This answer https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/posts/38028/revisions, was labelled with the "citations needed" type flag and the comment here was made Asymmetry of consciousness?. According the the blog on stack overflow about how to include the necessary subjectivity in some "softer" disciplines (his word, not mine) a good subjective question (and so one would presume by extension, answer).

"insist[s] that opinion be backed up with facts and references" even "Use[s] your specific experiences to back up your opinions". http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective/

The answer certainly fulfils the first criteria, and as far as I can see does not contravene any of the others on the blog post.

The comment suggests that the answer could be made more objective by using the form "Philosopher X would say...". The respondent has backed up their opinion using widely accepted facts of science. Whilst these are obviously not completely objective, to suggest that a speculation about what a philosopher might have said on the matter is more objective is baffling to say the least.

If the answer is really being flagged because it doesn't contain reference to an accepted philosopher, then shouldn't we just be honest about that instead of trying to back up what is essentially a community preference with the erroneous concept that it is somehow the only way to provide objective answers.

I should say before anyone spends their time posting links to the many meta posts that have covered this topic, I've read most of them, I'm well aware of what the preference of the moderators/community seems to be with regards to referencing philosophers rather than "doing philosophy". My point is that this preference is not being declared honestly in the comments and flags, it is being hidden behind a the guise of quest for objectivity. This is not only misleading to those trying to get involved in the site, but it is unnecessarily demeaning to the people who may have put a considerable amount of time into researching an answer to be told it is not objective enough when highly voted answers above theirs seem to contain nothing but speculative opinion.

The answer I'm referring to was as objective as any other answer to this question (perhaps more so). I think it would be best to refrain from risking an insult to the person who wrote it by claiming it is not, and just honestly say that currently, the community prefers answers from accepted philosophers.

  • Not sure how you can say that it fulfils the first criteria. "Consciousness is a byproduct of your brain and your body. Your consciousness does not exist otherwise. It is the combination neurons and other physical factors of your brain and body chemistry that leave you with conscious and unconscious parts of your experience as life." is pure statements, there are no facts or references to back it up. – user2953 Sep 26 '16 at 13:05
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    You cannot compare Philosophy.SE to something like Software Engineering. The latter is very much advice-oriented, like Academia, The Workplace, etc. -- Philosophy.SE does not intend to provide advice, so the experience criteria from the blog post does not apply. – user2953 Sep 26 '16 at 13:10
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    Now, I agree that some things in the help center are not as clear as they could be, but these things are very difficult to catch in words. If you have a suggestion to improve that, that would be very nice. If you are genuinely interested in getting to know this site and its informal policies, we can help you. But I must say that it looks a bit strange when a 1 week-old user insists that changes be made to these policies, before he has attempted to fully understand them. – user2953 Sep 26 '16 at 13:13
  • @Keelan 1. I refer to the answer given here meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/2854/…. Where the respondent was clearly informed that information that could easily be verified by Wikipedia need not be cited. Look up neuroscience or conciousness on Wikipedia and the information given in the answer can be verified. We cannot have a one rule for philosophers and another for science when logical positivism is a perfectly legitimate philosophical approach which will require reference to science. – Isaacson Sep 27 '16 at 6:27
  • @Keelan 2.The end result of Philosophy.SE is to provide advice otherwise the whole enterprise is pointless, it's just that you've put one stage of removal in the process by referring the questioner to someone whose advice they might want to follow rather than providing it yourself. My point is that that process does not add any utility to the answer as published philosophers are not significantly more likely to help. See my response here meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/379/…, explaining why I think this. – Isaacson Sep 27 '16 at 6:32
  • @Keelan 3. The fact that I'm a new user is entirely the point. You clearly have a set of strong community preferences which everyone who has been on the site for a while knows about. The point I'm making (I thought perfectly lucidly) is that this preference is being communicated to new users is an unnecessarily demeaning and delusive manner, by giving the impression that it is about objectivity, when it is, in fact, about preference. – Isaacson Sep 27 '16 at 6:38
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    1. Jobermark has (by my knowledge) not been informed it is OK to post unreferenced answers, that is just his own opinion about the matter. But realise that it is a comment to an answer that disagrees with him, yet was eventually accepted as the policy to use. Also see the comment directly below jobermark's. 2. No, giving advice is not the end goal, exchanging knowledge is. 3. What was demeaning? If you see anything rude/offensive, please flag it. My point is that you, as a new user, should be firstly concerned with understanding how the site works, rather than trying to change it. – user2953 Sep 27 '16 at 7:03
  • @Keelan Finally, in your third point you seem to be conflating two issues. I obviously think that Philosophy.SE would be a better site if it were not so heavily moderated in favour of published philosopher, but that is a completely separate issue to the one I'm raising here about the way in which that moderation is communicated. – Isaacson Sep 27 '16 at 7:04
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – user2953 Sep 27 '16 at 7:06
  • @Keelan As I have hopefully made clear by now, my issue is not with the policy, but with how it is communicated, the way that post is arranged give the impression that this type of answer is OK as the comment goes unchallenged and the post ends with "Looks like it is pretty much decided!" – Isaacson Sep 27 '16 at 7:08
  • I guess my thoughts on this (which most users who've been around a while already know) are that (1) this is an SE to answer people's questions about philosophy rather than an SE that does philosophy and (2) the point of sourcing answers in general is that we're voting on whether an answer is accurate about philosophy rather than converting every question into a poll. – virmaior Oct 4 '16 at 16:16
  • Regarding the new moderators and Joseph (separated only because he was pro-tem before now), I think all of them are doing a great job of patiently guiding users towards better formulations of their questions and a better understanding of philosophy.SE. I don't really think we can make it function if we completely loose the chains and unlink what we are doing from philosophy as classically conceived... – virmaior Oct 4 '16 at 16:18
  • @virmaior I'm not sure if you've seen my conversation with Keelan on this, but the issue seemed to revolve around that fact that your view (and Keelan's it seems) are not represented on the FAQ, which is why people are getting confused (that and the fact that about 50% of people using the site don't seem to be asking those kinds of questions). To illustrate... – Isaacson Oct 4 '16 at 16:25
  • number 1 on the FAQ states that an answer can " ...be focused on abstract reasoning and widely accepted methods of argumentation and be precise in that they rigorously adhere to the demands of the original question." Written by Joseph Weissman at 5,000 rep. – Isaacson Oct 4 '16 at 16:26
  • The top answer to the next post in the FAQ states "In order to usefully answer a question, it need not be situated in the academic literature, but must be articualted, demonstrate an awareness of the problem and problem space, and some considerations of why and how the answer was arrived at. – Isaacson Oct 4 '16 at 16:27

The answer in question, while representing a valid and popular philosophical position, is in my opinion too subjective because it presents itself as the absolute truth. It's misleading and academically dishonest to represent physicalism as the consensus position in philosophy of mind. Any answer that does this is indeed "too subjective" for its misrepresentation of the facts: physicalism is but one position in philosophy of mind, and stating it "as is" as though there could be no other truth does not make for an appropriate answer.

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    Disclaimer: I am a physicalist myself. That does not make it okay for me to tell others physicalism is simply how things are. – commando Sep 26 '16 at 18:58
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    I agree that it is a flaw in the answer and prefacing it with "one way of looking at this is..." would have been an improvement. The point I was making, however, is that the means by which this is communicated is misleading. It is not that it requires citation, as the flag indicates, nor that it could be made more objective by quoting a philosopher as the comment suggests (one could equally say "philosopher x is definitely right"). It is simply that a more open-minded tone would be more suitable. – Isaacson Sep 27 '16 at 6:49
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    @Isaacson It would be more objective. The claim "X would say .." can be verified through the voting principle. The actual claim X makes (".."), cannot. The latter also doesn't help the user much, because there are no pointers for further reading. – user2953 Sep 27 '16 at 7:05

Given the SE voting system, there's a certain amount of subjectivity you can (rightly or wrongly) sneak into an answer just by making sure it's well written and has a neutral tone of voice.

But in general, we follow the Wikipedia policy that the info we provide needs to be vetted more thoroughly than just the local system can handle. Publication may not be a perfect vetting mechanism, but it does mean that something has been reviewed by experts and judged worthy.

The difficulty in our field is that it can be challenging at a glance to tell the crackpots from the geniuses. I happen to personally believe I'm a brilliant philosopher for the ages. But I accept that I have not yet accomplished the work necessary for you (or anyone else) to give me the benefit of the doubt on that score.

  • In case you haven't, please see my comment here meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/379/…. I think there is an argument to be had that the system in SE is a better one for the type of question that is sometimes asked here than the ones that have been employed to select published philosophers. I think any trained psychiatrist would be hard pressed to say whether Neitzsche was a crackpot or a genius (joke, sort of). – Isaacson Sep 27 '16 at 6:54

There is a balance between maintaining quality content and an unreasonably high barrier to entry.

The answer I gave was given in earnest. Was it well cited? No. Frankly, I haven't taken the time to dust off my books. I don't think users expect every answer to be textbook quality. Sometimes a lead or an idea is sufficient.

Must an answer consider every single possibility? I believe this would be unreasonably burdensome. Although my answer presented a certain point of view, I did not suggest that mine was the only answer. These forums allow for multiple answers, all with their own up-votes, for a reason; this is the reason. I have given my answer according to my worldview and my philosophy. There is plenty of space for another answer from another worldview.

I argue that only answers which claim to have listed all possibilities/possible views are the ones which actually violate the concerns of this meta. How can I claim to know all of the ways this question can be answered? Doing so does not acknowledge other possibilities.


If the answer is really being flagged because it doesn't contain reference to an accepted philosopher, then shouldn't we just be honest about that instead of trying to back up what is essentially a community preference with the erroneous concept that it is somehow the only way to provide objective answers.

I agree with this assessment by @Isaacson, though I am a bit hesitant to presume to know the motives or intentions of others.

If this assessment is true, I find it strange that only answers derived from the works of "accepted" philosophers are acceptable. On the Physics SE, you aren't required to cite physicists, or to give answers wholly derived therefrom. Certainly this is a valuable feature, but it is not a requirement.


It's misleading and academically dishonest to represent physicalism as the consensus position in philosophy of mind.

I never said this. This is a question and answer forum. Unless every single answer is prefaced by "this is one possible solution" and "this is not the absolute truth" then every answer would fail the "test of subjectivity." Readers know that answers given are by other users, and it is unreasonable to think that any given reader will assume that the answer given is an "absolute truth" without any other possibilities.

The voting of each answer by other users with varying levels of privilege is how content is vetted. The person who asked the question and other readers can decide for themselves which is the best answer, and also which answers are valuable. To assume to know why a reader finds one answer more valuable than another is to assume that you fully understand that person, an assumption I think is a bit inappropriate.

If you have a better answer to the question, then please give it. If my answer is inferior then it will suffer fewer upvotes and fade away or be otherwise disregarded. We don't need to waste our time solving a problem that the mechanisms of the SE forum have already solved.

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    I disagree with 'Readers know that answers given are by other users, and it is unreasonable to think that any given reader will assume that the answer given is an "absolute truth" without any other possibilities.' Some questions here are like "Has philosopher X been influenced by philosopher Y", which is a historical question where it doesn't make sense to prefix answers with "This is just one possibility". Answers that do give just one possibility should explicitly state this and provide references, so that they can be distinguished from historical answers (for example). – user2953 Oct 2 '16 at 12:04
  • I agree with your example of a historical question to an extent. I suppose it depends on whether you believe there is such thing as absolute truth or that there are always more than one possibility. An ironic dilemma in the Philosophy SE. – Jacob F. Davis C-CISO Oct 2 '16 at 20:32
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    No, it doesn't depend on that. The academic discipline of philosophy knows many different streams. This is a fact. A post on this site needs to take that seriously and cannot present one stream as the only acceptable one. – user2953 Oct 3 '16 at 8:46
  • @Keelan I think you are possibly underestimating the intelligence of the people using this site. The fact that there can be two (or more) types of question does not mean that readers will be unable to determine which type of question is being asked and read the answers in the appropriate context. I can't really imagine a reader getting confused into thinking that any answer to a question such as this might actually be the final definitive answer no matter how it is worded. The tone of an answer is important on its own there is no need to hide that fact behind a quest for objectivity. – Isaacson Oct 3 '16 at 9:00
  • @Jacob The FAQ and scope of this site are very ambiguous to the new user. I have had a discussion with one of the moderators about this here chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/45944/…. I have found the following posts more representative of the current site's preferences, meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/474/…, meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/2854/…. I don't agree with them, but they give you a better overview than the FAQ. – Isaacson Oct 3 '16 at 9:08
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    @Isaacson the things is also that many people don't read questions, but only answers. An answer that presents a theory as the only acceptable one invites for discussion, which we don't want. "The tone of an answer is important" - indeed, and objectivity is part of that tone. The two are not without overlap. Nobody is hiding anything. – user2953 Oct 3 '16 at 14:46
  • @Keelan The intended mode of operation on other SEs is that people (not even users) have questions, search engines drive them to the questions/answers on SE. I figure that these users will at least skim the questions to make sure that they are relevant for their current problem. – Dave Oct 3 '16 at 14:56
  • My previous comment makes me think that the issue (wrt how well questions/answers fit into SE) is in allowing questions that are too broad. – Dave Oct 3 '16 at 14:59
  • @Dave I don't think it's always necessary to read a question if you want to see if an answer can help you, although sometimes it is helpful. – user2953 Oct 3 '16 at 15:08
  • @Dave I agree, there are a lot of questions which cannot be answered by anything other than a discussion (even if it is about the views of accepted philosophers). The problem is it seems to be what people want to ask and so I think it would be best to develop ways to include them within the format. A classic example recently proclaims that "how would you know if nonobservable entities exist?" already has an answer! Well I'm glad that's that one sorted, perhaps we can tackle "why am I here?" next. – Isaacson Oct 3 '16 at 15:47

Without either having the merit of being previously considered by the tradition, or giving us useful and interesting consequences, an opinion is not philosophy, just hearsay.

I am a strong proponent for entries that do not rely on references. The vast majority of my posts, including the most popular ones, have none, and no one complains. For example here or here. So for me not to step in here and defend someone else for similar action would be irresponsible.

If an observation has such broad currency that attributing it to someone would be silly, comes from a combination of too many current ideas at once, or is compelling and logically complete on its own, then where it comes from is too hard to describe, and not really helpful.

But philosophy affords argument, which is not possible unless the support leads back to a set of ideas that one can accept or reject on their own merit.

This post is an opinion, rather than an argument because it does not base itself on something, or identify the center of the notion presented. Physicalism that is not based on some realistic weakness of idealism or some broader argument really is just an opinion. An opinion, used as a basis and followed with other arguments that support either intuitively compelling or common positions, is still well considered, and as noted above, is well received here.

But the entire content here is the single idea without support for it or proof of its usefulness by deriving interesting results from it.

  • I agree with your distinction here. I do think that this answer is flawed in a number of ways, the main one being that it fails to specify a presumption of physicalism as its premise. What I really wanted to raise here is the general issue that some philosophical questions have had and answer offered by scientific investigation (not the final or only answer, of course, but one to discuss). – Isaacson Oct 15 '16 at 11:37
  • The problem for philosophy here is that there is no need (or even authority) for a philosopher to verify that these solutions constitute a potential answer to consider. It would be a good, if not essential, role for a philosopher to question the answer and present counter-arguments, but not to verify that the answer is relevant. There is no justification for presuming that scientists are not equally good (or bad) logicians as philosophers, as a group, and if they consider their answer relevant to the discussion, that should be sufficient. – Isaacson Oct 15 '16 at 11:37
  • As such, if a question, asked within philosophy, has an potential answer in science, then presenting that answer is still within the realm of philosophy and it can still be critiqued within philosophy. The correct citation (if required), however, would be the scientist or group of scientists. I think this answer could (indeed should) be improved in many ways, but in principle, I see no other way to introduce potential answers to philosophical questions that have come from scientists other than this broad approach. – Isaacson Oct 15 '16 at 11:37
  • I realise that I probably shouldn't have raised this issue with an example question like this as there are too many other things wrong with it as an answer (as you have rightly pointed out above). In hindsight I would have raised it as a stand alone discussion about including scientific evidence in an answer, but I don't think it's worth it now. The answers here have gauged the feeling of the community sufficiently. – Isaacson Oct 15 '16 at 12:23

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