems are good as means to get to solutions, which are rewarding.

Eliminating problems by changing your mind isn't as rewarding as solving problems, although eliminating a problem could be a solution for a meta-problem.


Problems seem to be bad, which means solving them would be good and eliminating them would be equally good.

So if a problem seems to be bad, then solving that problem is good? I would agree that getting rid of something that seems to be bad is usually good, but certainly there are cases where getting rid of something that seems to be bad is not necessarily good. I feel like that then boils down to the subjects opinion. Is something good because it is innately good or is it good because the person thinks that it is good?

For example, there is a bee that is really annoying this person. It is constantly buzzing around this person's head and the person does not like it. It has become a problem for that person. The person traps the bee, and moves it to another state, in hopes of solving that problem. Now that that bee is in another state, that is good for that person. But there is another person who really liked seeing that bee buzz around that persons head so solving that problem was bad for that person.

Because one person solved a problem and it was good for them, but bad for another person, does that make it good for everybody that the problem was solved?

  • 1
    You cannot change the perspective in the middle of a sentence. If a problem seems bad then solving it would be good [from the same perspective it seems bad]. BTW: I'm upvoting this so that you have enough reputation to comment on answers (and don't need to write new answers).
    – Trylks
    Aug 26, 2013 at 21:31
  • @Trylks Oops! Sorry about that! And thanks for the upvote!
    – Drew
    Aug 27, 2013 at 0:37

Many problems ultimately come down to survival. For example, consider the problem that I have no job. I will wish to solve this problem naturally by finding a job, but alternatively I could just no longer consider it a goal of mine to get a job. This latter alternative however leads me to a new problem. Consider now that I have become hungry because of a lack of food, due to not having any income.

Now I could eliminate the problem by no longer making it a goal of mine to be satiated. But if I have the goal of surviving, then I have a new problem, because I cannot survive unless I eat.

Now the only way to solve this new problem is to remove the will to survive. One could argue that this is possible, and then all problems have now been solved.

Most problems that we have, ultimately link to physiological requirements of our body that is required for either individual survival or reproduction. In turn these requirements create physiological instincts, such as hunger, thirst and the will to live, which motivate us to solve problems.

Because physiological responses such as hunger, thirst and pain are very difficult to control with our conscious mind, solving problems using your suggested method is not always practical. This is ultimately because many problems ultimately do not stem from a conscious definition of them, but rather from a physiological desire eliminating an uncomfortable or painful physiological response.


There can be good problems. I just won the lottery $360.00000.000 I have a problem what can I do with all this money? I just got out of the casino I lost all of my money my car and my house I have a bad problem what can I do? One problem caused by luck. One problem caused by addiction. To solve any problem we need to use explicit conscious effort to understand the context involved. Its hard to be honest with our self sometimes. Honesty to understand the issue is paramount to solving any problem.


Problems are not caused, as problems are not physical events.

A problem is an opinion about the reality. Something in reality is not quite the way you would prefer. You feel like a correction is needed.

The solution to the problem is the corrective action that adjusts the reality more to your liking. The solution is a sequence of physical events, but it is not caused by the problem.

All in all, causality has nothing to do with problem solving.

  • "causality has nothing to do with problem solving" That, seems freighted with a lot of baggage using redefinitions of common terms to justify, that I suspect isn't required for your core point.
    – CriglCragl
    Mar 15, 2021 at 19:51
  • I have no idea about what you mean. What baggage? What redefinitions? Mar 16, 2021 at 13:23
  • The nature of causality, and of problem solving, are complex topics - eg philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/70930/… & philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/68911/… Building a boat to be able to criss a river isn't an opinion, solving problems has real consequences in terms of objectives
    – CriglCragl
    Mar 16, 2021 at 14:14
  • A problem is an opinion. The solution is an action with causal consequences. Causality plays no role in choosing the solution. Causality comes into play only when the chosen solution is implemented. Mar 16, 2021 at 15:55
  • That's just shuffling definitions, with no useful content.
    – CriglCragl
    Mar 16, 2021 at 16:02

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