It can be easy to get so caught up in daily life that we forget to stop and think about our world. Thinking about philosophical questions can help you think critically.
Building a practice of thinking critically of the world will empower you to make decisions that you feel confident in—whether it’s how you vote, spend your time, or use your resources.
If you’re looking for where to start, check out this list of philosophical questions!
What is a Philosophical Question?
A philosophical question often doesn’t have a clear, straightforward answer. They are questions that usually require deep thought and sometimes don’t have answers.
Philosophical questions typically involve human nature, the origins of the universe, morality, ethics, and the afterlife.
Philosophical Questions About Behavior
Humans are complex beings, and our world is also complicated. This can make it hard to parse the good from the bad and right from wrong. Take a moment to consider some of these philosophical questions about behavior and human nature.
- What is the difference between good and bad people?
- Is it essential to be a “good person”?
- What makes people feel more attached to some people than others?
- Is tribalism, or looking out for others like you, innately good, bad, or neutral?
- If one existed apart from other humans, would they still value goodness?
- Are there moral commonalities amongst diverse people groups and cultures?
- Are individuals important, and if so, in what ways?
- Are humans more important than other animals? Why or why not?
- Are some people more important than others?
- Is the death penalty right or wrong?
- What should be the repercussions for wronging someone else?
- What is wisdom?
- Is wisdom a helpful tool?
- Why is wisdom often associated with age?
- If a person has an accident and is no longer able to contribute to society, has their value as a person decreased, increased, or stayed the same?
- Can people change?
- How does one become a “good person”?
- If someone’s personality changes, does that mean they have also changed?
- Can you ever honestly know another person?
- If someone’s intentions were good but the outcome of an action is terrible, at that moment, is the person good or bad?
- If someone does a kind deed but has a selfish motive, does that impact the goodness of the deed?
- When babies are born, are they good?
- If identical twins grew up never knowing each other, how similar and different would they be?
- Is there ever a justifiable reason to kill someone?
- Are people born with a specific personality, or is the character the result of their circumstances?
- Is lying ever a good thing?
- If you steal money but use it to save someone’s life, does that justify the theft?
- Should someone being ignorant be a valid excuse for their rudeness?
- Can we choose our emotions, or do they happen to us?
Philosophy Questions About Love
“Love is a biological necessity. We cannot live without it”— Stephanie Cacioppo, neuroscientist specializing in love and loneliness
As people, we need to love and be loved. You can express love in many different ways. Use these questions to spark some critical thought on the topic of love.
- What is love?
- How do you know you are loved?
- How do you know that you love someone?
- Is the desire to be loved an innate human desire?
- Why do people desire love?
- Does love necessitate action, or can it exist simply as a feeling?
- In what ways are love, lust, and sexual desire different from one another?
- Is an understanding of pain necessary to appreciate love?
- Does the loss of love change one’s outlook on life?
- Can one show love without first being loved? Is love an intrinsic aspect of human nature or a reciprocated act?
- Are there different forms of love such as parental, friendship, or romantic? Or are they all diverse expressions of the same substance?
- Can romantic love for one person last forever?
- Can love ever be a bad thing?
- How does unreciprocated love affect people?
- What does falling in love mean?
- What causes someone to fall in love?
- Does love feel different to different people?
- Is love, health, or money more important?
- Can you choose to feel love for someone?
- Does being loved by more people correlate to a person’s value?
- Is there a difference in depth of love versus quantity of love?
- To love someone well, do you need to show their love how they want to be loved, or can you love them the way you naturally show love?
Pro Tip: If you’re interested in learning more about different ways to show love, read up on the five love languages.
- Is there “The one?”
- What does it mean to love yourself?
- Do you need to love yourself before you can love others?
- Is loving yourself selfish?
- Is it essential to have a friendship with your partner?
- If your partner grew up in an abusive household, are you more understanding of unhealthy behavior?
- Would you rather be respected or loved?
Fun Philosophical Questions
Philosophy can be fun! If you think philosophy is all heavily intellectual, overwhelming, abstract, or existential-crisis-inducing, take a moment to ponder if a hot dog is a taco.
- Are you currently dreaming, and how do you know?
- Do memories exist even if you forget them?
- Does grass feel pain when you step on it?
- Can trees feel pain?
- Does 1+1 always equal 2?
- Would it be ethical, unethical, or neutral if time travel were possible?
- If time travel were possible, would it be wrong to change history?
- What is the purpose of humor?
- Why are jokes funny?
- If one person doesn’t find a joke funny, does it mean they have a lousy sense of humor, or is the joke flawed?
- Are humans responsible in any way for caring for wild animals?
- Can inanimate objects be either bad or good?
- Does morality bind animals?
- Is water wet?
- Are hot dogs tacos?
- Is it wrong to visit a zoo, thereby financially supporting an establishment that isn’t ideal for the animals?
- Is it wrong to purchase fast fashion, rapidly produced clothing that uses manufacturing methods that negatively impact the environment and exploit workers?
- In a fictional world, could you have a five-sided square?
- How do we know what words mean?
- Why do some people feel scared while watching a horror movie even though they know it is not real?
- What would you say if you had five minutes to defend the human race in front of a group of aliens who were going to obliterate humanity?
- Are there any physiological changes you would make humans make us a better species?
- Should the legal age for alcohol consumption be different than it is?
- If your life expectancy suddenly increased to 500 years, would you live differently than you currently are? What about if your life expectancy decreased and you only had five more years to live?
- If immortality were possible, would you want to be immortal?
Questions from Philosophy About Human Rights
What are human rights? Whose job is it to ensure that all humans have rights? These types of questions can be multifaceted and hard. It can be easy to avoid them or think they’re someone else’s job.
However, your daily choices can have a ripple effect on other people’s lives. Whether with who you vote for or how you spend your money, how you live impacts others.
Take some time to consider what you believe human rights are if everyone is entitled to them, and whose job it is to ensure everyone has rights.
- What are human rights?
- Is autonomy a human right?
- Is liberty a human right?
- Is free speech a human right?
- What is the difference between a human right and a privilege?
- Is it the responsibility of privileged individuals or the government to bridge gaps between privileged and disadvantaged people?
- If people are spreading misinformation, should they still be allowed to continue?
- Should abortion be legal?
- At what point in human development, from a fetus to a baby, does one become a person and gain rights?
- Is war ever necessary or even reasonable?
- How can societies work to dismantle systemic racism, ableism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination?
- If two people’s opinions differ, how should they resolve their differences?
- Has technology made it easier or harder to advance human rights?
- Is it the responsibility of wealthy countries to support impoverished countries?
- Should women’s rights be a priority to men? Why or why not?
- What makes a person a person?
- If a person has lost consciousness and doctors know they will not regain it, but their organs are still functioning, are they still a person?
- Is the internet good, bad, or neutral?
- Is being able to financially support a family a human right, or is having a large family a privilege?
- Do more humans have fundamental rights in the modern world, or have we lost human rights as time has progressed?
- If you could ensure every person on the planet would have access to a single human right, which one would you choose? Would there be any repercussions?
- What rights should prisoners of war have?
- Do you think those serial killers have an equal value to other people, or do their actions impact their value?
- Is privacy a human right?
- Is technological advancement minimizing our privacy?
Philosophical Questions About Society and Government
When we look at the societies we live in, they often have good and bad elements. These questions can help you think critically about the structures in place in your country.
- Are there any innately evil governmental structures?
- What would a perfect society look like?
- How involved should governments be in caring for the individuals in their country?
- If you could create your society, what would look different from the one where you live now?
- What role should the government have in the lives of individuals?
- What makes a good leader?
- Can someone do a bad thing and still be a good person?
- Is prison the best way to protect society and correct individuals?
- Does the legal system function fairly?
- Is technology good?
- Can technology advance society in a way that is beneficial?
- Are taxes morally right?
- Should it be lawful for citizens to hold protests? What if a handful of the protestors make it violent?
- What makes people work together despite differences?
- Does societal advancement only happen with collaboration?
- In what ways can disagreements advance society?
- What makes a crime a crime?
- How should citizens who believe the laws in their country be unjust behave? Is it okay for them to ignore those laws and are still bound to do what the law asks of them?
- Is it morally wrong to abstain from voting?
- Is it wrong for governments not to have healthcare available to all citizens?
- Should things that are bad for people be banned by the government, or is it the individual’s responsibility to avoid harmful substances?
- Is there an age at which people should be answerable for their actions?
- Is it discriminatory not to allow certain people to run for government office?
- Is it okay to limit immigration if a country is worried it will lose its culture?
- Should the government regulate what food manufacturers can and can’t put in their food?
- Is the government responsible for ensuring people receive a livable wage?
- Should those who live an unhealthy lifestyle have decreased access to healthcare?
- What would the ideal government look like?
Philosophical Questions Related to Culture
Culture can be a complicated issue to wrap your head around. When you travel or talk to someone from a different background, you may immediately notice surface-layer cultural differences such as what food people eat and what type of clothing they wear.
However, as you get to know a culture better, you may realize there are deep-seated differences, perspectives, and traditions.
These questions will help you think about the differences between cultures and if there are any aspects of culture that are innately good or bad.
- What is culture?
- How does culture form?
- Is it important to be mindful of other cultures, and if so, why?
- Are some cultures better than others?
- Is morality developed within a culture, or is it intrinsic?
- Is there a wrong way to discipline children?
- In what way is a family-oriented culture better or worse than an individualistic culture?
- Are individualistic cultures intrinsically selfish?
- What is success?
- Does income play a part in how you define success?
- Does the culture you were raised in impact your outlook on life?
- If someone has recently relocated to a new country, should there be leniency for breaking minor laws they did not know about, or should they be prosecuted the same as their counterpart raised in that culture?
- If a group practices human sacrifice as part of their culture, does that make it okay? Would you be wrong to try to save the person they would sacrifice?
- Is attractiveness a cultural construct?
Philosophical Questions About Space and the Universe
Humans have long been in awe of space. Our recorded fascination with space reaches back to ancient philosophers.
“Astronomy compels the soul to look upward and leads us from this world to another.”— Plato
However, it has only been in the past 75 years that humanity has started studying space up-close—and there’s still so much we don’t know about the universe we live in. These questions can help you find new ways to think about the world around you and how that informs your day-to-day life.
- Where does the Earth come from?
- Did a deity or event start the universe?
- Does the universe’s origin affect how one lives, and if so, how?
- Does the vastness of space impact the way you perceive yourself?
- Do things about the universe imply it exists due to chance or design?
- Is it the duty of those currently alive to be ecologically responsible?
- Is the Earth the only planet inhabited by living beings?
- Is anything in the world eternal?
- Is time eternal?
- Did time, as we now perceive it starts at a specific moment?
- Will time continue to run after the human species no longer exists?
- If we find another inhabitable planet, would there be any moral implications if humans left the earth and moved there?
- Should space travel be accessible to all people?
- Is it good, bad, or neutral that humans have invested so many resources into space exploration?
- Is there a difference between faith and superstition?
- If a deity exists, would it exist within our understanding of morality?
Philosophical Questions to Ask Kids
Philosophical questions can be challenging for children. Philosophy is often large and abstract. Because they’ve been alive for less time, children typically have fewer life experiences than adults to draw on when answering philosophical questions.
However, some of these questions are ones that small children are already wondering about. You may have heard them ask what happened to their goldfish after it died or struggle with differentiating emotions like happiness and sadness.
Introducing a few of these conversations may help the children in your life realize these are conversations you are ready and willing to have any time they have questions.
- What does it mean to feel happy?
- Why are some things right and some things wrong?
- Is it necessary to be nice to people, and why?
- What is kindness?
- Is being kind and being nice the same thing?
- What is the difference between good and evil?
- What happens to pets when they die?
- What are things that you know to be certain?
- What is something that you believe and why?
- If superheroes were real, would they be more responsible for protecting people than you are or equally accountable?
- Does helping people make you feel good? Why or why not?
- What is the difference between adults and children?
- What, if anything, makes a person different from an animal?
- Is social media good, bad, or neutral?
- How do you know that you belong?
Challenging Ethical Questions to Consider
The philosophical subtopic of ethics involves weighing between challenging scenarios and deciding which option is morally right. The challenges raised within ethics can often be incredibly challenging to sort out, and they are ones you may run into in life.
Remember, even if someone sees a topic differently than you do, it’s essential to be respectful and have conversations without getting vertigo from the “dizzying heights of your moral ground.”
- Is it wrong to kill one person if it might save the lives of hundreds of others?
- Is using euthanasia to intentionally end a life to prevent further pain and suffering immoral?
- Should people be allowed to commit medically induced suicide?
- Was former President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs unethical? Some argue that it saved many lives by ending the war quicker. Does that change the ethics of killing civilians during a time of war?
- Is bribery ever acceptable or ethical?
- If your friend’s significant other drinks too much alcohol and flirts with you, should you tell your friend about it and probably hurt them with the knowledge, or wait and see if it was a one-time thing that won’t ever happen again?
- Is eating animals unethical or not?
- Is it ethical to test products on animals?
- If someone passed away in a car accident and their lungs could save someone’s life who would otherwise die before another donor became available, would it be wrong to use the lungs as a transplant if the person who passed was not a registered organ donor?
- Is it okay to harm one person if it means protecting others?
- Is being a billionaire in a world where people are starving unethical or do you feel that it is alright if they worked hard and earned their wealth?
- Is war ever ethical?
Questions About Religion and Morality
These are profound questions that have to do with one’s worldview. Many of these topics, such as life after death, cannot know with certainty, but they are worth thinking about anyway.
- Is it possible to not believe anything, or does everyone have beliefs?
- What happens after death?
- Is there a god?
- Is there an afterlife?
- Do people have free will?
- Is your soul reborn after you die?
- Does your worldview impact the way you make day-to-day decisions?
- Where do people come from?
- Is there an age at which people are morally responsible for their decisions?
- Is there such a thing as fate?
- Is luck a real thing?
- Does chance exist?
- Does life have meaning? If so, what is the meaning of life?
- Does having a religious experience prove the existence of a god?
- Is there absolute truth?
- Who determines right from wrong?
- Is the world progressively becoming worse?
- Why does evil exist?
Abstract Philosophical Questions
Topics like pain, suffering, beauty, and joy are a part of daily life, but how often do you stop to think about them?
Use these questions to help you do just that!
- What is beauty?
- Are pain and beauty interconnected?
- Is it a shared element between a beautiful person, experience, or memory?
- Why do people value happiness, beauty, or joy?
- If your life were to end tomorrow, would you be happy with how you had spent your time?
- What would you want it to say if someone were to write a book about you?
- What gives your life meaning and purpose?
- Can pain be a good thing?
- Does learning a valuable lesson through suffering make it worth it?
- Is it essential to care for yourself, or is it more important to care for others?
- What is “failure?”
- Does failing at something mean you’re bad at it?
- Would getting rid of negative traits like aggression in all humans have any negative consequences?
- Would removing loss, sorrow, and pain impact one’s ability to enjoy life and love?
- What is the difference between happiness and joy?
- What makes you happy?
- Can you choose to feel joy?
- What is friendship?
- Why do friendships sometimes end?
Philosophical Questions About Art, Music, and Literature
Art, music, and literature are essential ways that people express themselves and preserve culture.
“Art is the window to man’s soul. Without it, he would never be able to see beyond his immediate world; nor could the world see the man within.”— Lady Bird Johnson
Here are some questions to help you think critically about what art is and how it impacts you.
- What makes something “art?”
- Is some art better than other art?
- Does art need to make a statement or have a deeper meaning?
- Is music art?
- Should artists be held responsible for the message of their art?
- Are artists morally obligated to give trigger warnings if their art could mentally or physically negatively impact someone?
- Should there be age restrictions on specific pieces of art?
- Should public nudity be acceptable when being presented as performance art?
- Should everyone be able to interpret a piece of art as they see it, or is there a “correct” interpretation of an art piece?
- Is it morally wrong for museums to display art that depicts slavery? Why or why not?
- Should art taken as spoils of war be returned to the country it originated in?
- Is it wrong for educators to assign reading that demonstrates racism?
- Is it necessary to preserve history?
- Is it morally acceptable to enjoy art made by someone who did horrible things?
- Why do people enjoy looking at art?
- Why does music connect people?
- Should music be beautiful?
- Is it essential for art to “make a statement?”
- Would it be music if you and your friends were to hit pots and pans randomly?
- If it comes together when you’re hitting pots and pans and sounds nice, would it be music?
- If there is a room full of people talking, could that be categorized as music?
- What is the difference between “good” taste in art or music and “bad” taste?
- Can cooking be a form of art?
- What is the critical difference between a functional and artistically designed room?
- Is it possible that what one person sees as “yellow” is what someone else sees as “green,” but they’ve both learned to call it “yellow,” so they will never know?
Final Thoughts: Talk Philosophy with Other People
When it comes to challenging topics like those raised by philosophy, it can be helpful to talk through them with others. Others can help raise perspectives that you may not have considered yourself.
Philosophical questions can also make for interesting conversations with people you already know relatively well. Just remember to be respectful of people who have different viewpoints!
Here are some ways you can use these questions:
- Over dinner with a few friends. How would your friends react if you asked about beauty’s nature or the purpose of life? It might be unexpected, but give it a try the next time you see them! Philosophy might not be the best topic if you’re with a big crowd of friends, but it can make for an exciting conversation with a group of four or five.
- With your significant other. How you perceive the world informs how you spend your money, what you believe about raising a family, and how you use your free time. It can be stressful, but deal-breaker conversations are essential if you want a relationship to become serious.
- With a son, daughter, niece, nephew, or another child in your life. Children have big questions about the world but may not know how to find the words for those questions. Try asking the children in your life an occasional philosophical question to help them begin to strengthen their critical thinking muscles.
If you’re hosting a dinner party and want to talk about something a little less serious, consider using one of these 257 questions.