I'm looking specifically for a word (noun or adjective) that means "A question that leads to more questions". Something that is difficult to answer because it would involve answering yet more questions that arise in answering the original question and so forth. Preferably of a higher "domain" or "scope". For example:

What is the specific emotion 'love'?What are emotions?What is thought? → so forth.

Maieutic is very close but to my understanding refers more to a constructive method of reasoning. I'm looking for something between that and 'baseless' or 'unfounded'.

  • 3
    A train of interrelated questions. So the first question could be the "engine", pulling all other questions with it :) – NVZ May 30 '16 at 4:31
  • Socratic questions (maieutic) are usually the response to such a complex question, rather than the initial question itself. – purefusion May 30 '16 at 12:26
  • Philosophical question ;) – GoldenGremlin May 30 '16 at 18:28
  • 1
    Question-begetting question – GoldenGremlin May 30 '16 at 18:42

I'd say that the question is a Pandora's box. See definition at Merriam Webster,

Something that will lead to many problems.

Also, the question is a can of worms.

  • 8
    Voted, specifically for the worms. It's much more straight-forward in conveying the meaning. – KlaymenDK May 30 '16 at 8:46
  • This is what I was looking for. A can of worms is right. It's an idiom, but there doesn't seem to be a single worm for it. Thank you. – klvs May 31 '16 at 0:06
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    Rather a loose fit. The focus of both of those phrases is increasing the supply of troubles. Questions are sometimes troublesome, but troubles aren't a necessary or even usual correlate. – agc May 31 '16 at 3:33
  • Pandora's box leads to more problems, but only once (in the legend, it was quickly closed by Pandora, so hope was stuck in the box). Can of worms, OTOH, once opened cannot be closed (chain of questions will never end). Can of worms is it. – Peter M. Jun 2 '16 at 22:59

There is a sense of pregnant that might fit.

pregnant filled with meaning or importance that has not yet been expressed or understood

A somewhat fuller expression of the senses of pregnant

...2. a. Weighty or significant; full of meaning: a conversation occasionally punctuated by pregnant pauses. b. Of great or potentially great import, implication, or moment: "It was a politically pregnant time in Poland" (New York). 3. Filled or fraught; replete: "This was, from the Party's point of view, both deplorable in itself and pregnant with danger for the future" (Robert Conquest). 4. Having a profusion of ideas; creative or inventive. 5. Producing results; fruitful: a pregnant decision.

The Metaverse Pioneers and the Collonisation [sic] of Open Simulator

Virtual worlds have many of the characteristics of Foucault's heterotopias, they are perfect and meticulous but above all they are colonies where individuals have embarked on the challenge to establish a new social space in hyperspace. Currently these are emergent spaces and while there are many models of social, personal, civic and military virtual worlds quite how over the coming decade theses virtual spaces will develop is an open question pregnant with possibility.

  • I've never heard anyone talk about a pregnant question however. Do you have any evidence it is used specifically about questions? – curiousdannii May 31 '16 at 6:17
  • Added an example that was too long for a comment. Will come up with a better search phrase - "question pregnant..." seems to be most common in the 19th century. – Icy May 31 '16 at 13:26

The complex question sounds close. It's context sensitive; such context would be provided by the answers to those following questions.

  • If that doesn't suffice, how about one of these: a deep/probing question, ambiguous question, pivotal/contingent question, or irresolute/indeterminant question. The loaded question doesn't quite fit the definition technically, although it sounds like it should. – purefusion May 30 '16 at 12:22

Setting up a chain reactionTFD

A series of events in which each influences or gives rise to the next event, as in If one person collects substantial damages by suing a company, you can expect a chain reaction of such lawsuits.

The term originated in the physical sciences, first (1920s) chemistry and later (1940) physics; in the latter it denotes a process of nuclear fission. By the 1940s it had been transferred to more general use.


That type of question could be called a hydra in reference to a mythological serpent with 9 heads from which cutting off a single head would cause two new ones to grow in its place.


I have heard this referred to as a "gateway question". Unfortunately, I don't have time at the moment to find a good definition to reference... hopefully I'll be able to edit this later.


Open Ended

Both questions that lead to answers that themselves raise new questions and such answers are often referred to as Open Ended.

From Chambers 21st Century: 3 said of a question or debate, etc: not limited to strictly 'yes' or 'no' answers; allowing for free expression of opinion.


Although I have not seen it being used this way before, I would say a "recursive question" may be the closest thing. Recursive is something that begets more of the same as it unfolds.

  • 1
    Question-ception? :) – NVZ May 31 '16 at 3:14
  • Surely, "recursive" means 'going round in circles', repeating the same thing again. A recursive question would take you round in a circle and back to the same question - whereas OP is asking about a question that leads to more - but different - questions. – TrevorD May 31 '16 at 23:29

Enigma or quest pertain to a long or arduous search for something that can potentially involve cracking a series of questions or following a kind of trial and error pursuit to find a solution to a problem. I'd also think of "a convoluted question" where the adjective defines a multilayered or manifold subject matter. I hope it helps.

protected by tchrist Jun 1 '16 at 4:52

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