Would the below question be on-topic? One may argue that it's better suited in Philosophy SE, but I guess that it's more about my English comprehension, therefore it's fine to ask it here.

This isn't mentioned in What topics can I ask about here?. I do notice the "Criticism, discussion, and analysis of English literature" in the off-topic section, but in this case it isn't literature, and explaining what the text says isn't discussing or analyzing it.

From Autonomy | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The ideal of the autonomous individual could only be created by abstracting from the relationship of dependency between men and women. The relationships which people require to nurture them are considered private, and not truly relationships with outside others. Thus the other is reduced to an appendage of the subject – the mere condition of his being – not a being in her own right. The individual who cannot recognize the other or his own dependency without suffering a threat to his identity requires the formal, impersonal principle of rationalized interaction, and is required by them. (Benjamin 1988, 197)

Can you help me explain it in simpler terms?

  • 3
    On ELU we analyze and discuss the meaning and usage of single words, expressions, sayings, proverbs etc., but not full texts which in most cases would be opinion based issues.
    – user 66974
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 9:41
  • 4
    This veers more into litcrit .. as user66974 says, we’re not in that game. We deal more in the mechanics of the language than its semantic content. Think morphology, orthography, etymology, and all the other nuts and bolts. I’m told in some grade schools English instruction is split into “lit” and “lang”. We are much more lang than lit (and literature.se is more lit than than lang, though I don’t think it’s a fit for this kind of analysis either).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 11:41
  • 1
    Note that "literature", in its broadest sense, encompasses "the body of written works produced in a particular language" – in this case, English. Reference. The above passage would therefore indeed be seen as literature, and discussion of its meaning would be analysis – and therefore off-topic. Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 1:58
  • @ChappoHasn'tForgottenMonica how do I know which sense is in used?
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 13:48
  • @Ooker there’s no firm rule. You just have to learn the “culture” of our site, by reading questions (and especially the helpful comments left by our experienced users) and checking the discussions here on Meta. Any question asking what a paragraph or even a sentence means is likely to be off-topic (because it’s either lacking in research, the person isn’t fluent in English, or it’s asking for analysis rather than focusing on an aspect of usage), regardless of whether it’s “literature” or merely something written on a wall. [“Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” fits both ;-) ] Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 0:11

1 Answer 1


Generally such questions are off topic, unless the text is used merely to illustrate some general feature of English language and usage, and the question is formulated so as to make it clear what that general feature is, and how the question is about it (and not about the subject matter of the text). It doesn't seem that any such question could reasonably be asked about the quoted passage: there is nothing in it that obviously needs an explanation, so far as its use of English words, and the structure of its sentences, are concerned.

The text is, of course, still difficult for an average English speaker to understand. But the text is not written for an average English speaker; it is written for an audience that has a certain background that comes from studying many such texts over a considerable time. For such an audience the terms such as autonomous individual and the other are rich in associations that contribute to their appreciation of the point of the passage, the point which is likely to be lost upon those that are not familiar with such literature. Note that this is not because the words mean anything different here from what the dictionary says they mean; it is because the point that is made by these words presupposes familiarity with a certain theoretical background. Explaining such a background is outside the scope of this site, because it is not a matter of English language. It is probably outside the scope of any Stack Exchange site, because it usually can't be done within a couple of paragraphs.

Moreover, a passage of this kind was not intended by its author to be analysed and discussed in isolation; it is a part of a larger work and, to fully appreciate it, one needs to read it in the context of that work as a whole.

When people attempt to read such a text and fail to understand it, they often misdiagnose the problem as due to something about the language used, rather than to their lack of familiarity with the background that the author presupposes. This leads them to seek an explanation of the text on this site, even though it is not well suited to that.

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