The present question has been inspired by a question in philosophy SE which has been put on hold as off topic, to my surprise. My question is however general in character, and does not pertain to one case only.

Is the use of the word "philosophy" a topic for philosophy SE? Following are two arguments in favor of viewing the use of the word "philosophy" as a topic fit for philosophy SE (rather than, for example, english SE).

  1. Just as the history of philosophy is a concern for philosophers, at least as much as for historians, so the use of the word "philosophy" is a concern for philosophers, at least as much as for linguists. Philosophy is a highly self-reflective form of activity. That is, philosophers are interested in many aspects of the philosophical activity itself, including the specialized vocabulary that surrounds it.

  2. When people ask about the word "philosophy" on philosophy SE, they are not asking about the common usage of this word. That is, they are not asking about senses that every educated language speaker is supposed to know. Rather, they are asking about senses of the word "philosophy" that are informed by actual knowledge and experience with philosophy. Therefore, philosophy SE is the natural place for such questions, rather than, for example, english SE.

Do you agree? If not, how do you respond to these two arguments?


My response in the most general terms is: while there are philosophical questions about "philosophy" (quoted to demark it as the term rather than the subject), this does not make every question about "philosophy" a question about philosophy.

Here's an analogy, the heart is a part of the bodies of reptiles, birds, and mammals. But this does not make every use of "heart" a question for biology.SE. If someone there asks, "my dog's heart is broken", what should I do? Then, whether that's on-topic first hinges on whether "heart" here refers to the organ in the body. If not, then it does not make sense to consider it on-topic. If so, it may still be off-topic for other reasons.

Looking at your specific arguments in this light.

1 is not an argument that every question about how the world "philosophy" in English might be used is necessarily part of philosophy's introspective aspects. "philosophy" is also the name of a cosmetics brand but that doesn't make their 10K filing or website (http://www.philosophy.com/fragrance) an important part of philosophy. Thus, 1 (at least to me) seems to hinge entirely on whether the use of "philosophy" is a part of the reflective discourse within philosophy, which is precisely what is being denied for questions that use the term but don't seem to refer to philosophy in any strict sense.

For 2, the same issue seems to arise. We as the users of the site have to make a judgment as to whether or not any use of "philosophy" is the common usage or the sense every educated language speaker is supposed to know. I feel that on the contrary, we get many questions that don't reflect specific awareness of their being any special sense that differs from common usage.

Thus, I think we at the end of the day have to decide whether we the users think a usage is sufficiently close the SE's subject matter or not.

On this one, you think it does. I think it does not.

Both the question and the answers to it seem to me to support my view that this is about English language and usage rather than anything specific to philosophy.

  • Thanks for the answer. So in essence, you agree with me about the general rule, but not about the specific case. This surprises me, again! I thought that once the general rule is conceded, it will be obvious that the specific case exemplifies the rule. I may have guessed wrong. Perhaps I will add a question about the specific case. – Ram Tobolski Mar 28 '17 at 20:16
  • I think you're assessment in the comment here is broadly correct. We agree about the general principle which I take to be philosophy.SE answers questions about philosophy including questions about what philosophy.SE. – virmaior Mar 28 '17 at 23:28

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