I'm somewhat concerned about the quality of questions and answers recently on Philosophy.SE. In particular, I am concerned that my own level of participation is a symptom, or perhaps even a contributing factor.
Is there a 'problem' with the pattern of activity on this site, vis a vis the goals of StackExchange and the mission of this site in particular? And if so:
Is behaviour like mine a symptom of this problem? Or possibly:
Is behaviour like mine a driver of this problem?
In particular, I'm worried that I may be a problem user, and want guidance. But I also want some perspective on how the moderators and founders feel about the recent activity on the site and whether it is broadly appropriate to the mission of the site.
I will apologize in advance for the self-indulgent presentation of the problem, but it's difficult to avoid, because the problem I perceive is the potential impact on this site of my self-indulgence — I see a problem, and I'm concerned that I'm part of it. I would like to be quite clear on the sort of feedback I'm seeking on my own participation: please just tell me if you find it problematic to the mission of Phil.SE, and if so, in what way it is problematic.
In short — I would rather be a less central participant, on a more rigorous site. But I don't know how to help this to happen except to continue doing what I'm doing, which doesn't seem to be helping.
My original motive for participation on Philosophy.SE has been to broaden my own awareness of philosophers, and in particular to get a better understanding of some fine points of the development of logic. However, after eighteen months, I find myself one of three people with the
[logic] badge, and (to my genuine surprise) the only one with the
[philosophy-of-mathematics] badge. At the moment I am the fourth-highest ranking contributor to the site, and I have recently attained "trusted user" status. I am not watching so much as I am become one of the stewards of the site. Do I belong in such a role?
Please understand that I'm not remarking on the above to boast. I'm concerned that it's a sign that something has gone wrong. I am aware of how cheaply I have won these "prizes": my answers are of a particular style which is popular among a certain sort of personality which is fairly common among technical workers, so that my answers are likely to be voted for as an example of rhetorical and analytical style, as opposed to scholarly rigor. While I put real work into my contributions, it may not be the correct sort of work. I put in the work because I don't often see anyone giving better answers to these questions, than I could give from first principles; but maybe this encourages people to keep asking the sort of question which does not attract an expert answer.
I regard myself as a total dilettante in practise, and while I am happy to participate, I'm uncertain that I ought to have such a status on this site. The fact that I do have it — and the way that I got it, and its possible relation to the activity of others on this site — gives me pause. Despite my status as a dabbler, I find myself in consistent violation of the spirit of Joseph's thesis that we are not philosophers — almost all of my contribution to this site has been not well-referenced citation of existing philsohopers, but application of critical thinking with regards to the meanings of words. It is not that I'm unaware of Joseph's thesis (which seems sound): my continued violation comes from the fact that this is how I have come to use the site, because there is little more for me here than to put in my two cents on topics where I feel I have the tools to derive (as opposed to cite) an answer.
What I find here invites me to scratch the itch of personal contribution, to answer what are often quite elementary questions, despite my lack of knowedge of good references. Notably, there is a class of questions which I have answered (In what sense is atheism scientific?, What is virginity from a philosophical perspective?, Is Autocracy superior to Democracy?) for moral rather than intellectual reasons: I feel keenly enough that such questions demand answers in a certain spirit that I write answers which are borderline polemic (albeit while trying to support my position analytically). And while I am proud of some of my contributions — whether intellectually or morally motivated — I have no illusions that much of it is likely to be original: probably many of them should be replaced by pointers to the literature, if only I knew where, or if the appropriate specialists were on the site and could be troubled to answer.
So: despite myself, I find myself using this site to opine, because I find it difficult to use it any other way — precisely because I am a dilettante without the ability to marshal references for the points I would like to make, and there is not a sustained stream of questions which would force me to quietly take notes. I suspect that there are a number of other users who are using this site in the same way; the reason why I suspect this, is because I see many contributions which I feel don't fit the spirit of the site, and opine in a way that is not unlike the way I do it. Being biased and having a history of self-centeredness, I naturally feel that my contributions are of higher quality — but then, I'm uneasy even about my own pattern of participation.
I have seen a similar devolution of activity elsewhere on the internet, on forums for technical topics such as philosophy. It's likely to be in part the nature of viral spread of a community. My understanding is that the StackExchange format, involving a focus on Q&A, and user moderation starting from a dedicated core of users who steer the site to maintain its mission, is meant as a check on the usual progression from high-signal activity to high-noise activity. I am concerned that this is failing. I'm concerned also that my very activity is one of the reasons that it is failing: that I am setting a bad example (mostly "original" contributions with few citations) for others — but an example which is not bad enough for the top users to try to correct it, because they hope to foster activity on the site. Thus my bad behaviour stands as an observable pattern of usage for others to mimic, and so they do.
Obviously the person in the best position to police my behaviour is myself. As I find myself a "trusted user", one could not even ask for a more qualified policeman. However, I am in need of some guidance with respect to the problematic user which I've been tasked with policing.
How determined are we to be a site concerning scholarly philosophy, i.e. primarily referencing the body of knowledge built up by a small community of academics whose work is evaluated by peer review, or appreciated as literary works which contribute significantly to the body of ideas considered by those people? Conversely: are extended analyses from first principles considered acceptable?
What is the best way to distinguish between those analyses which are acceptable and those which are not? Specifically, what do we look for in the strength or the relation of an answer to the literature (whether scholarly philosophy literature, or more general literature)?
To help maintain the mission of the site (assuming that we're mostly interested in links to the literature), for users other than myself, what would you recommend for maintaining a firm but friendly stance on the quality of questions and answers?