Recently, we had a question on the philosophy stackexchange:

Wittgenstein and Husserl

that included two quotes from the Tractatus. I had suggested the references be added. This led to the following two discussions:



Where at least two of our users don't see the value in adding them, because the quotes are (1) well-known and (2) able to found with simple google searches.

What does the community think about expecting people to put a reference when quoting (when possible)?

  • In this particular question a direct link to the primary source was provided in the comments.
    – hellyale
    Aug 4, 2015 at 3:26

2 Answers 2


My opinion is that whenever possible, OPs or question editors should try to include the standard references to quotes in questions (e.g., Plato's Stephanus, Aristotle's Bekker, Kant's Prussian Academy).

I have two reasons.

First, this can help to attract more traffic from people searching based on reference rather than text. For instance, I would search for Mencius 2A.6 rather than "root of compassion." This is especially helpful as many of those who search by reference are often subject-matter experts (see for instance the newly added answer here Is Plato's Socrates contradicting himself here? (Phaedo 75a) )

Second, in more obscure texts, it's much more helpful to know where it is so one can read it in surroundings than to have to search books to provide answers on a free Q&A site. For authors like, Kant, this is helpful.

  • 1
    I don't have anything to add to this. You say two of our users disagree, but one of them has repeatedly shown to misunderstand the SE format anyway. Anything should be done to make posts shine, that is, easier to find, read, understand and answer. If you happen to know where some text comes from you can edit the quote in yourself, otherwise it's a job for the OP. After all, he recently read it so should be able to find the exact location easily.
    – user2953
    Aug 4, 2015 at 13:48

Besides the reasons why in general it's good to have citations, here are a couple other additional reasons for why it's important for Philosophy.SE:

  1. Often, there are "well-known" quotes that are ascribed to someone that actually are 1) commonly misquoted, 2) actually come from someone else, or 3) are apocraphyl. Actually going and getting the reference (either the canonical location or a link to an online source) serves as validation that it is a real quote.
  2. Sometimes, it's not trivial to find the quote. Especially if the text was written in a language other than English and the provided quote is the English translation, differences in translation make it impossible to simply skim a text looking for keywords.

On the other hand though:

  1. Few of us are professional philosophers, and do not always have the time to find the proper citation. It seems like that alone shouldn't prevent an otherwise useful contribution.
  2. Some quotes really are that famous. For example, one need not cite chapter and verse for where cogito ergo sum is, and most people who read philosophy would be able to quickly find where in the Republic the "cave" metaphor is located.

So, it seems to me anyway that a well-polished post (question or answer) ought to provide citations, but I don't think we should close or down vote questions (necessarily) because of it.

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