23

I have a feeling there is lack of professional - academics - philosophers on this web site. Is anything being done to invite those people to use this web site?

  • 4
    I assume many don't know about this site so it does need to be advertised. One reason they might be put off is it that there are so many bad answers by people who have very little familiarity with actual philosophy, it can seem like good answers are drowned out by a flurry of opinion based answers. – Johannes Feb 25 '16 at 6:47
  • 1
    @Johannes I have same feeling with quality philosophy SE doesn't seem to be best ... we must invite more professionals from that field – user19479 Feb 25 '16 at 17:12
  • 1
    @user200312 but with the amount of junk and the completely democratic system, (sometimes) solid philosophical answers get ignored and junk gets massively upvoted. How would I invite other philosophers to experience that? – virmaior Feb 27 '16 at 10:46
  • @virmaior I don't know virmaio. Check Thomas Pornin. I think he is the only guy who significalty contributed to information security SE being taken off... security.stackexchange.com/users/655/thomas-pornin – user19479 Feb 28 '16 at 16:01
  • 2
    @user200312 I'm not quite grasping your point. I think a big difference between information security and philosophy is that for better and worse most people have ideas about philosophical questions whereas few people have very coherent ideas about information security. I've worked as a programmer in the past, and I don't have strong knowledge or opinions about how design and implement a secure system (yes, this is anecdotal), but very many people have opinions on core questions in philosophy (some of which are quite well-thought even without training -- others not so much) – virmaior Feb 29 '16 at 5:48
  • i can't see it being very popular, what sort of professionals want their work anonymously liked and disliked? – user25714 Apr 23 '17 at 8:15
16

There's a significant portion of non-academics here. And I think that's great.

The more philosophy encloses on itself, the more neurotic it becomes. There is lot of toxicity in the professional academic discipline of philosophy -- maybe most important in this context its forbidding welcome to minority voices.

This exclusionary logic plays itself out as an policing the boundaries with the "you can't possibly be Thinking unless you've read X" game -- a sort of Oedipal complex where you are humiliated even more when do try to obey their hysterical demands for canonical ideas, authorized images of thought, where every theoretical gesture is accompanied by a signature which auto-legitimates it in advance.

I think it's important to recognize the sterility and authoritarianism of philosophy as both a discipline and a certain negative image of thought. --Deleuze notes that philosophy was formed historically, and argues that it has often acted not simply as a gatekeeper but as an active means for impeding thought, keeping it at a standstill, preventing any move whatsoever.

Philosophy needs non-philosophers who can actually comprehend it: make real first-person use of it -- put the pure conceptual variances philosophy unleashes into active play in the world somehow, leveraging philosophy as a "simple means" enabling new possibilities for the self-realization of thinking. For artists and scientists it is clearly often a critical means towards their non-conceptual creation of novel compositions of functions.

I think it's great that we have non-philosophers actively participating in this community and posing their own questions and problems. I think it would be a much duller site without the engagement of members of all levels of philosophical specialization/sophistication/etc. (I worry a lot about the tone we set, and I know we can seem forbidding as a community; I want to make sure we don't get lax about this and lapse entirely into demanding everything be a comment on some "canonized" writer.)

  • 3
    "its forbidding welcome to minority voices." What evidence do you have in support of the claim that professional academic philosophy isn't welcoming to minorities? – shane Feb 29 '16 at 3:01
  • @shane: personally, as belonging to a minority, I haven't found that to be the case; quite often, it's the reverse, they're not welcoming of philosophy; this is just anecdotal evidence, though. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 29 '16 at 12:01
  • @MoziburUllah I'm not denying you might have experienced this, but could you clarify exactly what you mean? In what ways have you found professional academic philosophy has been unwelcoming to you, as a minority? What do you think professional philosophers should do differently to make you feel more welcome? I don't want to put you on the spot, so don't answer unless you feel comfortable doing so. I am just genuinely curious. – shane Feb 29 '16 at 12:37
  • @shane: I think I might have been unclear in my comment; I was saying that in my experience it was minorities that were unwelcoming of philosophy; not the other way around! – Mozibur Ullah Feb 29 '16 at 12:43
  • 1
    Ah, I see I misread your answer above. Apologies. – shane Feb 29 '16 at 12:57
  • 5
    I don't think that is the kind of minority he means. I think he just means inheritors of positions officially dismissed by academic convention. In terms of political minorities, I find this forum less inviting than professional philosophy -- we generally close issues that touch gender, race or creed. We are generally right to do so, to avoid opinion-based answers. But we jump on these with a speed and certainty that makes us look afraid of the issues themselves. – jobermark Feb 29 '16 at 18:12
  • @jobermark: I 'd like to see more questions that touch on this; but it needs to be grounded in something other than opinion as they're sensitive issues; generally I've come at these questions from art, literature or antopology rather than philosophy - so I'm not quite sure how one discusses this in terms of formal philosophy. – Mozibur Ullah Mar 2 '16 at 10:36
  • that's a nice perspective, even if without any specialists the site is more conversational than it is a question and answer site – user6917 Mar 4 '16 at 10:43
  • now i think of it... if you want to lure in the professionals, then start with the grad students. if you want to lure in the grad students, then questions and answers should be lively and thought provoking. that's about it – user6917 Mar 4 '16 at 10:56
15

Not as far as I know ...

As far as I am aware, we've had the following users who are graduate students or PhD holders in philosophy:

  • commando (PhD student) [currently a moderator]
  • Johannes (PhD Student)
  • Hunan [not currently active on the site] (logic)
  • ChristopherE (Full-time philosophy faculty member)
  • shane (Post Doc, medieval philosophy)
  • virmaior (PhD, modern philosophy and Confucianism, Non-Tenure Track Line)
  • DBK (PhD, philosophy of science)
  • Peter Smith (logician)
  • Michael Dorfmann (unfortunately deceased)
  • Myron Jackson (Post Doc, continental philosophy) [periodically active]
  • Dan Hicks (PhD, Notre Dame)
  • Philip Klöcking
  • Isaacson

My apologies if I'm missing anyone who is contributing with graduate work in philosophy.

My sense is that Bumble might have such training as well but I don't know.


One reason I don't invite people I know is the average style/type of question is aggravating on several fronts -- poorly written and people just argue when you suggest improvements. Moreover, many of them are quite far from what we do in academic philosophy.

  • I think the late (but quite prolific) @MichaelDorfman might have been a philosophy instructor? – Joseph Weissman Feb 24 '16 at 13:29
  • I hadn't known that Dorfman had died; he was one reason why I joined the sure; sad to know he's gone; my impression is Myron Jackson has graduate training too - but I don't know for certain. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 25 '16 at 13:25
  • anyway I would be glad to see Philosophy SE having more professional answers like it is on other SE sites, instead of low quality answers – user19479 Feb 25 '16 at 17:13
  • 1
    @yser200312: the point then is discourage low-quality answers, so the higher-quality ones rise! – Mozibur Ullah Feb 25 '16 at 17:47
  • 3
    Myron Jackson is a postdoc at Grand Valley State University in MI. +1 here just to point out that I often find the community here quite frustrating. I'm also a part of some of the other SE communities, and I haven't found any of the combative, borderline insulting behavior I see here elsewhere. – shane Feb 29 '16 at 2:59
  • @shane: occasionally, so borderline, it's difficult to work out whether they are intending to insult - which is insulting in its way. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 29 '16 at 11:59
  • @Conifold seems to have some formal training at least, given the quality of his (her?) responses. – Alexander S King Mar 1 '16 at 0:57
  • 2
    @AlexanderSKing I don't believe that to be the case. – virmaior Mar 1 '16 at 1:50
  • I'm an undergrad about to enter graduate school in philosophy. My decrease in activity stems from two things: reverse Dunning-Kruger effect (the more I learnt, the less confident I became in my ability to provide answers), and a dissonance between the sorts of niche questions I'd consider myself equipped to ask and answer, and the sorts of questions that are asked here. I still check the website daily, however. – commando Mar 22 '16 at 20:10
  • @shane I too noticed that the site seems to tolerate combative, borderline insulting behavior. Some professionals in the field here are as guilty as anyone else for setting such a tone. I sometimes flag comments, but the flags get ignored. Oddly, despite the polarizing topic, interactions even on politics.SE seem to be more polite than here. – prash Mar 26 '16 at 7:09
  • @prash I'm sorry you feel that valuable flags are being ignored. When this happens, please feel free to start a discussion on meta. There are several issues we as a community need to resolve in terms of practice both with respect to what qualifies as respectful dialogue and what is/is not acceptable in terms of ways of answering questions and handling controversial topics. – virmaior Mar 26 '16 at 8:06
  • @virmaior Thanks. I'll do as you suggest henceforth. But if you want an example of borderline offensive behavior, I'll direct you to the latest question I answered on Phil.SE. Leaving aside the low effort of the question, IMO the comments below my answer (both his, and mine) do not reflect well on the site. Though he asked the original question, I don't think it was asked in the spirit of learning at all. I'm fine with controversial topics, but I think those that are framed "Deride person/position <X>; ask questions about <X>" should be considered bad-faith questions, and deleted quickly. – prash Mar 26 '16 at 8:30
  • Strongly agreed that we need to have a much clearer policy about not taking these sort of "Why are all X morons?" questions. / In terms of the comments they definitely were quite rude by the end, and there was a pattern where things escalated around the definition / knowledge of what is science. – virmaior Mar 26 '16 at 8:54
  • @virmaior Thanks! IMO, the comments were rude in the beginning too ;) what with indirect jabs of being a neo-darwinian and having a gene-fetish, and about "bankrupt approaches", which is why I clarified that no field of science changes because some lay people may consider some approaches "bankrupt". Maybe I was a bit too vivid with my examples. :) – prash Mar 26 '16 at 9:07
  • 1
    I'm a full-time philosophy professor. Another one active here in the past was logician Peter Smith. I'm aware of at least one other philosophy PhD, but not sure who wants to be 'outed.' I appreciate this as a good forum for directly engaging non-philosophers. – ChristopherE May 11 '17 at 20:31
5

One possibility to raise the level of the discussion on Philosophy SE is to pose challenging questions. Those who consider themselves professionals as well as the moderators could do this. As Joseph Weissman rightly emphasizes, it should be issues which are interesting also outside the circle of academic specialists.

  • This is a good point but one thing that complicates is that the sort of questions I work with are of a far more technical nature rather than broad-based issues. I think this is true of most of the philosophers here. Moreover, even if we got an answer that is usable, philosophy is not a discipline familiar with SE, and thus citing it would raise the eyebrows of editors (this problem of course would not exist for people who can publish easily within philosophy). – virmaior Feb 27 '16 at 10:48
  • @virmaior I think issues of reputation due to citation should not hinder to raise questions on research issues: For mathematics there is math.stackexchange.com/questions as a platform for questions on the level of undergraduates and graduates - they are often quite stimulating - and mathoverflow.net/questions as a platform for research issues. – Jo Wehler Mar 11 '16 at 12:32
  • I don't actually understand what you're saying with the parallel with math. I'm saying that if my questions could get answered here, I couldn't use them in my publishing very easily, because philosophy as a discipline has zero familiarity with this sort of environment for doing research. My sense is that in math (a discipline I'm not in), it would be possible to cite math.SE as helping with a proof or something to that extent. – virmaior Mar 11 '16 at 12:36
  • 2
    @virmaior In mathematics you can repeat the argument and then make a citation like "by personal communication of xxx". - In my comment I wanted to emphasize that to communicate insights or arguments is more important than to adhere to the rules of a community which - according to your comment - seems a bit old school concerning modern ways of knowledge distribution. – Jo Wehler Mar 11 '16 at 12:47
  • I think you're completely right about that, but at this point in my career (not tenured or tenure-track), I can't change the system of publication. – virmaior Apr 19 '17 at 4:16
5

As a professional philosopher, I too have become incredibly frustrated by the nature of the site to the point of withdrawing from involvement.

Obviously the clearest departure from professional philosophy is the poor quality of the questions and answers we get, but to my mind, these are actually not a relevant factor in my frustration as I find it quite easy to either filter them out, or find some interest in answering them using concepts in academic philosophy regardless of the fact that the the OP often just wants someone to agree with them, or marvel at how 'deep' they're being.

What I find more problematic is actually the attitude to concepts within modern academic philosophy.

Firstly, there seems little interest in modern philosophy - I have written a number of answers recently from the perspective of modern philosophers; Lucy Allais, David Atkinson, Hans Jonas, Annette Baier, Joel Kupperman, Alasdair McIntyre, to name just a few. All of them have received totally lacklustre responses. I, and so I suspect other professional philosophers, have considerably more interest in the current position of debates than we do in explaining positions that were held 200 years ago but from which we have now moved on. I suspect there may be some value, to those still involved in teaching, in rehearsing the explication of classical works, but it is not so useful outside of teaching.

There also seems to be an extremely strong conservative trend to supply answers which provide the 'standard view' without presenting a balanced mix of stances within modern philosophy. Approaches to philosophy range from the biographical which verge sometime on idolatry in their attempts to extract meaning from the exact wording of 'sacred' texts (as you may infer I'm not a fan of this kind of philosophy), to the almost completely dismissive works of Peter Hacker or Peter Unger, and yet this range does not seem to be represented here, with a very strong focus on exegetical work on classical texts. The number of times I've read 'The Logical Positivist project failed' as if it needed no reference, nor mention of those like Michael Friedman who disagree, does not do credit to a site which aims at a more critical standard of answer.

The major problem, of answers being voted on the basis of some popularity contest, is not restricted to the non-academic answers. Even questions where all the answers have well-cited academic positions (very rare) will tend to gather votes on the basis of how popular the positions are, not on how useful the answers might be to the OP, or others following them, which is probably equal for such answers.

The significance of these issues is not really just that they mean the site fails to draw interest from a whole range of professional philosophers, it's that it simply doesn't need to. Solutions to the problem of the wide range of philosophical positions have been suggested above, like restricting questions to those that have a single correct answer, but if the only answers the community wants are a standard presentation of a narrow range of classical philosophical positions on a very constrained set of subjects, then we already have all the professional philosophers we need. It only takes a handful of well-read individuals to provide the popular standard response to any questions actually about academic philosophy, and a single moderator to close all the others. The only point to attracting a wider community of professional philosophers would be if the variety of their resulting input was appreciated, in my experience it is not.

  • 1
    I feel like you mean contemporary philosophy instead of modern philosophy, right? – Not_Here Oct 7 '17 at 20:11
  • 2
    I wholeheartedly agree. The main problem is that the average addressee of an answer is the average guy that does not want, nor is able to, appreciate professional insight into the problem from a modern, often quite peculiar and sophisticated, perspective. They want some common, simple things to run with. This is 99% of the questions, the rest having either not the guy able and willing to answer, or absolutely no appreciation of how good/important/valuable the question/answer is in its own right. I've got the highest voted answer with reference to wikiquote on trivia and definitions. – Philip Klöcking Oct 8 '17 at 15:09
4

Well, from the perspective as a man who has studied philosophy (main subject), economics and law for about 10 years (due to health problems) and is about to make his major in order to let a PhD follow:

This site can be quite frustrating. Taking the description, it ought to contain questions about philosophy in the sense of what I want to call "objective philosophy", i.e. written philosophy. This, as far as I am concerned, does not have to be what is called "academic philosophy", because this is most surely hily specific and specialized, but we should be enabled to look into the same texts at least.

That means: It should be sourced and by this I do not mean look at book xyz, but including title, edition and page. Hell, even in SciFi.SE answers that do not include the original "canon" source with a direct link or embedded picture but only vague references or Wiki-quotes are downvoted.

Now, Philosophy.SE has the strong tendency to upvote narrative answers with vague directions towards texts that may include hundreds of pages. But seriously, answering a question about let's say Christianity with "look into the bible" wouldn't be viewed as proper. Answers like these are written within minutes, from memory. They may prove helpful if the question is a vague reference request, but that's all. Most answers only point towards text, but do neither quote, nor point at specific parts of the text, may it be at least a chapter. But even this isn't done in most cases.

For me, as working in a professional environment, this would be a poor answer. And from my understanding of SE it is, too. Answering the proper questions properly takes knowledge of the subject and time. Because as far as I know noone will tell from memory, e.g. in which paragraph of the preface the author adresses the core of the question. And just saying "author xy adresses this in book ab" isn't an answer, seriously.

This may be a problem of knowledge, because if you do not know how to refer correctly, you cannot do. But if that was the case, the first step would be to ask how it is done. Here, a Meta-post referring to the main authors like Aristotle and Kant, saying how they should be cited and how it is done in general, could help.

So yes, I also think that there is a lack of "professional" philosophers on this SE. But with this, I do not necessarily mean people having a formal education in this subject and working within a professional academic environment, but people taking the purpose of this site serious enough to take the time to answer the questions with corresponding exactness and completeness instead of "just adding 2 cents and throwing names in", i.e. people with a professional stance towards the questions and the purpose of this site.

This can't be blabbering about philosophy. And what I described here is what prevents me personally from investing more time into this site, although I consider a lot more questions as interesting than I answer to. But why should I take the time to answer the question thoroughly investing about an hour to do so, if a wall of text throwing in names written in ten minutes is going to be preferred?

The problem is that if this problem is not adressed, it is self-energizing, because the people that could even see this as problematic and work against it with their votes will become fewer in numbers. Looking at the quality of some older questions and answers and the corresponding votes, this already has happened to some extend.

How often do well-sourced questions and answers get more than 10 upvotes? And how often do narrative answers that are unsourced or do only name maybe-sources (without really adressing why and how they are sources) do?

For a Stack Exchange site, this is a serious problem.

  • Do you have a specific example of the sort of thing you're talking about? It seems worth addressing comprehensively -- maybe consider posting a new question with actual examples of problematic answers? – Joseph Weissman Mar 3 '16 at 16:41
  • 1
    @JosephWeissman: I think the best would be naming borderline candidates, looking at their latest activities would perhaps make clear what I mean. I like the enthusiasm and effort of Conifold, Nelson Alexander and Alexander S. King, therefore this is definately not meant as offense and the objection does not count for every single post (Jo Wehler could be named here, too). But for me, it would be better to every time shoulder the effort and go more into detail how and where in particular the question is adressed in named texts, supported with quotes and where exactly to find them. – Philip Klöcking Mar 3 '16 at 19:24
  • @PhilipKlöcking I appreciate your concern: Could you point me to one of my answers that could use improvement along the lines you suggest? – Alexander S King Mar 10 '16 at 18:30
  • @AlexanderSKing: Going through your highest voted answers - philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/29632/… reference for the claim of "mainstream position" as well as chapter/page of Popper's. philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/30906/… Reference for "many philosophers of mind", philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/29949/… many names, few sources. – Philip Klöcking Mar 10 '16 at 19:26
  • I know I did this from time to time as well, therefore no accusing/blaming here. I just think from today's perspective and in this context, that it isn't how it should be done. Perhaps I'm scupulous about it here. – Philip Klöcking Mar 10 '16 at 19:27
  • @PhilipKlöcking I will try to fix the lack of precise references where I can. On thought though: When I did my Ph.D (in CS not Phil), referring to a specific results and then simply providing the paper title and publication, was sufficient. Why do you think page numbers are necessary? Especially sometimes when a specific idea is developed over the entire course of a work, instead of spelled out in a single concise quotation. – Alexander S King Mar 10 '16 at 20:13
  • @AlexanderSKing I think there are of course borderline cases. But if a quote is provided in philosophy, the exact page ought to be given. And if general claims are made about "the" logical positivists or philosophers of mind, authors and works should be given as examples, because of course there is no such thing as "the" position. It is like I said in the answer: If the question can only be answered by giving numerous names and works of hundreds of pages or answers that become veeeeeery long, the question as such is too broad. Or the answer is simply not specific if it does, the question fine. – Philip Klöcking Mar 10 '16 at 20:26
  • @PhilipKlöcking is this (philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/42132/…) moving towards the sort of citation you think would help here ? – virmaior Apr 21 '17 at 8:09
  • @virmaior: Perfect example of a precise question that can be and is answered in reasonable length and with commented sources. So yes, definitely. – Philip Klöcking Apr 24 '17 at 14:47
  • fwiw i think you raise a good point, including on 'narrative' answers, even if these are often somewhat better than most answers – user28117 Aug 17 '17 at 3:41
3

Generally speaking, the worst tend to drive out the best; the best by definition being a kind of elite, are few.

Consider, for example, the Olympics, an immense amount of training and winnowing out, from an early age presents a few elite athletes that are the best in their generation; but also, the structure for this has been slowly and carefully put in place over generations.

The SE design, allows any-one to participate - at that point - one can says its democratic; there are certain pressures, for example, viability, that push for this - this is, after all what crowd-sourcing is about.

However, this means most questions will be bad, or wrong, in many ways; until enough experts participate; but why would they, when they see the average is so low?

After all, one doesn't often see a Premier League team play with the 4th Division - I'm talking in football terms here; perhaps a friendly, out of site of the public.

Thus until the average remains low; experts, even with time on their hands, may rather just play elsewhere - and advisedly, so.

This rather suggests, that to drive up the quality, one needs to winnow out more firmly, answers or questions that don't match a certain standard.

Athletes who run competitively, run on tracks built to a certain standard; because they want to play at their best, similarly philosophers.

It would be a good question to consider the ratio of support staff to athletes and ponder the same situation on a Phil.SE.

An additional point to consider, is that philosophy is not a subject that is commonly taken by schools (at least in the UK, probably the US, and elsewhere in the West - though I have the impression that France might be different here); for example: history, English, or mathematics; so those who appreciate it, are likely to have an uncritical appreciation of it, without the beginnings of a critical apparatus, that is given by rigorous schooling or tutoring.

You must log in to answer this question.