In several of our more popular (by vote count) questions, answers without sources and largely not based in philosophy get massively upvoted and sometimes selected by the OP as answers.

Should there be anything we do about this? If so what?

If not, how do we avoid this leading to massive quality degradation?

( My suspicion is that what happens in these cases is that they appear as "hot questions" within the SE network and attract people who think philosophy is a synonym for either (a) their religion, (b) atheism, (c) a certain view of science [whatever] so long as it's not the core definition of philosophy.


To give an example, right now we have an answer with 36 upvotes and 6 downvotes that also is flagged as "not an answer". On my reading, it's not a great answer (it has a bigoted view of religion) and not philosophically sourced. But I'm also wary to mess with content that is largely upvoted.

I think this could but does not necessarily tie into an issue we face with certain both pro- and anti- religion questions where people vote their view rather than based on the philosophical quality of an answer.

  • Everyone is a Philosopher... Er, Comedian. It is quite interesting trying to separate Philosophy and Religion, a bit like metabolism and diet I think. Perhaps we can put up with some "bad" examples and comment, vote, close, etc to illustrate the point? It was a popular question, (6k views in one month? Wow!) and it probably never ever would have survived on the Christianity site. I don't think there is a general Religion SE, so where should the question (or the answer) go? Ethics neatly straddles the fence, so I guess this gorilla can sit wherever it wants to.
    – user16869
    Apr 23, 2016 at 17:39
  • 2
    @nocomprende The point isn't that the question (or the answer) doesn't fall within philosophy but rather that the answer is popular despite being not very good philosophically. @ virmaior How about editing the answer with 'references needed' or something, like in Wikipedia, and if none are given even edit with something like 'the following answer expresses a personal opinion'. Answers on Philosophy SE should not be just 'here is what I think', and this might be a way to make this explicit.
    – Eliran
    Apr 23, 2016 at 21:06
  • @EliranH "What more is there than the Universe, Spock?" (first Star Trek movie) What more is there to Philosophy than what we think? I don't get it.
    – user16869
    Apr 24, 2016 at 16:05
  • @nocomprende There is more. Otherwise there would be no point in studying philosophy. Of course one could just think about philosophical matters on one's own, but there is a long tradition of thought about these matters, in which complicated ideas and theories were expounded, criticized, abandoned or further developed. There's a lot to learn from this.
    – Eliran
    Apr 24, 2016 at 19:24
  • @EliranH OK. It seems that virmaior disagrees with you in the comment to the Answer below. (color me surprised? for large values of color. or surprise)
    – user16869
    Apr 25, 2016 at 13:58
  • I'm not sure I follow what you're saying on this point @nocomprende. I asked the question because I'm not quite sure how to deal with the answer. It's poor in many respects philosophically. First off, it doesn't actually answer the question. Second, it's sourceless. Third, it's provocative in a merely show sense. / I greatly agree with " Answers on Philosophy SE should not be just 'here is what I think', and this might be a way to make this explicit."
    – virmaior
    Apr 25, 2016 at 14:39
  • I'm wary to step into it both because it's upvoted (which depending on whether those are drive-by upvotings or community members) means different things to me. Or maybe to address an earlier comment of yours What more is there to Philosophy than what we think? I don't get it, the answer is quite a bit. Or more specifically, philosophy is both a discipline with a history and scholarship and what people have been thinking about. Both reinventing and forgetting and about "wheels" are poor ways of doing philosophy.
    – virmaior
    Apr 25, 2016 at 14:41
  • To give a parallel, physics is only a description of motion, gravity, electromagnetism and a few other forces. Well, yes and no. Physics is what seem to have discovered so far about how things like that work. Coming up with your own novel terms for gravity (that skips both Einstein and Newton/Leibniz) isn't an achievement, it's unnecessary and not really good physics. Now, if you go beyond them, yes, new things are then necessary. But Einstein's accounts and 20th century ones add terms to the prior accounts only when necessary (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velocity-addition_formula)
    – virmaior
    Apr 25, 2016 at 14:44
  • @virmaior OK, all I was really saying in my comment is that below you say that you have a preference for short answers that are easy to understand, yet I know you are a "Doctor of Philosophy" (I have always wanted to meet one) and I have respect for your knowledge, and you make the case that it could take years of study to understand Philosophy - or any significant field. (I know gobs about electronics, programming and psychology and have barely scratched the surface.) So, how do we have short, easy to understand answers that condense millenia of experience? Possible yet difficult? Impossible?
    – user16869
    Apr 25, 2016 at 15:26
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    @nocomprende: That is why we ask for specific questions that are answerable without making a hitchhiker's guide through philosophy for every single one. An answer does not even have to be easily understandible, but it has, as I take it, to a) answer the question b) refer to philosophical sources c) be based on/sourced in them, while a) and b) are necessary and c) sufficient.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Apr 26, 2016 at 21:49

2 Answers 2


My vote: until we think it's a wide-spread problem or people start taking answers such as that as a model, doing anything more than down-voting and leaving a comment will probably cause more harm than good.

The post you linked to has two things to its credit:

  1. The main point is easily digestible and occurs in the first sentence. Many PSE answers could be made much better just by doing this.

  2. It was an attempt to answer the question, with the point being that Atheism is not inherently immoral, because it is only through atheism that one can exercise ownership of one's on values and beliefs.

So, it's worth noting that while a really-not-very-good answer, it is also not the worst I've seen.

  • +1 for your point #1. Let's hear it for the One Minute Philosopher!
    – user16869
    Apr 23, 2016 at 17:43
  • @nocomprende I think you're capturing something really important there with the one minute philosopher idea. Answers that take years to read basically deserve downvotes here in my view.
    – virmaior
    Apr 24, 2016 at 23:58

While I take your point of not too actively intervening after there were that many upvotes, I think this to be a striking example for the failure of the mechanics.

That means that while in similar cases, where things lay as they are, I'm with @EliranH in that it could be good to not just make a comment, but prominently edit it into the answer that e.g. it needs references, has no reference to particular philosophical texts etc.

But regarding the ever repeating occurence of these cases, it is a task for every member to honestly ask oneself if an answer (or question) fits the requirements of this site and to consequently downvote (and perhaps even flag to delete) answers/questions that do not meet them. It's not rude, it's not prejudging, it's simply necessary.


In the end, it is the task of the community to prevent this site from becoming a place for interchange of "philosophical" or religious trivia, opinions and chit-chat.

Moderation can only do exactly that: Moderate between individuals/groups according to the rules.

Only the community has the power to shape its own appearance and seriousness. That in fact is one of the main positive aspects of an SE, although it can ultimately, as always with the most positive things, lead to its failure.

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