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It's been over a year since we've had a discussion about hypothetical questions. Back then, the site was in its infancy and we were still feeling things out. The top rated response to the original discussion on the topic even mentions how young the site is.

  • Should we allow hypothetical questions?
  • What concerns are there with allowing hypothetical questions?
  • Are there hypothetical questions that we currently permit?
    • If there are hypothetical questions that we permit how do they differ from the ones we currently close for being hypotheticals?
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    I would also like to add that in the old discussions all the answers except the top one allows to ask at least about "real concerns about hypothetical situations". – Džuris Jul 12 '18 at 13:14
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    Also an unclear point - is it considered hypothetical to ask about real situation that happened to someone else? (i.e. what should they have done/what should I do if that happens to me) – Džuris Jul 12 '18 at 13:19
  • @Dzuris I would assume those kinds of questions would be allowed because it actually happened and is therefore not hypothetical. I'm not sure about the policy on questions for other people however. – TheRealLester Jul 12 '18 at 13:21
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I think some hypothetical questions should be allowed, but not all.

Here are some restrictions I think could make a hypothetical question a good fit:

  • They should be held to the same standards as other questions, e.g. regarding detail.
  • It should be about a problem the OP is personally worried about having or likely to have.
  • They should be reasonably likely to happen, either in the nearby future to the asker or to many people over a longer time.

We already have a highly voted hypothetical question that I think fits all these points: What to do if you are accidentally following someone?

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    I don't know if I would call that a hypothetical. That's a situation I find myself in basically any time I'm walking after dark. While the question is not about a specific singular situation it is definitely about a class of situations that the OP could regularly find themself in. – sphennings Jul 12 '18 at 13:22
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    @sphennings OP says "Imagine this". It seems to be very hypothetical. But it is, as you say, "a class of situations that the OP could regularly find themself in", so fits all points. – Belle Jul 12 '18 at 13:28
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    It's also possible that there are multiple conflicting interpretations of hypothetical that is leading to part of the confusion about what is and isn't permitted. I like that your answer focuses more on features of questions should have more than just what class a question falls into. – sphennings Jul 12 '18 at 13:31
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    I think that the first point is by far the biggest. If the question is held to the same standards as any other question and passes, it should be allowed. Only in very extreme cases, the other points listed here kick in, i.e. "How can I respectfully tell Santa Claus that I want more presents this year?". For these cases, we need the additional points, but in general the first point should be the one in big fat font. – Kaspar Scherrer Jul 12 '18 at 14:03
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One of the aspects of this site that I and presumably others appreciate about it is that we deal with real people and real situations. Whatever we answer, edit and even post is for the benefit of someone and those in similar situation that happen across later.

What concerns are there with allowing hypothetical questions? I can't speak for anyone else, but I would be less inclined to contribute to or answer a question if I felt it was of no real benefit to anyone. If this was a common opinion, we might end up with a greater number of unanswered or irrelevant questions. A recent site policy change also encourages users to cite personal experience, which an OP is less likely to find with the more outlandish questions that allowing hypothetical questions could invite. A hypothetical question may also be less likely to have meaningful additional information provided on it if asked. "What country is this happening in? The answer could vary based on it." "I don't know... Spain?" (as an example).

In short, I would be concerned that the quality and helpfulness of our posts would decrease.

Should we allow hypothetical questions? Despite my wording above, I think we should, but address them on a case-by-case basis. Would the following question be deemed hypothetical: "I would like to ask my friend why he observes an obscure religious event out of interest, how can I do so without sounding offensive or condescending?". One could argue it is a hypothetical event because it may or may not happen, nor do we know for certain if the OP is seriously planning on doing so. If, through providing more information and context, it becomes apparent that the event may not happen but the OP wants it to make it happen, it could be worthwhile answering it.

Are there hypothetical questions that we currently permit? I believe we have some questions where the OP is asking about a situation in retrospect, asking what they could have done better or differently. Again, these questions are helpful to others because the OP can provide context, info on a real scenario and of course, it might happen to someone else.

Overall, I'd be happy to encourage them, but to look at them individually. If any answer would be unhelpful to the OP and others, or if the situation is simply plucked from someone's imagination without any details or relevance, it ought to be deemed off-topic.

  • I don't think your example question qualifies as hypothetical, assuming that the friend really exists and the OP is considering talking to them. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 14 '18 at 15:07
  • @DmitryGrigoryev My post emphasises that it's the event or action that's hypothetical in that example. – user8671 Jul 16 '18 at 7:15

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