(Scroll down for a short version.)

I'm wondering how we should deal with clearly very subjective answers. An example. Most of the time, you can't really blame the answerer: the question asks for an opinion. Generally, I see two types of questions on this Stack site. Type 1 screams for subjective answers, type 2 doesn't.

  1. Is P true? ... Can Q be justified? ... Is it moral to do X? ...
  2. What philosopher says P? ... What does philosopher A mean by this quote? ... How does idea X differ from idea Y? ... Is statement S arguable?

Clearly, type 2 is very academical. Often, it can be tagged with . There is one best answer. This is possible because the question itself doesn't ask for an answer to a philosophical question. It asks for explanation about a philosophy or something like that. This type of question addresses some kind of meta-philosophy, which makes it possible to actually answer it.

Type 1 really asks for an answer to a philosophical question though. These questions don't have one best answer. The accepted answer often represents the opinion of the asker instead of the answer that's most useful to the question, for what accepting is actually meant. Also, this type generates a lot of discussion in the comments. In terms of the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective StackExchange blog, type 1 is bad subjective.

Some questions of type 1 are answerable: they're about logics, so something can be said about the validity of a reasoning. Those questions are good, of course, they can be answered. They don't ask for an opinion, they ask for explanation on common logic, or sometimes mathematics.

Following the consensus on other Stack sites, questions of type one should get closed as not constructive:

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

However, I don't see questions of type one getting closed or edited. I'm wondering why that is.

Often, the subjectiveness can be edited out quite easily. Have a look at the difference between Is it immoral for mosquitos to take blood from other living things without their consent? and Could it be justified to kill someone or make someone sick to reproduce yourself?. The first is a subjective question, the second isn't: the difference is that the first asks for any opinion, whilst the second asks for an overview of opinions. You can clearly see the difference when you look at the answers. Is it a good idea to rephrase the subjective questions to make them like the second example?

StackExchange is and should be a place where experts answer questions that can be reasonably answered. However, on this site I see anyone tossing in his two cents. Upvoting subjective answers basically means "yes, I agree" like it does on Meta. That's not what upvoting is for - it should be for answers that are useful to others. And what would make subjective answer A more useful than subjective answer B? Not the statement, but the argumentation. However, voting is based on the statement rather than the argumentation.

From our FAQ:

Please note that this site is not a personal blog or a pulpit for you to express your own personal philosophical beliefs. This is a Q&A site for examining ideas and concepts in the field of philosophy. It's OK to have opinions (even those that might differ from the "mainstream"), but you need to express them in a constructive way. If you fail to do this, your contributions are subject to being edited or moderated so that they adopt a less hostile or confrontational point of view.

I feel like we lost this rule. It's a very important rule to keep the quality of this site high. It should be clear that philosophy is academical and not just chit-chat in the café where anyone can scream God exists or not, for example.

In short

There are two types of questions on this Stack:

  1. Subjective: is P true?
  2. Objective: what philosopher says P?

Problems with subjective questions and answers are:

  • There is no one right answer
  • They generate much discussion (example)

However, often, the subjectiveness isn't edited out, and the question doesn't get closed either. Why? It could be closed as not constructive, and is in any way contrary to our philosophy-specific line in the FAQ:

Please note that this site is not a personal blog or a pulpit for you to express your own personal philosophical beliefs. This is a Q&A site for examining ideas and concepts in the field of philosophy.

What can / should we do to keep the quality of the site high? More specific:

  1. Should you edit / comment on / flag a subjective stimulating question?
  2. What should you do with a subjective answer? Should you flag it? Which flag?
  • 1
    There is at least one other form of question: "Is P possible?", which may be answered by an outline of a theory in which it is, or a logical argument demonstrating that it isn't. These answers risk being subjective if they rely on unstated or unsupported assumptions, however. Commented May 16, 2013 at 16:21
  • @NieldeBeaudrap not sure I get you - do you mean something like "is P arguable?" If so, that would be type 2, basically it's a reference-request. If not, what do you mean? :)
    – user2953
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 16:32
  • Let me provide an example: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/4018/… in which the most highly upvoted answer is not a reference, but a construction of a scheme of mathematical objects providing a model of time. Commented May 16, 2013 at 16:36
  • @NieldeBeaudrap ah yes, thanks for pointing that out to me. I added a paragraph to my question. They're type 1 (philosophical question) but can be answered and are good, when well formulated :)
    – user2953
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:36
  • A related problem, compared to other SE sites is that many questions get far more answers than is ideal, with many people wanting to chip in their point of view. On other sites, there are usually one or two answers, after which the question has been answered.
    – J.P.
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 10:28
  • "What philosopher says P? ... What does philosopher A mean by this quote? ... How does idea X differ from idea Y? ... Is statement S arguable?" -- these are all quite different sorts of questions and only the first one can be answered objectively ... and even then the answer is subjective unless it's an exact quote in the original language. "Is P true? ... Can Q be justified? ... Is it moral to do X? ..." -- these also are quite different, and the first and maybe the second can sometimes be answered objectively. Anyway, none should be banned--you have the wrong criteria.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Jun 28 at 7:37

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure the distinction between evaluating a proposition and investigating the origins of a proposition is entirely coherent. (Evaluating the philosophical implications of a concept or function involves tracing different moments of expression and so on.)

But, very quickly: subjectivity itself isn't of course inherently bad. And in fact there wouldn't be much use for this site (or critical thinking at all!) if all knowledge was clear, objective, plain, distinct, etc.

The world can be confusing and obscure; experts have valuable experience to share that's rooted in the situations they've endured, in the problems they've uncovered and struggled with.

We share an ethos with WP, not their entire list of regulations and rules! At any rate, one important criterion for SE is around mostly-opinion questions and answers -- keeping that in mind helps the borderline stay sharp for me, I think.


Late to the game (just starting to get involved in this Stack Exchange).

From what I've seen so far on this site, I think there are some subjective questions that are someone to look to pick a fight, and there are some subjective questions where someone is looking to understand the arguments. To take an example:

Is it moral to steal bread?

This obviously has no one right "answer," but there is a correct Philosophy SE "answer," which is a balanced, reasonably comprehensive summary of the different important treatments of the question.

  • 1
    My point is that we should rephrase questions to make the idea clear. A title should not be 'Is it moral to steal?' but rather 'Arguments on moral value of stealing', just to make the intention clear.
    – user2953
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 9:32
  • @user2953 That's not the point of your OP, nor to be found in it anywhere. Also, your "rather" isn't even a question.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Jun 28 at 7:44

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