I posted this question on the main site yesterday and (although this is likely in part because it has had a grand total of 20 views in that time) it has lingered on 0 votes, having been neither up or downvoted.

One comment from Jon Ericson indicated to me that such a strictly speaking psychological/biological question might not be appropriate for the site. If that is the case I will happily withdraw it, but perhaps we could use a little debate first.

What do we think?

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    It's certainly borderline, but it seems acceptable to me. The redeeming factor is that it's clearly constructed and seems answerable, rather than merely an attempt to provoke "discussion". That, of course, says nothing about the relative likelihood of it getting an answer. :-) Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 12:54

4 Answers 4


There have been other interesting and useful questions asked here by cognitive science and analytic philosophy-oriented folks, asking more or less like you are here after references to particular sorts of scenarios that might be discussed in the contemporary theoretical literature.

I think these sorts of questions are eminently ours and belong to this site; that said, there do not seem to be a large number of experts in the cognitive science/analytic fields active on the site at the moment as, while highly upvoted, many of these questions have gone entirely unanswered for weeks.

Of course hopefully some kind expert will come along tomorrow and educate us; I'm just trying to provide a rough sense of where we are in terms of this community.


The linked question may not be everyone's favourite, but I do think the answer has a strong bearing on philosophy. My take on it is that such questions, so long as they are framed as reference requests (and intelligible answerable reference requests at that), would not be off topic in a seminar on ethics, and so should not be here.

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    I don't like the "seminar on ethics" rule, as it seems like just about anything could be legitimately asked even when answers might be speculative, entirely subjective, all valid regardless of content, purely rhetorical, or otherwise problematic etc. Questions should try to be on this side of philosophy-related, should invite serious answers, should try to establish at least a minimum of theoretical context, etc. (To be clear, I do think your question is fine.)
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 16:28

Don't take my comment to mean the question is off topic. It's at the very least a borderline question. What I meant was that the research you remember seeing was probably something a biologist or a psychologist would have a better shot of identifying than a philosopher. Earlier today, I spent considerable time searching for a concept that turned out to be the product of psychology and not philosophy. It has applications in philosophy, but the only reason I knew about it was from my reading on economics of all things. I might have asked the question here, but there's not much chance for getting the answer I was looking for if only because the people who read this site may never have read about the research I was groping for.

Is it a bad question or off-topic? Well, if there's a place to ask psychological/biological questions on StackExchange it would be better to ask there. Once you've found the research in question, you could ask a philosophical question about the research here.

It doesn't earn an upvote from me, because it isn't well researched. That might not seem fair, but that's one of my criteria for an upvote. It doesn't hurt (the rest of us) for the question to sit with no votes until the end of time or until someone who knows the answer sees it. Disappointing to you, I suppose, but we all must live with disappointment from time to time. ;-)

  • I'm not sure it's really a biology question. As someone with far more formal training in biology than philosophy, I think I'd disagree with that migration. It seems to fit squarely in the middle of all three disciplines, like most ethics questions. I can't see how we can reject ownership of these types of questions (Joseph's answer sums up my thoughts quite well). Agreed with your last paragraph, though. Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 2:54

Because of the current low question rate, I'd err on the side of allowing questions that are not central to philosophy but are non-philosophical subject areas that have a bearing on philosophical issues.

Of course, there has to be -some- relevance to philosophy, some theoretical hook that an answer will have hang on.

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    I've seen this argument made before, and while it's somewhat compelling, it does seem to ignore the fact that establishing clear boundaries for what is and what is not on topic here is a very important component of the "public beta" phase. If we allow through anything that is remotely relevant, we run the very serious risk of setting a bad precedent and confusing users about the site's definition. I agree that some laxness is okay (and I think this particular question is okay), but as I've said before, I am very cautious about "opening up the floodgates" just because of low question rates. Commented Jul 12, 2011 at 4:38

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