The philosopher of the week program was definitely an interesting experiment. I wanted to open the floor for some feedback on the effort so far -- and perhaps suggestions for any other interesting projects or programs we might want to think about working through together and evaluating.

In particular I wanted to ask your feelings about a larger-scale contest, say over a few weeks, with some reasonably specific theme -- maybe focusing on a particular text, or even a particular concept within a specific philosophers' writing.

Also, I thought it made sense to note here that the philosopher o' the week contest was originally proposed as a 'contest' between competing philosophical positions. (I still this might be an interesting/fruitful way to approach it.)

What are your thoughts on putting together exciting projects and programs like the weekly contests? What do you think so far, and how can we make them better?

2 Answers 2


I greatly enjoyed the three contests I participated in. It's fun to be challenged to think about specific things and try to come up with legitimate questions. Winning a good book was a definite plus (and a reason to take my opinion with a grain or pile of salt). In addition, I ran a series of challenges over at Biblical Hermeneutics that did not have prizes backing them. Thus, in no particular order:

  1. A week is not a long enough time to think about most, meaty, philosophical questions. Philosopher Month probably would have generated better questions.

  2. Some people are never going to be motivated by contests, so you won't get everyone involved or even a majority. If high-participation is a goal, contests aren't likely the correct tool.

  3. I got lucky that half of the philosophers picked were in my field of interest and I could ask an intelligent (or at least on-topic) question about a third. But on Locke, I've got nothing. He's probably worth learning about, but I can't work up any interest at all. Combined with #2 above, there's a problem that you will promote a big contest and nobody enters. (Or what's worse, the "contest" is won by the one guy who enters.)

  4. Offering a book (especially if it's about philosophy) seems a win-win. But it does have a downside since I can put a dollar figure on the value of questions here (up to $6.25). The more people who enter, the less it feels like paying-for-questions and more it feels like a fun contest.

  5. It probably would help if top users were to participate too. You can't force people, of course, but a contest becomes even more valuable if you can get the people most likely to ask expert questions to contribute.

  6. Maybe the prize should be based (in part at least) on upvotes. Filling the queue with middling questions is the key to winning the previous contest format.

  7. Competing philosophy positions seems too narrow. Maybe make the topic about philosophical categories (, , , etc.) instead.

At any rate, it may be that trial-and-error is the best strategy.

  • 2
    Your #7 is pretty compelling, I think -- I'd like to see 4-5 contests along these lines to help develop our "core content": say ethics, aesthetics, ontology, metaphysics, logic, epistemology.
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Feb 12, 2012 at 17:59
  • 1
    Yeah, categories might get better draw because as mentioned, few people read every philosopher, whereas almost everyone reads at least one philosopher in each of the core areas.
    – stoicfury
    Feb 17, 2012 at 21:49

This could be contraversial- another case of "Sounds good, but doesn't sound right for Stack Exchange", but I'd love it, and I think it would fit the SE model, so here goes...

Essay Competitions

Take an arbitrary text limit (say 3000 characters), and an interesting question (rather appropriately for philosophy SE, I see this as a question with an answer knowable in principle but not in practice- say: 'To what extent does Christianity continue to influence modern secular philosophy?') and slap a bounty (something fairly hefty- 400 or so) on the question- add some other prizes as well if that tickles you. Best argument wins.

I think it will be a liberation to have something to write on this site that is not either too trivial or too specialised for its current user group, and could be a great way to boost interest. We should do it weekly.


  • Not a bad idea at all, but this sounds like maybe something for a blog once the site is a bit more developed; we could take questions we keep getting over and over again, and try to formulate article-length answers for a site feed.
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Feb 19, 2012 at 16:14
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    This really isn't a bad idea, but why call it an "essay competition"? Isn't it just a "best answer competition" like all of the other questions here? I guess I don't understand how this is any different than asking good questions, maybe with attached bounties. Feb 20, 2012 at 8:23
  • The problem is questions like that aren't ever going to get asked on the site as it currently operates. No one is going to wake up with a burning desire to know, say, to what extent christianity influences modern philosophy- chances are they've already got an opinion on most questions of the sort suggested. I think people would be interested to read the answers though. Feb 20, 2012 at 21:49
  • Just in passing -- blog entries could answer questions either that we get frequently, or those which like your example might be too "big"/complex for the mainpage
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Feb 21, 2012 at 18:46

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