I've just had my question Was Aeroflot SU2074 intended target in MH17 shooting? closed with reason "This question is about motivations, as such, it's off topic.".

This of course refers to Politics, beliefs and motivations questions should not be allowed here.

However, as far as I can understand, the true motivation (oh irony), behind banning motivation questions is that no one can be certain of individual's motivation. This is however not true in case of "motivation" of larger organization, where decision making is not contained within individual's head. There is communication, leaving possible document trail, intercepts or witnesses.

I'm also not sure if in case of organization "motivation" is the right word to use. In my opinion it that case it would be objectives.

So should questions about "motivation" of (larger) organizations, rather than individuals, be considered off-topic?

  • 3
    Minor note: The version that made it into the FAQ warns about the motivation of individuals, and doesn't speak of the motivation of groups.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 12:06
  • Those are the "attributes of a good questions", not closing reasons. Vartec has the right "closing reason" question linked.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 12:39
  • Worth noting: OT can stand for either "On Topic" or "Off Topic".
    – Bobson
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 2:17

2 Answers 2


I agree with this:

This is however not true in case of "motivation" of larger organization, where decision making is not contained within individual's head. There is communication, leaving possible document trail, intercepts or witnesses.

Therefore they should usually be on-topic.

For example, "why did the government enact this law?" would usually have associated evidence, i.e. the various speeches and published communications by the law-makers on that subject.

It's theoretically possible that there are some other hidden or personal motives, but that doesn't make this automatically off-topic.

For example, "why did the FDA rule that this drug was safe?" is also usually on-topic: you can reference the official evidence they used. Again it's theoretically possible that there's some other hidden motive (e.g. some conflict of interest) nevertheless there is likely to be official evidence (and if-but-only-if you can find evidence of some unofficial motive then that might be on-topic too).

  • Why not simply ask about the "paper trail" instead of asking about not-necessarily-factual motivations?
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 14:41
  • In this question the original question was "So why don't hospitals in the U.S. offer this (laughing gas during labor)?" and IMO such a question shouldn't be "off-topic because it's about motive".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 15:17
  • @ChrisW: I don't see that the current version of the laughing gas question is any more or less about motive than the original. The question was edited to match the claim.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 0:44
  • @Oddthinking Yes I think the question is on-topic no matter how it's phrased. And you agree: the question was never closed. Yes this comment said, "This is a question about motivation, and I believe we have generally held such questions to be off topic" and referenced this meta-topic: and so I posted here to say that questions about 'motive' aren't off-topic if they're about the 'motive' of the kind of groups who document their reasoning.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 0:54
  • 1
    @ChrisW: Yes. There is a distinction between self-reported beliefs + documented justifications (which we can cite) versus actual beliefs + hidden motivations (which we could only speculate upon).
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 1:00
  • This a good point, I think most questions about organisational motivations (and many about individuals) have a valid underlying question about leadership actions, e.g. "Did X deliberately Y" -> "Did X's leadership give an instruction to Y", and "Did X do Y because of Z" -> "Did X's leadership justify Y in terms of Z" Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 20:40

Questions about motivations should still be off-topic in any case. A motivation is an opinion/speculation.

The problem with the Ukranian claim is that a large part of the theory is unprovable. What we can do is look at its plausibility, in other words, are the factual statements in the press release compatible with evidence? If the question is rephrased to focus on facts, it becomes acceptable because it stops being about the motives.

For example: "Was there another possible target in the area?", "Did the Buk system get moved multiple times?" These are all things we can answer, are not about motivations and would stand as questions without changing policies.

"Was Russia trying to shoot down its own citizens?", "Does Russia need to accuse Ukraine of mass murder in order to invade" are all unprovables, and I don't think that we should allow them either.

The various facts claimed in the press release are fair game, but what these facts imply or what we can infer from them are personal opinions we shouldn't debate (nor are actually appropriate anywhere on the SE network).

  • 3
    There are answers to other questions that deal only with proving plausibility. For example skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/22682/3790
    – vartec
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 10:35
  • @vartec That's a fairly poor answer to a factual question, tbh.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 10:46
  • @vartec I've removed it because it didn't answer the question and it was full of logical fallacies.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 11:00
  • Ok, +1 because you've got valid points regarding the particular case. However, I still don't agree that "motivation is speculation" in case of a large organization.
    – vartec
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 11:18
  • @vartec, it's hard to say in general, but you need to account for emergent behaviors (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence) which allow for companies to do something without an obvious/provable motivation. It's hairy.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 11:43
  • 2
    While motivations remain problematic, with large groups (e.g. countries) I think it is fair to talk about beliefs. Whether Donald Trump believes Obama to have been born in Kenya is impossible to say - we only have his politically-motivated word for it. What percentage of the population of the USA believes it is something we can measure empirically, with error bars.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 12:09
  • 2
    @Oddthinking The kind of belief which is disallowed, it doesn't work with populations either ("true" belief vs. self-reported belief). Self-reported belief is fine even on individuals.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 12:38

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