When something is bound to be of little substance, or the discussion of it surely only giving rise to opinion or sophistry, sometimes the phrase "merely philosophical" is used.

In this article I'm composing, which is philosophical in nature, I should like to avoid the word "philosophical", since if preceded by "merely" it might be taken as belittling Philosophy, which is not intended.

At the same time I don't want to come on so strong as to claim that the topic is of little substance, only to make clear that any results will not elucidate the topic at hand.

I have looked for synonyms but not come up with anything suitable. I'm asking here in the hope that you will, as English is not my first language.

Article description: After settling on an etymological analysis of an account, I am trying to extract what knowledge the account can be said to convey, for the moment withholding judgment over any assertions of the purpose or intent of the account being recorded, as well as abstaining from addressing the larger context in which the account is presented.

Currently the sentence in question reads, "Arguments over the purpose of the account are merely philosophical (in the general sense)."

I would like to improve on this.

Note: It seems that I want to write something along the lines of, "merely philosophical/purely academic/just a scholastic exercise" without offending philosophers, academics, or scholars, which I respect and consider myself a fellow to, and of whose work I have partaken to write the article.

In all honesty, I don't think I'm weaseling something in here, though, but simply pointing out that work done by these fellows, however fine, will not affect the topic as it stands; that it must be treated as a stand-alone topic.

Perhaps there is no good way of telling anyone which battles to choose, and offending the sensibilities of my peers is inevitable, but I would like to avoid it if I can.

  • Do you want to describe your whole article, or just a section that appears within it?
    – Cameron
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 21:28
  • 2
    Academic, technical or moot might fit; without more context, we can't really say which. Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 21:41
  • @Cameron, TimLymington: certainly, I will add a description in the question. Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 22:23
  • Is it Scholastic you're looking for? Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 23:44
  • 1
    Further to @coleopterist, how about: "outside the scope of this document"? Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 11:20

5 Answers 5


You might just avoid the construction: "Arguments over the purpose of the account are irrelevant", or "Arguments over the purpose of the account are beside the point". Aside from being inoffensive, I think either of those more explicitly makes your point.

You might even use something like "My argument [position/thesis/whatever else] does not depend on the purpose of the account."

Let me add that if your audience includes many philosophers, especially philosophers in the mainstream Anglo-American tradition (what gets called "analytic philosophy"), this sort of plodding explicitness is exactly the style that they're looking for.

  • And this is what I did, and also justified the reason. It now finishes, "... is [therefore] wholly unrelated to the understanding of the knowledge it can be said to convey ..." Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 20:43

You might be looking for academic.

academic interest:

The questions are not only of academic interest, but ...

rendered academic:

The question of whether he was killed using an axe or a machete is rendered purely academic ...

academic pursuit:

Interest in etymology used to be a purely academic pursuit ...

  • +1 for the machete :p The article is philosophical in nature, and I am certainly applying my academic skills to analyze it, so I'm pretty lost here. Deprecating my own phrasing and doubting yours, I'm not entirely sure I can get out of this one unscathed... ;) Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 22:42
  • I would like to add that even if it might not help me, this is certainly a useful equal phrase to the one in the question title; it might even be accepted over a phrase that might help me, to aid the purpose of this site. Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 22:49
  • As I've learned recently, the question of whether he was killed using an ax can be determined through axinomancy. :) Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 0:39
  • @HenrikErlandsson I don't think that stating that interest in something is academic is all that deprecatory. You could perhaps tone down the associated adverb as it doesn't have to be only or purely. Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 7:51
  • @cornbreadninja heh! I'm sure that will come in handy someday :D Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 7:52

To avoid terms like merely philosophical, purely academic, and a scholastic exercise, consider of no practical value, of no bearing, or of no consequence. The following example illustrates several of these terms: "Arguments over the purpose of the account may be of interest to inquiring minds, but have no practical value and no bearing on further developments of the topic. For this study they are of no consequence."


At the same time I don't want to come on so strong as to claim that the topic is of little substance, only to make clear that any results will not elucidate the topic at hand.

Try irrelevant or moot or not germane. Of course with the last one, you might offend Germans (just kidding).


I might have said essentially philosophical when I mean:
a. it is philosophical, and
b. being so, it is not very relevant here.
(Not necessarily less important in its own right, but only so in context).

"Arguments over the purpose of the account are essentially philosophical (in the general sense)."

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