I understand why opinion-based questions are not allowed on most of the Stackoverflow boards, however it makes no sense to me that questions can be put on hold or closed for being opinion based on a board that focuses on philosophy.

Isn't the very concept of philosophy fundamentally opinion based? Isn't this what seperates it from science?

And if opinion based questions don't belong on the philosophy board, what is the purpose of the philosophy board and what criteria are used to make the distinction between an opinion based question and another question on a board that explicitly focuses on philosophy?

Consider this answer by Matthew Read to the question Is this site for doing philosophy or discussing philosophy? :

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.

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?

When referencing source material, there's also the issue of defining what source qualifies as philosophical. Does Richard Linklater's masterpiece Waking Life qualify as philosophical? What about Jaco Van Dormael's Mr Nobody? Or Guy Richie's Revolver? Or are works of fiction disqualified in spite of philosophical profoundness?! I go into this particular issue in greater depth at Must every answer contain a source? Which kind of sources are accepted and why?

See also:

  • 2
    Are you talking about Philosophy? Have you read anything about it?
    – Shog9
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 0:48
  • I think you are confusing "opinion-based" questions with subjective ones. The latter are definitely encouraged, provided that they are backed up with evidence. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a legitimate philosopher, amateur or otherwise, that sways people with a pure opinion piece.
    – jonsca
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 0:48
  • @Shog9 Yes, I started browsing the philosophy board and noticed a question that was put on hold for being "opinion based", yet it seems to me most of the questions that aren't put on hold or locked are no less opinion based that that particular question (philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/23603/…).
    – John Slegers
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 0:51
  • @jonsca : I don't see any difference between a subjective answer and an opinion based answer. IMO, any answer that isn't 100% objective is at least partially opinion based, and the degree of subjectivity / opinion involved is not always easy to determine. In fact, most people can barely distinguish between pure genius and pure madness as the opinion of the visionary and that of the madman tend to be equally excentric from the perspective of most people out there.
    – John Slegers
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 0:55
  • 1
    Looks like a personal advice question... But really, this is a question that should be on meta philosophy, so I'm gonna just move this there.
    – Shog9
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 0:55
  • @Shog9 Hypothetical questions like the one at philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/23603/… are classic elementary school level philosophy. They aren't very deep, but they are philosophical of nature and I wouldn't -- by any standard -- qualify them as personal advice questions. Commented May 9, 2015 at 0:59
  • 1
    possible duplicate of Subjective answers and questions stimulating subjectiveness
    – user2953
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 4:19
  • 1
    @JohnSlegers there's a lot of questions already on the topic of your other question so I've closed it. Did you read the others before posting it? Embedding long quotes from arbitrary doesn't strengthen your position.
    – virmaior
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 13:26
  • @jonsca I think you are equating "opinion-based" with "irrational". Any answer that provides a logically valid answer, is rational, and IS therefore "evidenced based". There are many questions which are resolved by logic only proofs. So--no, I do not think answers should preclude logical syllogisms. Commented May 30, 2015 at 23:40
  • 1
    @e.s.kohen : In my experience, many answers on Stackoverflow that have been marked as "opinion-based" or questions that have been closed for that reason are no less rational and "evidence based" than many of the highest rated questions or answers. IMO there's a lot of subjectivity involved in qualifying a question or answer as "opinion based", which isn't really helping the community forward. The issue is still far, far worse on the philosophy board, where I'm no longer active and removed most of my posts as a consequence. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 9:28

1 Answer 1


There's several things that intrigue me in your question here.

First, you're calling the philosophy.SE "the philosophy board". That sounds like you view this as BBS or forum. I think that alone indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of how philosophy.SE functions (or should function). This is first and foremost an SE -- meaning that it is a place for people to ask questions and get answers. This generates parameters about the answers and questions.

See the following Meta discussions for some of the issues we face here:

The Official Vote Regarding Subjective Questions

Policing overzealous members and moderators

Should question's be forced to have a set of premises?

Are questions of this sort considered acceptable?

How does quoting the opinions of other philosophers support a theory?

An Easy Guide to Earning Downovtes

Friends, we are not philosophers

One of the root problems is that many people, as you're suggesting above, think philosophy means "opinion based" and suggest that this is what "seperates it from science." Or that the goal is to have profound insights and post those. But if so, then philosophy.SE should not exist because if this is the case it fails completely to follow the SE model. At best, we would be having a popularity contest between different views.

The other option is to start from a basis in philosophy as an academic discipline. Academic philosophers don't view philosophy as a non-science (in the broadest meaning of science) and definitely are not convinced that no answers exist. There are clear and answerable philosophical questions and there are questions about philosophy and the views of philosophers ("What does Kant think about lying?" / "How does Aristotle explain people doing wrong?" / etc.) I take this SE to be largely built around these sorts of questions.

There's no right answer to questions that ask us to resolve moral dilemmas on which there is substantial disagreement, so those are a poor fit for an SE.

Again, we're an SE first -- philosophy second. And this isn't about doing academic philosophy per se, but that's got to be the foundation we are working from here.

For full disclosure, I do have a PhD in philosophy and do do my research (though not at this point my teaching) in academic philosophy; I participate here to keep in touch with the sorts of questions people do encounter in non-academic philosophy. For further disclosure, I know of two other people either in graduate school or PhD-ed who have answered questions on this site -- but one of them gave up precisely because of the degree to which the question quality is insufficiently policed.

  • Then maybe philosophy.SE should not exist? I've always considered philosopher not as a field of study or something old men in robes used to do, but the organic transgenerational enterprise of making sense of the universe that many intellectuals (including myself) engage in on an almost daily basis. For me, philosophy comes as natural as breathing, as eating. Distinguishing between "academic sources" and other sources or between "philosophical sources" and other sources seems artificial and awkward to me and to go against the very spirit of traditional philosophy. Anyway, thanks for your answer Commented May 9, 2015 at 12:36
  • See also meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/2836/… Commented May 9, 2015 at 12:48
  • See also meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/2831/… Commented May 9, 2015 at 12:49
  • I made several improvements to my question, by the way, which should make my position more clear. Commented May 9, 2015 at 13:15
  • The definition of philosophy you're operating from has nothing to do with anything I would invest any time in; the definition of philosophy I'm operating from is the one associated with the academic discipline. I don't know where you're getting your definition of "traditional philosophy". Do you have definitions of "traditional physics" or "traditional math" that have nothing to do with the academic disciplines or normal traditions of study?
    – virmaior
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 13:24
  • Maybe that's the problem. Maybe you've been investing too much time in obsolete books from a bygone era and too little time engaging in actual philosophy. Those who consider philosophy an academic field of study distinct from daily life fail to grasp what philosophy is all about, namely the organic enterprise of individuals trying to make sense of the universe we live in on a daily basis. Have you ever read "Sophie's World"? IMO, it's the best introduction to the enterprise of philosophy and it should be read first, before reading any of the classic Greco-Roman philosophers. Commented May 9, 2015 at 14:05
  • @Cicero : As I explained in my last comment, it is the organic enterprise of individuals trying to make sense of the universe we live in on a daily basis. Those most skilled in philosophy do not look at philosophy as a field of study but rather as something as natural and common as eating or breathing. Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 19:05

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