Is it off topic to ask a question that isn't about philosophy but philosophers have asked?

Why I'm asking

Very obviously, philosophers like Marx have studied what money and wealth are, and how e.g. individual bourgeoisie are pitted against each other because of their wealth. So what's off topic about this question?

What I think about that

I feel like we need to pass this stupid test of authentic philosophical semblance to ask a question. That's completely inappropriate: perhaps no-one at all who asks questions on this site is asking them as a work of serious scholarship. i.e. mostly we're just asking questions we're wondering about, the nature of our reality or ethics etc., rather than doing or substituting for the study of philosophy.


So, it seems like we can't ask questions that might have some relevance outside something we're reading, something we just happen to be thinking about, because that's "off-topic". Is that right?

But over the years I've been using this site no-one has ever posted a helpful answer to something I'm reading rather than thinking about... we don't seem to have the breadth of expertise to answer specialist questions, rather than prompt someone into thinking. So, it seems like the site's actual remit and rules are just a waste of everyone's time.

2 Answers 2


On this type of questions

There is a subtle yet important difference for the context of StackExchange:

Questions about philosophy and philosophical questions.

In the context of Stack Exchange, the type of questions allowed is clearly confined, see here:

Stack Exchange is about questions with objective, factual answers. We’ve been crystal clear about this for as long as I can remember, even back to the earliest, pre-beta days of Stack Overflow. It’s right there in the standard Stack Exchange FAQ:

What kind of questions should I not ask here?

Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!

Thus, questions that are not answerable — discussions, debates, opinions — should be closed as subjective. It seems simple enough: Fact good; opinion and discussion bad.

Philosophical questions - i.e. questions asked by philosophers - are of the type that requires careful argumentation and solicits opinions. As I wrote here (vote +7 as I write this answer), you can assume that any interesting philosophical question has usually hundreds of books that answer it in different ways. In other words: Neither in length nor in objectivity, they meet the standards of StackExchange.

On the lack of expertise

To some extent, I agree that for Philosophy.SE, aspiration and reality are not congruent. For many historical authors or particular fields, there is quite a good knowledge base present. But the userbase does not even closely cover the full breadth of philosophical knowledge even on a comparatively superficial level.

Where I do not agree with is that there are no helpful answers when questions emerge in the context of reading philosophy. Well over 90% of these questions are answered on a reasonably good level. Maybe not helpful for PhD research, but seriously, on this level, it is part of your job to find answers to the questions by yourself. If you can offer examples illustrating the lack of helpfulness, I will gladly address them in edits.

I think it is problematic to refer to Wikipedia, SEP, or IEP and not offer any knowledge, sources, or insights beyond that. But that's not something that happens on a regular basis either.

  • i'm not sure why the question had no objective answer?
    – user35983
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:14
  • @confused: Because a) different philosophical orthodoxies (critical theory, (neo-)liberalism, etc.) have different takes on the issue, b) even within the orthodoxies there are different (e.g. scientific, sociological, economic) approaches to the question, and c) a reasonably exact and appropriate synopsis of the positions, arguments, and approaches (i.e. an "objective" answer) would take a book, if not several. Or you have a naturalistic approach asking for what it "factually" (here: according to the sciences) does. Then, it would be a better fit for psychology and neurobiology.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:21
  • oh ok! cool, there was just too much material answering the question! that's great, wish someone had said that (couldn't think of much)
    – user35983
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:22
  • " illustrating the lack of helpfulness" maybe i just ask bad questions, i'm not sure...
    – user35983
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:26
  • i had no idea that the question had so much material on it... but i wouldn't want to limit the question to one school of thought. so do i just junk the question ??
    – user35983
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:29
  • @confused: Without confinements, I would deem the question unanswerable (in this format). Just think about how e.g. Smith and Locke wrote about the relation of the subject(ivity) to money as opposed to e.g. Marx and Adorno. Or how vastly different the answers of a philosopher with a sociological background will be compared to a philosopher with mainly psychological or neurobiological background. Then there are philosophers with systems like Lukasz, or Weber, or Plessner, or Habermas, each of whom has a certain take on the role of money within human society.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:36
  • ok! always good to know how ignorant one is, even if the question goes unanswered... cheers!
    – user35983
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:37
  • more or less answered my question, i think. i'll add another comment if anything i brought up doesn't seem settled. again, thanks
    – user35983
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:38

Here is the question:

Is it off topic to ask a question that isn't about philosophy but philosophers have asked?

I think if one can ask a question linking it to a text written by a philosopher it should be on-topic. However, five users with enough reputation can vote to close any question, no matter how good that question is. These users are not professional philosophers. They are active users with enough reputation to do so. Regardless, the question has to pass this test of not being closed.

To a large extent it is more a rhetorical challenge than it is a philosophical challenge to pose a question or answer that survives being closed or deleted.

Here is another formulation of the question:

So, it seems like we can't ask questions that might have some relevance outside something we're reading, something we just happen to be thinking about, because that's "off-topic". Is that right?

It amazes me how some questions are closed while others, equally off-topic or more so from my perspective, remain open.

Does that matter? It doesn't matter much to me. These stack exchanges provide an opportunity to interact with other people. These other people have good days and bad days. They make mistakes. They are the kind of real people we all meet in the real world. They are us. I look at it as a game we are playing with people who are interested in learning something similar together.

What does matter is can one learn philosophy using this question and answer environment? I think one can. But if I found a better way to learn philosophy I would use that instead.

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