In the comments of a question I asked on veganism, there was some discussion on whether my question was philosophical. User Rex Kerr wrote in a comment:

Well, I know that there are philosophers who have treated the ethical issues of eating animals (Peter Singer being the most famous contemporary example). But my impression is that vegans aren't acting based upon some philosophical work, but rather an intuition that eating animals is "wrong". So if you want to ask a philosophy question, it helps to identify philosophers who argue for veganism and ask about their views; otherwise, you are asking a question about contemporary human society, which is the domain of some other part of humanities and social science

Where lies the distinction between whatever ethical issue I am thinking about, and something "philosophical" that is on-topic for the site? For example, from the Wikipedia article on Philosophy:

In more casual speech the "philosophy" of a particular person can refer to the beliefs held by that person.

On the other hand, the FAQ states:

But please keep in mind that some questions are still too informal and well-trodden to be a good fit for this site (e.g., "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" and "What is good and what is evil?").

but the FAQ doesn't go on to define that very well. How can I tell if a question related to beliefs or ethics is on-topic or not? I didn't really find a clear answer in the community FAQ either.

  • 2
    As you sensed, it's part of the nuance of the word philosophy, right? The basic issue is whether concern "behind" the question is primarily philosophical -- rather than, say, the concern of some other academic discipline (history, sociology, etc.) This is one of the reasons why providing as much detail as possible on the context and motivations of questions is so important, since it helps us distinguish between the two cases (which is often non-trivial!)
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Dec 13, 2012 at 20:39
  • Might I summarise that if I want to know because I want to know it could be philosophical, but if I want to know because I have a practical problem, then is not?
    – gerrit
    Dec 13, 2012 at 20:42
  • I might suggest it's actually almost the opposite :) If it's not actually a problem you're facing in the study of philosophy, it's likely not on-topic.
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Dec 13, 2012 at 20:54
  • What I find difficult is how to establish whether a problem lies within the field of philosophy or not. I haven't read the works of major philosophers, and I don't really know what they've been talking about except on a very basic level :)
    – gerrit
    Dec 13, 2012 at 20:57
  • 3
    With philosophy it is indeed somewhat less clear what's acceptable and what's not, especially for the layperson. Thank you for bringing your particular situation to our attention the proper way. As for your question, with a little development and tweaking, I think it would be just fine for the site. Consider a similar question I asked a while back on veganism; there I gave ample context and attempted to find the gaps in the logical justification of a particular form of veganism. Yours reads too much as simply asking about status quo veganism.
    – stoicfury
    Dec 14, 2012 at 4:11

1 Answer 1


This community (and really SE generally) functions best as a resource to teachers and students of particular practices and disciplines. Ideally, this results in a high signal-to-noise ratio, as students are asking "real" questions (that arise organically during their study of the discipline) and teachers can give precise, direct and timely advice that's tailored to and effectively addresses real-world concerns.

The high-caliber quality of the more established stacks would seem to indicate there's an enormous amount of value in this sort of system. I might mention in passing it seems to me that at least a large part of the success of SE is the shared ethos with Wikipedia (acting as an open "universal" resource with a central focus on providing rich, high-quality educational content.)

At any rate, the implications for our site are somewhat complex and nuanced -- but most of the complexity is owing to the subtlety of the subject. The most important things to me are as follows.

Great questions express focused, specific problems that arise from the formal study of philosophy. The level of expertise really is irrelevant, as is ultimately the "domain" of the concern, since philosophical inquiry extends to every domain of human endeavor. The key question for me is the context and motivation "behind" the problem; or whether the issue actually emerged from an encounter with a philosophical work or idea.

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