Decisions are a part of being human. But that doesn’t mean they are easy.

Whether big or small, when a choice creates an ethical conflict, or where no option feels right, the path forward can seem out of sight.  

These three philosophical concepts are designed to help deliver clarity in complexity. Next time you find yourself facing a dilemma, try running it through each of these to shed new light on the scenario. 

The Golden Mean

When you’re trying to work out what the virtuous thing to do in a particular situation is, look to what lies in the middle between two extreme forms of behaviour (the middle being the mean). The mean will be the virtue, and the extremes at either end, vices. One end will usually be an excess, the other end a deficiency.  

For example, in a situation that requires courage, there may be one extreme where you might act recklessly, and the other, do nothing out of cowardice. The virtuous response is the mean between these two.  

The Sunlight Test

This test a simple way to test an ethical decision before you act on it. Ask yourself: ‘Would I do the same thing if I knew my actions would end up on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow?’  

By imagining if your decision – and the reasons you made it – were public knowledge, we must consider our willingness to stand by that choice in a public forum.  

Would you be proud of the action if people you most admire knew what you’d done and why? Would you be able to defend your choice? Would other people agree, or at least understand, why you did what you did?

This simple thought exercise helps give clarity on your motivations – so you can see clearer whether the choice is motivated by what is good or right, or by self-interest, reward, external pressures or opinions. 

Plato’s Cave

One well known thought experiment is Plato’s allegory of the cave. It goes like this. Prisoners are chained up facing a wall deep within a cave. A fire behind them casts just enough light for them to see images upon the wall, which have been cast by puppeteers. Knowing no alternative, the prisoners believe what they see and hear to be the whole reality.

As the Philosopher John Locke said, “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience”. When faced with a decision, consider the day-to-day experiences, lessons, conversations and modelled behaviour that is shaping what you believe to be ‘reality’.  

Are shadow puppets (bias) driving your actions? Can you step outside your own projections on the wall to consider new perspectives and ideas? Can you separate truth from fiction? By challenging the things you believe to be true in any scenario you can make sure that your assumptions hold up to scrutiny.  

Still stumped: Ask yourself these three questions:

What are your duties and responsibilities in this situation and to whom?
What counts as a good outcome and how will you know? 
What would the wisest person you know say to do in this situation?  

Ethi-call is a free helpline designed to provide structured guidance through life’s most challenging dilemmas. If you, or a loved one are facing a decision that leaves you with a bad feeling and no right way out, a conversation can help. 

Appointments are with trained ethics counsellors who take you through a framework of prompts and questions that will help clarify the situation and shine a light on what is most important to you.  

Make a booking at