Does this community intend to support and engage in potentially original philosophical inquiry, or are we going to limit ourselves to discussing previously published philosophies and/or philosophers?

In short, are we going to do philosophy, or discuss philosophy?

As an example, some philosophers have referenced what some may consider to be supernatural or religious concepts and abstractions. I would assume that questions on what those philosophers were discussing are on topic for this community. But are we open to a questions about these concepts when the questions being asked do not immediately connect to a known philosopher's position?

See also: Should we restrict this site to academic questions only, or target a more casual audience?

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    I think this is actually a good thing to go in the Philosophy FAQ as well, when an answer is reached.
    – John M.
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 21:27
  • 1
    @JohnM. Here we are almost 7 years later, and there’s no real answer. The main site is chock full of “doing philosophy” questions (“What is the meaning of life?”, “I feel there’s something missing”, etc). However, if you limit it to questions about philosophy, then the main site is Meta-philosophy and this one is Meta-meta, no? Maybe the problem is that “doing” vs “about” is a continuous spectrum, not a binary choice. Commented May 16, 2018 at 4:12

11 Answers 11


How would you plan to distinguish? No one knows everything every philosopher has said or written, and requiring every question to come with a bibliography is a bit ridiculous. Additionally if a truly original question did come up (doubtful) one should be able to give an answer informed by previous philosophical work. No philosophy is an island.

Answers, though, should generally be referenced when they delve into opinion. I would say that original work is still OK, as long as they can point to a paper or something they've written that provides support for their opinion. "It's this way because I said so" is never OK.

On subjectivity:

All you need to do is look at Programmers in order to see that this can work. Subjective questions can thrive on StackExchange, and we can even have whole sites devoted to them. It's certainly harder to write a good subjective question than an objective one -- that's why there are guidelines for them. As long as we write good questions, we should be fine. We're going to have to work hard in this department.

  • I've merged your answer in from another, very similar question. Might want to expand it a bit...
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 22:57
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    @Shog9 Thanks, I've done so.
    – user20
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 23:27
  • I agree, I don't see any way to distinguish. But, many questions are being closed or downvoted on the "subjective" premise that they are somehow off-topic. I wanted to address that and see if we could come to some consensus that could go into the FAQ and avoid such haphazard moderation in the future. Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 23:29
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    Skeptics is another good model for how I think this site might work. Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 16:41
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    What if I never wrote a paper or essay backing up my answer, but my answer is a conclusion based on decades of life experience, including daily philosophical meanderings?! Is decades of life experience and logical reasoning less relevant than someone else's random scribblings just because the latter took the time to elaborate on them in a blog post or college paper? Commented May 9, 2015 at 13:06

First of all, there is a substantial amount of non-subjective material in the more technical end of philosophy. Programming has "Hurr durr, PHP vs. C++" and philosophy has equivalents. But there are more technical questions that should be answerable without subjectivism and personal opinions. A decent moral philosopher should be able to sketch out the landscape of the dispute between different ethical theories without evangelising their particular view.

Now, is the community viable? If Philosophy Stack Exchange can attract useful contributors like MathOverflow has, that would be useful. If it just becomes a crappy debating forum, not so good.


Shog9's comment "A Stack Exchange site that exists purely as an outlet for discussion is a Stack Exchange site that will die. We tried this, briefly, on Programmers' - it didn't fly." I think reflects the concern. Questions which are fundamentally calling for the opinions of people visiting, like "Would you consider the Ship of Theseus the same ship?" are poor questions, and will not generate an answer.

That said, I suspect many such "questions" can be easily restructured to garner good answers, for instance "What are some of the proposed resolutions to the Ship of Theseus paradox?" would be a good question (had it not already been answered on Wikipedia of course).


I believe that it is vitally important that both questions and answers must contain references to extant philosophical literature. If we entertain any old question, we are refusing to use the ontology of academic science, which means a complete lack of precision in formulating "answerable" questions, and encouraging of a conversational-type site which will be the doom of us. How will attract credentialed experts, Ph. Ds and students of philosophy, if we don't mandate the use of the language they converse with each other in?

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    I agree that the site looks like a failed site, but I don't think that the distinctive issue are references to literature, but the lack of precision in the formulation. But you can see this in my answer, too. (And you will get conversational-type questions with perfect references of people who read philosophical works without understanding.)
    – Phira
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 23:06

I don't think that this distinction is necessary for, say, the logical flaws in Pascal's wager. I don't have to refer to a source to point out missing assumptions.

The distinction should be along clear-cut answerable questions and open discussion-y ones, not between book reference questions and others.


I do not understand the distinction. They way one does philosophy is by discussing philosophy, whether that discussion be carried out in spoken or written words. (Yes, one can instead think in isolation. But, that is the limiting case of carrying on a discussion with oneself.)


"Doing" philosophy? I don't know if I think it's a good idea or a bad idea or a right proper fit for stackexchange; but I think it is worth trying, in a way that makes sense given the abilities of stackexchange.

Let's try an experiment and see if we can make collaborative and constructive questions work. I picked the research question "[What is the] Epistemic significance of disagreement [and its] most important papers?]1".

Here are the reasons I picked this one:

  • Easy to follow/analyze/meet demands of the question
  • Analysis/synthesis of resources should be straightforward
  • Recency and non-general nature of topic should keep data and answers to the "most important" aspect of question pretty limited

I have posted some additional sources. The answer is CW so if anyone with more/better knowledge on the subject than me (esp. in this case... anyone) can come along and re-sort, get rid of extraneous sources.

The focus here would be to try to answer an unorthodox question collectively; I am envisioning something akin to wikis or pairing up of coders. Nobody gains rep from helping aggregate data (boo-hoo); but once a good answer is ready to be formed, there will be plenty of source materials and the OP can refer back to the steps the research took (often a more valuable resource than the answer alone).

  • I like this approach and I'll see if I can contribute in any way. But you've also brought up the potentially corrosive effect the reputation system might have. If you would like to expand on why you mentioned "Nobody gains rep from helping aggregate data," I'd be interested. Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 18:53
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    @Jon I just mean that by anyone compiling links, resources, quotes, etc they shouldn't get rewarded when involved in not answering the question. I.E. In the question linked, say (first you could edit anyone's answers and) you contribute 2 more essential links I missed, someone upvotes the answer, and I get the rep; that doesn't make sense. However, the CW-format 'answer' allows for a collaborative work/brain space for answerers to see what threads are being brough together. This should add transparency to the answers that a dogmatic "X is the most authoritative EWV writer" would fail at
    – mfg
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 20:40
  • This is more an idea about how SE could do philosophy/research, I'm not trying to change anything. You would still have answers and question, but there would be a CW floater answer for everyone to show their work while answers are worked out; kind of a long-tail approach to Q&A, something only the Necromancer badge shows appreciation for. Two feature requests I think might elucidate the concept would be (1) to be able to favorite the answer and (2) have the answer, after 5 edits, become community owned so even my mug doesn't show up there (which may happen to cw answers eventually).
    – mfg
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 20:43
  • Gotcha. Sounds like a wonderful experiment, which I hope to participate in soon. ;-) Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 20:48

are we going to do philosophy, or discuss philosophy?

This is not a discussion site, so that rules out the 2nd option. I'm not sure what the 1st option involves, but it sounds difficult.

My two cents is that answers should balance citation and elaboration, like any good essay.


On topic.

If we were only to discuss what has been published before this would(or should at least) be a History of philosophy or philosophic literature stack exchange.

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    There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Many careers and much work in academia have been based on doing nothing more than reinterpreting Plato, Socrates, and other Greek philosophers dead and read for near 2,500 years.
    – Uticensis
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 22:45

On topic, but with the caveat that the distinction between original and published philosophy is tenuous to the point of being unremarkable. The people posting on this site likely come from cultures that have been in interaction with Western philosophy in some way, and so cannot but pose questions that this tradition either has already responded to or could contribute to in a meaningful way, either as a point of objection or commencement (example: Deleuze, Nietzsche, and Foucault all thought as original thinkers, but all of them are responding to Kant and Hegel). Philosophy is a conversation, not a dogma, no matter what certain academics want it to look like.


I think this question is premised on a lack of insight into the extent of philosophy. Technically speaking there is no such thing as non-philosophy insofar as every intellectual decision responds to a philosophical problem. Entire cultures are specified by their concession to a series of philosophical responses. How is this so? Because philosophy is essentially meditation on the lack of grounding of all knowledge, that all knowledge takes place in a space of decision without precedent or reference; "everything is subjective" is a bastardized way of putting it, but a way of putting it that creates a distorted reality of its own without proper insight into the history of philosophical discussion in the West. Hence, "everything is subjective" is, to philosophy, as meaningless as "everything is objective". If in everyday life we navigate between ideas we ourselves hold 'subjectively' and ideas accepted as 'objective' the difference is actually one of degree rather than any absolute sense.

In this sense, a stackexchange in philosophy is as good an outlet for discussion as any other insofar as here once can put to question the distinctions and concepts we find ourselves submitting to in work, in love, at home, at school, etc. There should be a place where free discussion is possible.

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    A Stack Exchange site that exists purely as an outlet for discussion is a Stack Exchange site that will die. We tried this, briefly, on Programmers' - it didn't fly.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 23:35

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