Currently on the main philosophy page there is a question, Are there universally agreed masterpieces of art?

The opening sentence of the question sums up the issue: "What do you consider examples of great art?"

This is the clearest case of an "opinion-based question" I have seen, putting it in a category which is normally closed without ceremony. However, the author also explains why he is asking a question of this form. He is seeking to collect information to arrive at a statistically valid position.

I believe this is also a forbidden form of question, as the forum is not designed for the collection of live philosophy data. However, he worded the post so clearly and it's such a poignant question that I really want to help, rather than voting to close the question.

Can anyone think of a good approach to keeping this question open without violating any written or unwritten standards we hold ourselves do? As an example, I'd consider a discussion where people provide their own opinion (voting style... also a questionable use of the forum), and then he writes his own answer and accepts it, summarizing his results. That way the forum continues to contain useful information (in this case, on what art is). Hopefully the value of that information would offset the amount of rules-bending it took to arrive at it.


  • I've added a vote to close...
    – virmaior
    Feb 8, 2015 at 22:30

1 Answer 1


TLDR: I wouldn't close the questions on the ground that it requires opinion-based answers, but because it aims to settle an open research question on Philosophy.SE.

The question is a legitimate research question about aesthetic judgements from the viewpoint of experimental philosophy. Since we don't preclude any philosophical discipline, and experimental philosophy is de facto part of philosophical discussion, it is not off-topic on this SE.

The issues with the question qua research question are

  1. its methodological flaws (sample size, control conditions, etc.);
  2. the very fact that it is an open research question aimed to be settled on SE.

IMO, both issues make it unsuitable for this SE.

For one, the site doesn't provide the technical tools to run and control the experiment and the users aren't probably a good statistical sample of the general population; further, this site discourages open-ended philosophical questions. Most of the time, philosophical "research" is spelled out in terms of "debate". In this case it consists in a survey. If we discourage the former, we should discourage the latter.

On a related note: If there is a question that is clearly doing philosophy as opposed to discussing it, it's this one. We can use it as a reference for future discussions on where to draw the line.

There are appropriate venues where jo wehler could propose her survey:

NB: Please note that questions regarding actual results and problems in experimental philosophy should be allowed!

  • I agree; in fact to me, "the very fact that it is an open research question aimed to be settled on SE" is what the close reason "primarily opinion-based" refers to. Your first reason (methodology) is one of the reasons (again, in my opinion) why there exists the aforementioned close reason in the first place -- because SE shouldn't be taken as representative of any the typical populations people might want to use in a study.
    – stoicfury
    Feb 9, 2015 at 7:07
  • @DBK: Thank you. I checked your hint to philosophyexperiments.com. I read some questions. These pages seem to have a lower level which I do not consider suitable for the high level of Richard's considerations. Besides, the pages are inundated with advertisements. - Of course philosophy SE does not have the means to conduct a representative inquiry about peoples opinion concerning masterpieces in art. Anyhow, even modest empirical result seem better than theorization in empty space. Only, one has to interpret the empirical results with greater care and abstain from bold generalizations.
    – Jo Wehler
    Feb 9, 2015 at 8:03

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