Very often questions posted using polemic and subjective terms are flagged as "primarily opinion based" and "unclear what you are asking" and closed.

Given the idiosyncratic and cryptic style of thinkers like Heidegger or Derrida, shouldn't Philosophy SE users be allowed to post questions phrased in a similar fashion? Is Philosophy SE inherently biased towards Analytic Philosophy styles just by the question guidelines and norms?

  • An idea would be to change the name of the site to "Analytic Philosophy beta" or even better to "A B C D overflow".
    – John Am
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:33
  • quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi. Also, if somebody would write in the extreme terse style of Galois or Abel on math.SE.com, he would run into problems.
    – viuser
    Dec 31, 2016 at 5:27
  • ... because the rules are pretty arbitrary and aren't supposed to make sense. Jul 26, 2017 at 12:01
  • It is the fault of the Sar Chasm - people tend to fall in to it.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 28, 2022 at 23:30

3 Answers 3


I think this is an interesting question after a sort. I would agree the SE tends to work better for analytic philosophy questions, especially logic. But I don't think that's "bias" or at least not in the negative sense. Logic questions are the most objectively answerable type of question.

Part of the answer with respect to SE and continental philosophy is a dual issue in the academic study of continental philosophy whereby the study of it is separate from the famous people way.

First, yes, some of the main figures (For example, Derrida, Levinas) in continental philosophy were terrible writers with interesting ideas. BUT, No, that doesn't mean it's acceptable to write in the way that they did. Thus, even for people writing in academic philosophy, just because some philosopher wrote in a certain way doesn't mean it's okay. In other words, that others write poetically, cryptically, poorly, or in French is not a license for us to do the same. IF anything, it's why we need to do it differently to give sensible answers to questions.

Second, we're not here to do philosophy; we are here to ask and answer questions related to philosophy (where philosophy is understood as the academic discipline generously defined). Most of the famous continentals who write that way cannot be bothered to explain anything. Instead, they just pound out tome after tome in an idiosyncratic vocabulary that their followers and readers must decipher (the last sentence may apply equally to many sub-disciplines in "analytic" philosophy). They themselves would not even be able to function in a SE-like environment.

On the other hand, we can only answer questions that are well-defined. I don't have any of your questions particularly in mind, but several askers give us questions that are poorly defined and "continental". As such, they are basically unanswerable. We get a lot of Nietzsche questions in this vein.

Third, the prototype SE is the regular stack overflow. People with programming questions and get answers. If the answer worked, upvote. If the answer doesn't downvote. Other SEs need to emulate to some extent the idea that the answers that work are the ones that explain the issue for the OP or those similarly situated. To make that work here, we need questions people understand and answers that clear things up.

Many issues in continental philosophy do not lend themselves well to this format. Moreover, many of them are often worded baldly as if one outcome is preferable without making that an explicit assumption. It reminds me of a question on the academia.SE where an advisor is dealing with a student who thinks he will be the next Einstein. Many people writing in continental philosophy and asking questions in it, think they are reaching profound insights so deep that few can comprehend them. It's not an attitude conducive to a functioning SE to work on that level.

  • "Logic questions are the most objectively answerable type of question" of course and at the same time are the most silly and demand the minimum amount of synthetic capability.
    – John Am
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:44
  • And this is an SE. So what of it? This SE's purpose is not in doing philosophy but in answering questions about it...
    – virmaior
    Nov 6, 2015 at 22:12
  • But questions about philosophy are interpretive questions after all, which includes interpreting the text the question rests on as well as the question itself. Therefore it could be helpful to wait if the community is able to interpret (make sense of) the question first before being perhaps too quick in voting for close. Yes, SE is opinion-based, subjective regarding votes about contents that need to be interpreted. And as the opinion of high-level users and moderators have more weight (consequences), they should be expressed more carefully. I think that's all the opener is asking for.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Nov 7, 2015 at 16:27
  • I'm sympathetic to the opener. I work in continental philosophy. I'm largely trying to say it's harder to write a continental philosophy question that is a good fit for SE.
    – virmaior
    Nov 8, 2015 at 0:26

If Kant wrote in German, why can't SE posts be in German?

Whilst this is perhaps taking your question ad absurdum, the point is: why would there be a meaningful relationship between philosophical texts and SE posts?

  • You have a talent in rational response.
    – John Am
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:41
  • Nice retort. But I can do better. Since we are so indebted to the various CS SE for our guidelines, consider this: in one of the other stacks, a question would never get disqualified simply because the code in it is written in a very obscure programming language or using a very odd programming methodology. Nov 6, 2015 at 23:53
  • 1
    But I'll bet posting a paragraph of normal text in German and asking someone why it doesn't compile would disqualify it.
    – virmaior
    Nov 7, 2015 at 1:17
  • @AlexanderSKing there is a difference between scope and writing style / guidelines.
    – user2953
    Nov 7, 2015 at 5:33

Well, for one thing part of the task of understanding difficult philosophical texts is to to understand how they use language; this means clarifying their references, their presuppositions, and what they are taking for granted and working against.

To do this whilst writing in continental style is probably not best practise.

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