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It occured to me that there is a tendency to close questions rather fast. The two cases I think of are here and here.

My own view is introduced in the comments to these questions. I think that there are two tendencies at work:

  1. Vilification of questions that obviously try to express a problem that is perfectly on topic, but lacking the expertise necessary to express it in a way that makes the core of the question immediatly apparent - the core already being there and understandable if the reading was benevolently (otherwise unclear what you're asking, of course).

  2. Not having the expertise in a certain field to properly understand the problematic portion of the question or to conceive it as answerable, simply because the discourse (and terms) or authors that worked on this exact problem are simply not known.

Both are fatal for a welcoming atmosphere for newcomers on this site. I would assume that commenting, perhaps even in the form of curious asking instead of throwing in close votes as a first step, would be a stance more fitting for a philosophical community.

I do understand that there are borderline cases and it is not like I do not vote for close. There are questions I can simply not understand at all - even with the most benevolent reading - or that are simply too broad/opinion based. I just want to discuss the problem before it becomes manifest and know wether I am alone in perceiving these tendencies and their problematic implications.

Therefore the question stands as it is: Would it be better to show some amount of humbleness considering close votes?

Disclaimer: I certainly do not want to attack anyone personally here. I just take these two occurances as a cause to discuss a topic that is more a kind of raising feeling than anything else.

Edit Aug 21st:

This question here is a perfect example of what I mean. It definitely is perfectly on topic, as it is asking for philosophical definitions in a case where it is not trvial to find a philosophical one at all. Especially considering the constrains of the question. It is not like you could simply go to SEP or IEP or Wikipedia. And there is even a whole strain of philosophy, the Philosophic Anthropology, that works on these topics (there might be others and there certainly are authors I am not aware of).

Biologists work with some amount of abstraction, but the philosophical work allows levels of abstraction that even make (and actually have made) definitions of life possible that clearly transcend the narrow scope of biology, although, of course, based in insights of biology.

Nevertheless it has three close votes at this time, claiming it would not be answerable in the boundaries of philosophy. And I think that this could be some kind of automatism that looses the ability to consider the particular case: "Definition?, Oh, vote4close, not wanted here!". Well yes, in cases where there are articles throughout the internet easily available.

  • Your first linked question has only one close vote at the moment, are you sure that's correct? – Keelan Aug 16 '16 at 14:22
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    As for the question you linked now: I agree that this shouldn't be closed. You are right in saying that the definition close reason only makes sense if there are articles about it available. The close reason was removed, if I remember correctly because it was applied in cases like this. – Keelan Aug 21 '16 at 16:05
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I agree with you that there's at least some tendency on this site to close prematurely. My personal policy as a user has always been to err on the side of caution and cast a close vote only when a question is seriously problematic/incoherent/etc.

Now, here's the thing: it takes five users to close a question, but my anecdotal memory is that most questions are closed before this, i.e. by a moderator's binding vote. A cursory look through our latest closed questions tentatively confirms this anecdata; most questions end up closed by moderators, and quite frequently they're closed after only one or two users have cast their own close votes.

What this indicates to me is that there's a risk of us moderators coming down too hard on questions the community is otherwise democratically okay with - questions which, while in need of improvement, are good enough and can be improved without being closed. Returning to my own experiences, I have on multiple occasions felt that a moderator's closing of a question was premature or a bit unwarranted, with the question wanting for improvement but not unacceptable to the point of being closed.

In the short time I've been a moderator, I've thus sought to behave as I would have wanted myself to back when I was a user: unless a question is egregiously bad, I wait to see what the community thinks. With this personal policy, I try never to be the first, second, or third close vote on any question that meets some minimal bar of acceptability. If, however, at least three users have voted to close a question I'm unsure about, I take that as evidence that closing may be the right thing to do.

I lack the insight to comment on this site's general closing behaviour, but my point here has been to entreat my fellow moderators to adopt something of a similar strategy: unless a question is really bad, wait until at least a few users have voted to close before casting the heavy, binding close vote. I feel like this could help ease the persistent "strictness" our newcomers often complain of.

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    I, too, as a mod on both Space Exploration and Astronomy prefer to wait to see how the community responds prior to closing, in most cases. – called2voyage Aug 19 '16 at 20:22
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Note: a close vote is not permanent. To illustrate this, the first two days the terminology is that the question is "put on hold", which is already a little more welcoming.

When a question can be edited easily to make it fit in the guidelines, there is perhaps not really a reason to close it directly. However, if it needs some more work, I think it is preferable to temporarily put the question on hold until its issues are resolved. Otherwise, other users may get the idea that the question is fine and may answer it -not following the answering guidelines- or ask a similar question.

In either case, comments are indeed vital for a welcoming atmosphere.

I would suggest to do the following:

  • When a 'bad' question is encountered, you leave a comment to suggest improvements.
  • When that comment is not replied to after a reasonable time (dependent on the time between asking and commenting, and the chance that the question will attract poor answers), put the question temporarily on hold. Again, leave a comment to explain that this is just temporarily.

If the user edits the post 'in time', there is no problem. As always, remove comments once suggested changes have been made.

I personally do not have a feeling that our implicit closing policies are particularly unwelcoming. As for the questions you linked: the first has only one close vote in three days, and that is invisible for the user since he is new; so I don't really see a problem there; the second is a clear list question ("are there more...") and this is an experienced user whom I supposed to understand the 'too broad' reason.

Nevertheless, having a welcoming attitude is very important, so thanks for bringing this up. I will keep it in mind.

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I feel like in some ways this gets into very general questions about StackExchange itself, but I will try to talk about how our community uses close votes.

Some Quick Thoughts

Close votes express a community member's idiosyncratic sense of the on-topic "line". They provide an important series of examples of questions that for whatever reason the community thinks are very-low quality in their current state.

The intuitive response of closing a question which is "intolerable" helps delimit a reasonable space for learning and guidance.

I don't want to repress this immune response, since I don't think closure needs to read negatively; it's a positive, healthy response to the lack of a sufficient philosophical interest or importance, and carves out what must be excised in order for the on-topic line to exist in the first place.

Closure is a "holding patten" for first drafts of questions, which may need refocusing, narrowing or concentration to become on-topic. A lot of times this is often just specifying the philosophical motivation clearly.

Responses to Particular Points

You observe two tendencies, the first being uncharitable vilification, where a questioner lacks expertise and is encountering difficulties clarifying their concern:

Vilification of questions that obviously try to express a problem that is perfectly on topic, but lacking the expertise necessary to express it in a way that makes the core of the question immediatly apparent - the core already being there and understandable if the reading was benevolently (otherwise unclear what you're asking, of course).

This sort of motivated non-reading or mis-reading is detestable and we should shut it down if we see it being practiced. The goal should be to help move questions towards the on-topic line if we can, not to shut out newcomers.

That said, it may be the case that the bar for us has to be at a certain minimum height for this community to effectively function. I suspect in this regard we are possibly in a similar place as codegolf.se, which gets a lot of very similar (often under-specified) challenges from newcomers -- so much so that new questioners are advised to consider workshopping their questions in chat.

Not having the expertise in a certain field to properly understand the problematic portion of the question or to conceive it as answerable, simply because the discourse (and terms) or authors that worked on this exact problem are simply not known.

This also names a really negative trait about academics in general -- but perhaps philosophers in particular, who wield the history of philosophy like a cudgel to keep people out -- you can't possibly be thinking unless you've read so-and-so. Not that anyone has ever needed philosophy to think, thankfully.

We defend ourselves against this sort of stupidity by practicing philosophy in its most positive sense, deploying it critically. If we can make plain the resentment behind using the history of philosophy in this way, perhaps it can be addressed and ameliorated. More kindness in pedagogy itself I think is too simple an answer; if anything, we definitely need to maintain minimum standards around coherence of problem statements in order to generate any meaningful discourse at all.

  • It's really an unfortunate truth that not only do academics tend toward abrasiveness, but on the spectrum of disciplines, philosophy is roughly at the top of abrasion in academia. Something about a subject rooted in argumentation tends to bring that out in people, I guess; I've observed myself becoming more abrasive as an undergrad, and now it's a mission trying to undo those effects. – commando Aug 22 '16 at 23:54

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