This might be considered as a further elaboration on my previous question Users acting as authorities, in the sense that, similarly to that question, I want to clarify for myself some existing nowhere written rules that seem to be important for this site.

The question concerns specifically the situation with my answer to the question Does free will require randomness? (although my question here is not just about that answer, it is just an example and I want to know what to do in similar situations). The following text has appeared after it:

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

I gather this is caused by several users having flagged the answer accordingly, so I have at least to take their opinion into account. However in this case I cannot really figure out how to satisfy this requirement - my answer contains a proposed definition of free will and deduces the answer from this definition. Of course I realize that this definition is disputable, and I would be glad to see its wrongs and weaknesses, but what I certainly don't know is whether there is anywhere a similar view of free will that I could cite.

Even more, I have no idea what are criteria for evaluating sources as reliable enough to support my assertions (well, properly speaking it is a definition but ok it may be considered as an assertion); I also don't know whether the above text concerns that definition or the argument following it.

In the help center it is mentioned that Links to external resources are encouraged but nowhere could I find information about either in which cases is it strictly necessary to accompany assertions with citations to reliable sources supporting them or how to determine which sources are reliable. In particular, I want to ask by which criteria does this answer of mine fall into that category.

Since that answer is quite short I decided just to reproduce it here for convenience

Let us see how concisely this can be answered.

Having free will means nothing more than not knowing yourself what you will do (or will want to do or will try to do) in future. Even if all of your actions are perfectly known beforehand to everybody else but you you still have free will.

1 Answer 1


Sources & References

  • Should be added whenever possible and relevant; from the help center:

    Links to external resources are encouraged, ...

  • Be sure to include context and quote the relevant part in case the link goes dead:

    ... Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.

  • References to philosophical papers or books are (almost) always good and sometimes necessary (when the question asks for references).

  • Other sources (secondary literature, Wikipedia, other websites, ...) can be good, depending on their objectivity and quality. Reference a source only when you think if it's reliable. Through voting, the community will indirectly also judge the reliability of your references.

Subjective answers

  • Always state clearly:

    • What are your assumptions?
    • What definitions do you use?
  • If possible, mention:

    • The philosophical doctrine (or some doctrines) that follow the same line of thought

      If you do not know what philosophical doctrine follows the same line of thought, there is a good chance your answer does not belong here.

    • References to papers, books, philosophers, etc. as much as possible while relevant

Don't answer everything

Again from the help center:

Not all questions can or should be answered here. Save yourself some frustration and avoid trying to answer questions which...

• ...are unclear or lacking specific details that can uniquely identify the problem.
• ...solicit opinions rather than facts.
• ...have already been asked and answered many times before.
• ...require too much guidance for you to answer in full, or request answers to multiple questions.
• ...are not about philosophy as defined in the help center.

We get many questions here that 'solicit opinions rather than facts'. Often these questions can be edited to the form

What doctrines say something about theorem/problem X?

Do not answer subjective questions. Edit or suggest an edit to rewrite them to this form, then answer the rephrased question.

As a very clear recent example, Are our lives predestined? asks for opinions on a question which is actively researched. Also, the OP strongly suggests his own opinion. Many reasons to put that question on hold and improve it first before writing answers.

(Explicitly) answer the question

  • When a question asks for references, provide them

  • Often, discussing differences between different doctrines helps the OP a lot

When your answer has a notice as yours, it has been put there by a community moderator. Normal users don't have this possibility, nor does the system automatically do this when the answer is getting flagged a lot.

Your answer had the problem that it did not clearly distinguish between definition, deduction, axiom, claim, argumentation and opinion. As such, it's difficult to estimate the value of the answer. Is the statement you make generally accepted? Is it representative for some particular doctrine? Is it just your opinion?

Hopefully the rules of thumb above are somehow helpful. It is a mix of things you can get from the help center, my experience on several SE sites, and my personal opinion of what are good posts on this site. Through voting on this answer the community will decide if it agrees with this (which is how it works on Meta).

  • I neither upvoted nor downvoted since it contains a mixture of very useful information (for which I am very grateful) and of advices concerning very important issues which at key points use such vague expressions as "whenever possible" or "there is a good chance" that it becomes frustratingly unclear how to follow them. Two more things. (1) Could you please add a link to a place on this site where it is rigorously defined what does subjective question mean. (2) In general (not only from this answer) I get impression that expressing own opinion is frowned upon here. Is it so, and if yes, why? Mar 31, 2015 at 17:37
  • 1
    @მამუკაჯიბლაძე (1) subjective question: a question that allows for subjective answers; subjective answer: an answer in which a user ventilates his own opinion. (2) Expressing your opinion is mostly fine if you stay within the boundaries I listed here. See also: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective -- It's impossible to give you general rules. That's not how these sites work. There's a team of moderators - the community - which deals with every case separately. We can give guidelines (what I tried to do here), but no absolute, general rules. I'm sorry.
    – user2953
    Mar 31, 2015 at 18:12
  • An excellent link, thank you! I finally understood something from it. Mar 31, 2015 at 22:53
  • 1)Many philosophical/scientific papers are only available for preview. (unless you purchase them) Should I cite them? 2) Can I cite wikipedia? 3) Would you tell me some of the respectable site that I can cite(as many sites are biased)?
    – Arun
    Apr 3, 2015 at 13:40
  • @Arun You can cite whatever you want. Through votes, the community will vote the best answer to the top, and people take references into account. Add the references you deem useful and reliable.
    – user2953
    Apr 3, 2015 at 13:42

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