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I am looking for an adjective to use in the following context:

I was pondering on ways of addressing society's most ______ issues.

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essential, crucial, capital. – Graffito Jan 24 at 20:18
How about pertinent? – Charon Jan 24 at 20:41
stubborn, intractable, pressing – ab2 Jan 24 at 22:22
I don't see a problem with "society's toughest issues". – Sam Watkins Jan 25 at 0:48
Normally "pressing" would be used in that context, though that implies the "urgent-important" quadrant, vs simply "important". – Hot Licks Jan 25 at 3:47

I was pondering on ways of addressing society's most pressing issues.

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"Pressing" suggests urgency and perhaps even importance, but not necessarily difficulty. Difficulty is only secondarily implied by the contextual implication that the problem has not yet been solved, but there may be other reasons for this (e.g. the pressing issue is recovery from a disaster that just happened recently). – WBT Jan 25 at 2:59
It's a one liner, but it's a good suggestion. If I had answered this question I would have linked the word to an online dictionary, or cited similar examples. But sometimes, a one liner is all the OP is asking for. – Mari-Lou A Jan 25 at 8:57

I was pondering on ways of addressing society's most challenging issues.

(Toughest instead of most challenging also works.)

Another term that may fit what you are looking for is "wicked," as in "wicked problems," a term largely attributed to Rittel & Webber's 1973 paper "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning." The term recently got a bunch of press coverage from its appearance in a Science article contemplating how to solve such problems with large crowds of people.

1: Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155–169. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01405730#page-1

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"Wicked" is generally used for largely pleasant intellectual challenges (like P = NP) rather than social problems that have real-life consequences. – Andrew Grimm Jan 25 at 8:13
@AndrewGrimm No, the original meaning is referring to social problems with real-life consequences. The canonical example is urban planning. Today, the most frequent example is probably climate change. Also, there would be major real-life consequences if P=NP. See Travelling Salesman for a discussion about this latter point. – WBT Jan 25 at 15:00

I was pondering on ways of addressing society's most profound issues.

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How about using the word "pernicious"?

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Welcome to EL&U. It is not encouraged to post an answer without any research/reference/link that can support it. Please edit your answer after taking the tour and visiting our help center for additional guidance. – Rathony Jan 25 at 5:27
What we're looking for at English Language & Usage, Colin, is answers that are self-contained, in that they provide an explanation or justification of why they are valid answers. You can make your answer much stronger by including a quotation (and if possible a link) to a reputable dictionary's definition of pernicious that illustrates that word's suitability as a fill-in-the-blank word in the example the original poster presents. – Sven Yargs Jan 25 at 9:07

innate-is one solution. Most of us trying to make positive changes were born into what is.

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The rest of these answers are just synonyms of toughest. This is actually somewhat profound. – Mazura Jan 25 at 8:57

"Pressing" would equate to "most urgent" (as in pressed for time)

"Toughest" already works well but I guess to expand you have to know on what basis they are the toughest.

"challenging" = difficult to solve "prevalent" = widespread "distressing", "damaging", "worrying"

It really depends on the context you want to infer. Perhaps you need to start by defining what the most xxx problems are, then you can search out an adjective for them.

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