I have a major essay coming up in my philosophy class, and our teacher has asked us to consider what we want to write about before we actually get the details of the assignment. The general idea, he says, is to identify and discuss a common theme throughout the first two essays of Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals (not the third, because he thought we wouldn't well relate to asceticism).

I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet, but once I have an idea, I thought I could benefit from posting it here. The question would go something like this:

Is Nietzsche making the argument that [argument] in the first two essays?

I think that [passage 1] and [passage 2] indicate that he believes [point 1], because [explanation]. Then in [passage 3] and [passage 4] he develops [point 1] and brings in [point 2]. These two points indicate that he believes in [argument]. Am I right?

Would this kind of question be welcome? The reason I'm asking about this is that such questions seem a little low-level. What they're basically asking for is a simple yes/no answer, and they may be too localized. I'd hate to slow down the site with a bad question, so I want to see what you think first.

Also, this is the kind of question that may pop up pretty often as the site gets more active; a lot of students may use it as a resource for such questions (which in the title I dubbed "confirmation of analysis", potentially a tag itself). The site should make a decision about whether such questions are welcome early on to save pain in the future.


This is an interesting issue; thanks for raising it.

My first instinct is overwhelmingly to say that yes, of course this type of question would be allowed.

But the concerns you raise towards the end about it asking simply for a yes/no answer and being likely to encourage students to flood the site with their homework questions give me a bit of pause.

As far as the concern expressed that these types of questions might be too "low-level", that's not really a concern. The Stack Exchange model works perfectly well with all types of questions, whether novice or advanced, as long as they're well-written, constructive, and answerable.

Additionally, I disagree that these are "too localized". Now, if you'd posted the text of your essay and asked people to comment/critique it, that would certainly qualify as "too localized". But a discussion of your interpretation of a particular philosophical text is not unique to you. The general test we use here (and the one that the close reason explanation attempts to capture) is whether the answers to a particular question would be useful to other people in the future.* For example, future inquiring minds about philosophy conducting a Google search on a related topic.

In the end, I still don't see a problem with this particular question, or this general category of questions, so long as we require people to follow the general rules on asking good questions. There's nothing wrong with a flood of questions from philosophy students, as long as they meet our other guidelines. And if they don't, well then they'll get closed, but for reasons that are completely unrelated to the context in which they were asked—i.e., we don't care that you're a student or that you're completing a homework assignment.

Much like Stack Overflow (which is the Q&A site about computer programming that started it all), I believe that homework questions are perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, so long as they're asked in such a way that it is non-obvious they're homework questions. If you simply post the text of your assignment, that's not going to work. But if you show clear evidence that you've thought about the prompt/problem/question, and preferably done a little bit of research on your own, and you're asking for clear, targeted guidance on a particular focused issue, then that's exactly what we're looking for!

If you can figure out a way to craft the question that doesn't invite exclusively yes/no answers—but rather those that provide a little bit of analysis—well then all the better. I envision the answers proceeding along similar lines as the question, citing specific portions of the text in support of the interpretation they defend and/or pointing to additional related references. That said, I don't want to disallow a category of questions because some people might post bad answers to them. The standard helpful answer guidelines are still in effect, and anyone who does post a literal yes/no answer will be dealt with accordingly.

* This issue of when a question is "too localized" is actually one that is probably worthy of addressing in more exhaustive detail, because it's a common source of confusion across the SE network. People end up using the "too localized" close reason for various purposes, some of them quite unrelated to the reasons for which it was originally intended. I haven't seen it become a problem here yet, or I'd post a FAQ question that clarified and explained its intended use in more detail. As a spoiler: in general, it should be used only rarely, and I think it applies even less often on this particular site.

  • Thanks, I look forward to asking the question. Also, what do you think about the tag "confirmation of analysis"? It's a meta tag, right, so it wouldn't be appropriate?
    – commando
    Mar 23 '12 at 16:50
  • 1
    @commando: Yeah, I'm against that tag. I don't see what purpose it serves. No one is going to ever want to browse/search all questions with the "confirmation of analysis" tag. They will want to search all questions involving Nietzsche, or the will to power. Tags describe the content of the question, not its type or the nature of the answers expected.
    – Cody Gray
    Mar 23 '12 at 17:01
  • 4
    Cody Gray is a bullet that never misses. +100
    – stoicfury
    Mar 23 '12 at 23:23

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