Prompted by:

What did Frank Herbert mean when he said “humans do not have equal ability”, concerning equality?

No subject matter can be said to be the exclusive purview of its own academic domain. Politics for instance have draw heavily from Philosophy (at times), and likewise contributed to it. Presently I am reminded how much Literature speaks on Philosophy in an 'informal' way.

Many times has it happened that I reread a book, last read as a child, only to find philosophical opinions, I held as my own, reflected therein. Notably Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, who both have not only satirically presented a slew of philosophic topics, but also reached a wider audience than Kant ever will. An example apart from fictitious works would be Douglas Hofstadter who discusses more particular problems informally.

That said, and specifically for works of fiction, it should be noted that it may be challenging to reference such work. Arguments are frequently not stated explicitly, and rarely carry any support but for an accompanying thought experiment. Technical terminology are eschewed and thus mostly open for interpretation...

Can "armchair" philosophy be discussed on this site, given that it originates from a (well known) work of fiction?

EDIT: This question has been flagged as duplicate to the linked question. I note that question didn't cover the specific focus of this question, I'll leave it here provisionally for this reason: Real philosophy presented (seemingly) accidental/incidentally in a professed work of fiction.

Note however, I would 'accept' @Cerberus answer to the linked question here.

  • 1
    I think it's already answered here: Are questions about literature on-topic?.
    – E...
    Jan 14, 2019 at 19:28
  • 2
    Voting to close as a duplicate, like Eliran said
    – Not_Here
    Jan 14, 2019 at 19:34
  • It's a good question --not sure why anyone would have downvoted it --but it is indeed a duplicate of one already asked. Jan 14, 2019 at 20:39
  • @ChrisSunami Because it's a duplicate question. The OP didn't even try to search meta for this question before they posted it, so it is a low quality question.
    – Not_Here
    Jan 14, 2019 at 21:18
  • @Not_Here I think what Chris Sunami is wondering about is, why would anyone 'down vote' a duplicate when the appropriate action would be to cast a "close vote'. Casting a 'close' and a 'down' vote would be redundant, even seem malicious. You are right, having relied on the "Questions that may already have your answer" box, I did no meticulous search.
    – christo183
    Jan 15, 2019 at 6:09
  • If you think voting actions on a question and answer site are malicious you really need to reconsider your priorities
    – Not_Here
    Jan 15, 2019 at 7:31
  • The explicit use for down voting is to show that something is low quality; part of the required pretext for posting a question on this site is doing research into the question (for main site that means researching the topic, for the meta site it means not looking to see if the questions has already been asked); the question didnt have any attempt made to see whether or not it was posted before, so it's low quality. If you searched the general idea of this question the question Eliran posted is literally the first question that pops up, it doesn't require "meticulous" searching.
    – Not_Here
    Jan 15, 2019 at 7:34

2 Answers 2


The question should not be about academic or non-academic. It should be about philosophical literature vs. literature with philosophical implications/positions.

Of course, almost every interesting read will express or imply philosophical points or positions. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine how the myriads of "what does s/he mean there" that could be asked based on this insight will make for good questions about philosophy.

Hands down, as long as it is not a question about how to locate the textbit in the philosophical landscape, it is a question about the meaning of a (more or less arbitrary) piece of literature.

The inquiry into the meaning of a text is called hermeneutics. This is part of literary studies and not to be confused with the philosophical branch of the same name!

As such, questions like that are on topic on Literature.SE, but can hardly be considered a particularly good fit for Philosophy.SE. Of course, hermeneutics is an important part of philosophy as well, but in and of itself, it is not and it is not about philosophy.

To make a good question that rests on sources that are not dedicated primarily to philosophy it takes some preliminaries by the OP to work out and ask about how she herself thinks this is or can be linked to particular philosophical ideas or works. Only then, the specifically philosophical expertise on this site will allow for "correct" answers.

  • Thanks Philip. Could you perhaps elaborate some on the difference between hermeneutics literature & philosophical.
    – christo183
    Jan 21, 2019 at 13:14
  • 1
    @christo183: Whereas literature emphasises the understanding texts in and out of themselves, philosophical hermeneutics (Dilthey, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer) with strong ties to phenomenology (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty) and existentialism (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre) are about life understanding itself, i.e. the revelation of meaning by actions of a living being - depending on the author with an emphasis on physical or intellectual action. Texts, as potentially meaningful product of action, are but a fraction or aspect of this broader endeavour.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Jan 21, 2019 at 13:28
  • 1
    @christo183: Methodologically, hermeneutics in literature tries to reveal the original intention and meaning of the text and its author by secluding the subjective historical and cultural impact of the reader, whereas philosophical hermeneutics emphasises the inevitability of this subjective impact and the need and duty to analise and become conscious of the historical and cultural setting of concepts and methods as the main philosophical task.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Jan 21, 2019 at 13:36

Albert Camus's writings are novels that some consider to be philosophical. When I read this question about Herbert's novel I thought of Camus.

If one can formulate an answer to such a question that cites references to what philosophers, and especially a specific philosopher, has said, I would find the answer valuable as a reader and up-vote both answer and question as a result. Such answers enhance the question.

Perhaps the problem with questions about novels is that it is easy for someone to answer such questions without providing references, that is, to turn the question into an opportunity for broad, opinion-based answers. I would ignore such answers and perhaps flag them as low quality or not answers if they drifted too far away from the specifics of the question itself.

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