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The instructive statement below is from a wiki article.

... For example "Quel est le problème ?" is preferred to "Quel est-ce que le problèm ?" ...

I would say that "Quel est-ce que le problèm ?" is plain wrong, because 'que' needs to be object of some verb, which verb is missing!

( Compare 'Qu'est-ce que c'est?' - ´que' is clearly object of the second 'est.' )

Would you care to shed light.

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Let's sum up

Qu'est ce que c'est que la philosophie?  right as casual or verbal - could be written in a text for a conference.
Qu'est ce que la philosophie? common as formal - could be written.

Quel est-ce que le problèm ?  wrong it's not the same form as the previous one.

"quel" is a simple interrogative pronoun. so it is used as the other interrogative pronouns or adverbs (qui, quand, ou ...) pronoun + verb + subject.

qui est ce monsieur ?

ou allez vous ?

quel est le problème ?

"qu'est-ce que" is what we call "forme renforcée" similar to "est-ce que". It's an expression used as it is.  there are many forms with each pronoun or adverb. (qui est-ce que, ...). But none with the pronoun "quel".

I will defer to Chantal of course  But I would be almost certain that "Quel est-ce que le problèm ?" would not  be good French.
I am not so sure about "Qu'est ce que la philosophie?"
If it was possible  I don't think it would be casual usage- if anything  it would seem rather formal to me  but on balance I would  rule it out completely as it sounds very wrong to me.

Hi George/Robert -- I don't know if this helps to explain the difference, but you can maybe think of "Qu'est-ce que (c'est que)...?" as meaning something like "What is the essence of...?", "What is meant by...?". So it's more usual to find it with questions such as "Qu'est-ce que l'amour?", "Qu'est-ce que la philosophie?" etc.

Or for example:

(1) "Qu'est-ce que la philosophie?" -> "What is philosophy (in general)?", "What is meant by the concept of 'philosophy'?"

(2) "Quelle est la philosophie que vous adoptez?" -> "What is the (specific/identified/choice of) philosophy that you adopt?"

So when you ask "What is the problem?", this is much more likely to refer to a question analogous to type (2) rather than type (1) -- you're effectively asking something like "Which is the problem that has occurred?" etc.

There is no chance is there that "que" used to be used to mean "comme"  in the  far distant past. (in the middle ages for example)?

Does "que" mean "comme" in any of the other romance  languages or in Latin.?

Yes I have got it that "problem" doesn't  suit the  "in general" usage but I still find  the way it is used overall  unusual even if it is a nice  way  to speak.  

On dirait que 'Comme' refers to process and actions, whereas 'Que' the nature or identity of a thing.

What would be the 'part of speech' of 'que' in 'Qu'est-ce que la philosophie?' It apparently is not relative pronoun, is it? -for lack of a sentence to follow it. A preposition? Pronomial preposition?

I hope Neil will put us right but my feeling is that it could be a conjunction with an unstated clause 

I am asking about "comme" because I wonder if "que" and "comme"  could have been used very differently   in the distant past (hundreds of years ago  which I think Neil does know about).

It is just a wild guess on my part.

In English "comme" can be translated to "like" or "as"  so it has more than one  meaning.

Hi George -- at one time, you could use que in an analogous way to soit or ou today, e.g. you could say "Que bon que mauvais" to mean something like "Both good and bad", "Either good or bad". But I think this is a slightly different use.

I'm honestly not sure just how the use with que in this case arose, and there's not really any consensus on how to analyse it as far as I'm aware, but I probably wouldn't try and shoehorn it into any of the traditional categories such as "conjunction" (which in itself is a bit of a 'dustbin' category in any case). I have one reference mentioning that Henri Frei called it an "outil d'inversion, un signaleur expressif"... but really that's just grammarian-speak for "I ain't got a clue how to analyse this so I'll just string some meaningless fancy-sounding words together" :)

What I would just point out is that you find this que used in a few contexts in literary French-- not just in the case of an inverted copula:

  Quelle délivrance que cette révélation!

  C'est un gentilhomme que ton voisin!


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