OK guys I know it's fashionable to close stuff aggressively now, especially in the early stages of a site, but frankly I can't see why a bunch of my questions have been closed (the reason given is nonsense in every case), so I'd appreciate if anyone could weigh in on why. All of the following questions have been closed, but I think they're appropriate for this site (and if they aren't then frankly I'm not going to be wasting my time posting here becuase the scope seems ridiculously narrow):

Edited from comment, showing what kind of answers I might have expected for the question

Is it possible to scientifically determine good and evil? (not a real question? of course it is!)
A discussion of Sam Harris's theory on this, perhaps with quotes from those agreeing or disagreeing with the suggestion, and why.

What is an 'argumentum ad baculum'? (not a real question? ...)
Definition of this term; could well help others looking for such a definition.

https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/347/would-it-be-moral-to-do-gods-will (not constructive? good luck asking any philosohpical questions by these rules.)
A discussion on whether a supreme being's status alone makes His will 'just', and makes his will trump human morality, perhaps with quotes from those agreeing or disagreeing with the suggestion, and why.

At what point can a being be said to have gained sentience? (not constructive?! this is an interesting philosophical question.)
A discussion on what kinds of sentience we know about, when they develop, perhaps with scientific studies to suggest evidence for this. A philisophical consideration of whether an android advanced enough to be indistinguishable from a human has what we consider 'sentience'.

What is an 'argumentum ad lapidem'? (not a real question? ...)
Definition of this term; could well help others looking for such a definition.

Please understand I'm really not bitching (I do tend to come across that way a lot for some reason), but I'm trying to help you define your philosophy site. Are these all off-topic? Some of those are very interesting questions and yes, they may lead to some opinion, but it would be strange if they didn't. This is philosophy. If all you're looking for is some kind of lookup site for 'who gave argument X about Y?', then Google and Wikipedia are your friends. Is that what you want?

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    I'm with you here @Jez. The closure rate doesn't bode well for a successful SE. I've got to the point where it's not worth wasting my time asking questions for fear of closure.
    – boehj
    Jun 22, 2011 at 8:51
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    It would be a good start to describe what kind of answers you expected for the above questions.
    – Phira
    Jun 22, 2011 at 8:52
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    Our line has been serious, thought-provoking, philosophically-minded questions that would interesting to experts and can't be answered by a trivial search. At least some of these are general reference; a few of the others feel borderline; but I definitely agree that you shouldn't expect a good and constuctive question to be closed.
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Jun 22, 2011 at 12:35
  • The close reasons don't really seem to be appropriate to those questions. I've asked a question about the list of reasons at: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/95960/… Jun 22, 2011 at 18:53
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    To be (un)fair I stated elsewhere in meta that questions of the type, "What is argumentum..." should be viewed as off-topic. We have wikipedia and the SEP to answer those. I don't see how our definitions will add anything useful to what's already out there. Frankly I have no clear idea what is and isn't off-topic. The things that seem clearly on-topic don't seem to be suited to the SE format.
    – boehj
    Jun 23, 2011 at 9:41
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    Why don't you guys edit the question instead of closing it?
    – user16659
    Jun 23, 2011 at 14:02
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    I completely agree that philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/357/… is a real question and should be reopened immediately. Term definitions should probably be off topic though. The sentience question makes no sense and can't be answered. Jun 24, 2011 at 12:17
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    I agree with @Lennart here re: scientific good & evil. I agree with @Jez that the sentience question is a good one. The definitions don't belong here in my view and the God's will question I'm in two minds about.
    – boehj
    Jun 24, 2011 at 15:00

4 Answers 4


Yikes! I voted to close the first question on your list and I can't really remember why.
Looking at my comments, I think I was hoping for a more defined question. In particular, the circular definition of evil made me wonder what was being asked and the article linked in the question was worse than useless for me to read. I was hoping you'd take the hint to improve your question and it didn't happen. I'm pretty sure that's why I voted to close.

I think the description provided by the close reason is apt in that the question is "ambiguous, vague, incomplete, and rhetorical". But it may very well be that the position you are asking about is all of those things so I'm reversing my vote. Perhaps some of the others will do the same. (It actually did get some reasonable answers, so the second part of the close description seems not to apply.)

Supposedly there is a "General Reference" closure justification coming soon that seems to cover two more of your questions. I think those questions can wait to be closed when that reason becomes available. So I will vote to reopen. (And when they are closed with "general reference" justification I will seriously consider reopening them because as usual Jeff is wrong and Joel is right.)

The final two are tricky. I think the problem and the reason they were closed with the new "not constructive" rational is that they ask questions that are too broad. I read both questions and felt that tackling them would be like taking on Medusa. If you knock off one question, three more will take its place. The sentience question is particularly overwhelming. I see 10 question marks which imply 10 questions in one. I know you were only asking one question, but it's just massive in scope.

A better approach to asking either of those questions is to do something like what you did with the Sam Harris question: ask a specific question about a philosopher and one of their claims. My question about Gödel Incompleteness is another example. I found a quote that I wasn't sure if I agreed with and asked specifically about the quote. It could have been a Medusa question if I'd asked something like, "Why does everyone use Gödel to justify their whacked-out ideas?" I asked essentially the same question in a way that people could write one, concise, memo-length answer that covers all the issues raised. (It wasn't perfectly asked, however. I love the answers I got, but I know some people objected to the way the question was phrased. It's a nontrivial problem.)

It's difficult to ask good questions in the best of situations. I think you could help your cause if you took a few minutes to edit closed questions to make them better and respond (in the question text) to comments. People tend to be more lenient with people who show they are responding to criticism rather than just digging in their heels.


There are three main 'types' that the questions fall into:

  • The general reference reason to close: The two, "what is an argument ad..." is, as Robert put it, not right for beta as it truly is something Wikipedia or google results could have fished up
  • The issue with your good and evil question, for me, is none of the issues Cody mentions, but rather that the question is long-winded and same-y. Sorry, just poorly written, and I think a good edit that concisely differentiates it from the other good/evil questions could make it betteer. Lennart obviously read into it enough to put up a good answer; maybe you can revise the question so it is better structured.
  • As for sentience and God's will, I'm not going to tell you they are off-topic. However, I will admit I have no interest in them as philosophical questions.
    • God's will is not interesting in terms of philosophy to me
    • Sentience is such a maladapted concept, really it is a deformation of some kind of secular soul, and it is in my mind problematic to discuss anything involving sentience within a philosophical framework

Now, none of these are technically criticisms of your questions. The first reason says that you poorly timed when to ask a general question that might be valuable were it not the beta. The second reason is that the question was a bit vague, but more importantly, in a crowded domain. The third is idiosyncratic to users, but may be informative as to the temperature of the site.


I cast a close vote for one of the questions that you list. I admit that a measure of antipathy to Sam Harris may have been behind it. But, the (I hope dominant) reason I voted to close is that it is hard for me to see how anything that can be provided within the scope of a SE site could possibly count as an answer to the question.

I think it right that the sentient machine question be closed for that same reason: the relevant literature is so rich, and the question so complex, that anything short of at least the length of a journal article has no hope of being reasonably thought to be "an answer" to that question.

Both are clearly philosophical questions; I think neither suitable for SE treatment.

Your various argument ad some obscure Latin term questions, I would not have closed. They do strike me as perhaps having been the product of searching for now obsolete scholastic terminology to ask about, but they still seemed legitimate. (I am also of the view that the straw man question ought not to have been closed.)

On a pessimistic note, when I followed the proposal, I had grave scepticism that the SE format would really be suitable to philosophy. I've done my best to contribute, but as the site progresses, I believe I see my scepticism being borne out.

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    I think the format is working and should work. The difficulty is to slightly shift our idea of a Stack Exchange site as a place to ask FAQ-type questions that are infrequently asked to asking Socratic-type questions. Jun 22, 2011 at 19:50

Let me attempt to justify my votes and try to suggest some remedies.

With respect to Is it possible to scientifically determine good and evil? I'm with @mfg -- the structure of the title suggests the question is is off topic. The content of the question is fine; I think rephrasing the title to actually reference Harris would really help push this towards our on-topic line.

Now, questions like https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/347/would-it-be-moral-to-do-gods-will and At what point can a being be said to have gained sentience? strike me as completely open-ended and honestly a bit too 'chatty' for the main page. My suggestion here is that if you really want to get involved in a discussion about these things, it's probably better for the chat. Now, on the other hand, if you want someone to explain something about philosophy to you, you're all good -- so if you can do any work on reformulating these to asking answerable questions about philosophy, I will definitely reconsider my vote.

Regarding the two questions asking after definitions of logical fallacies, they're just too simple without more there. My recommendation here is to provide more context, in particular helping the community understand how having others explain the fallacy to you relates to and advances your own philosophical study (though please keep in mind if the question is purely definitional and can be answered with a trivial search it probably doesn't belong here.)

I'm very sorry you're feeling confused about the close reasons. Hopefully we have suggested some positive steps you can take to resolve this. Please let us know what you think.

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    good and evil question: Then it would have been better to edit than to close, wouldn't it?
    – Ruben
    Jun 24, 2011 at 16:28

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