It seems to me there are a lot of 'Where do I start if I'm interested in X?' or 'What authors should I read if I want to get into Y?' questions. For example:

Where can I start to learn about the philosophy of penology?

Should these questions be encouraged?

I feel that they should if they refer to some specific and particularized area (like the one above does). If they are of the sort: 'Where do I start reading on the question of existence?' they should not.

  • 2
    My $0.02: The 'What authors should I read if I want to get into Y?' ones are the better of the two. Reason: The answer will encompass questions of the first type. Question: Does anyone start investigating an area by not reading?
    – boehj
    Jun 16, 2011 at 11:17

3 Answers 3


My feeling is that book recommendation style questions, without other qualifications, are generally discouraged.

They should probably be allowed if they are sufficiently narrow in scope and provide some sense of the level of 'philosophical intricacy' expected in recommendations. How broad is too broad? Here's my sense:

"Where to get started with...

  • ...(philosophical era)?" is too broad
  • ...philosophers writing about (branch of philosophy/common notion)? is borderline
  • ...philosophers writing about (very specific concept or question)? is okay
  • -1, @josephweissman, some of my best textbooks were divided by "philosophical era" or "branch of philosophy". Many university classes are divided by these criteria as well. There is an appropriate answer to questions at every level of philosophical specificity Jul 3, 2011 at 13:25
  • @smartcaveman (I really would suggest changing to "Smart Caveman" by the way!) sure, but the questions themselves don't fall within the scope of the site. You seem to suggest we should not attempt to draw an off topic line. I don't understand this at all; as per our definition and FAQ, etc, questions should of course be about getting something specific explained to you. If you want to have a discussion about something, please move it to chat -- it's better suited for it anyway. This isn't about the questions being good or bad; it's about right fit and quality control.
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Jul 5, 2011 at 2:28

Very close to recipe requests on cooking and other polls. However, we should try to come up with a criteria to make them valuable. Failing a good workaround, close them like the polls they are.

To begin the criteria, ask "what makes this list of X useful in this space?" Typically not much.


Reading the other answers, I get the idea that people do not like the penology question. But I think that it's a very reasonable question - it's well-defined, has a clear answer, and is instructive. I'm not sure what other resources are available for such questions, but I would hope that this forum is knowledgeable.

That being said, I don't anticipate such questions suddenly taking the forum by storm. I largely agree with Joseph: if a person starts to ask about how to become informed with philosophy during the Enlightenment, I would not know how to respond. But this example question is a good one, I think.

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