Are too many questions being closed because of how they are phrased?

I don't mean questions that are un-understandable, what are they even asking, but one's which people think are a bad fit for the site because they aren't clearly otherwise.

e.g. this question I had to edit to

How would Hume respond to seeing, rather than an account of, a miracle? Has any contemporary atheist philosopher explicitly tried to refute how Hume would respond?

after getting five close votes.

Before that it read something like

  • How would Hume respond to seeing, rather than an account of, a miracle? How do contemporary atheist philosophers respond to this.

Which I concur, is "too broad", if the second sentence is read so broadly that it includes any treatment of 'miracles'. But here's my point: you could very easily charitably read it to mean that. I would suggest an edit, rather than closing the question, which likely won't ever get enough re-open votes to be active now.

i.e. are too many questions being closed because they are equivocally a bad fit.

  • 5
    Being put on hold is exactly there to give author and community the time to discuss and edit and, hopefully, reopen questions that are problematic as they stand.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Jun 9, 2017 at 11:58
  • 3
    Also you're wrong about the original question. It originally stated How would a (I don't much like the term) philosopher respond to something like a mriacle, today? Especially concerned if generalising them (the statue weeps blood so all statues will weep blood) is ever a coherent strategy, for philosophers. (philosophy.stackexchange.com/posts/42736/revisions). = no mention of Hume, pointless talk about the term philosopher, weird example choice vs literature, claim about generalization which is tangential ...
    – virmaior
    Jun 9, 2017 at 15:30
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user2953
    Jun 15, 2017 at 7:36

1 Answer 1



Or maybe to be more specific, we can only answer questions based on "how they are phrased."

And when questions are worded in ways that invite open-ended answers or belie deep ambiguities about what would constitute a good answer, these questions should be placed on hold until clarified into something that can be answered. If clarification is not forthcoming, then they should be closed.

Moreover, I think sometimes there's some confusion about what is meant by editing and clarifying the question. The goal isn't to 'get past the censors' or something like that but to genuinely alter the question into one that (a) both asks something the OP wants to ask and (b) produces something for which there is one correct answer* that fits within the SE framework.

The more ambiguities and confusing bits in the question, the less likely it can fulfill criterion (b) here.

At the same time, the more of those issues, the less likely people other than the op can find that core question and answer it. It's not impossible in every case, but everyone here is volunteering their time and efforts -- I am not going to put equal time into this as my day job. Thus fulfilling criterion (a) is primarily up to the OPs who ask questions, because we can't read the minds of others.

As an example of something people can easily do for others, fix spelling mistakes and obvious grammar mistakes. (e.g. "proble" to "problem")

*-(or perhaps something that cuts along the joints in philosophy and produces a limited number of answers that exist in the literature, meaning something where experts are divided on the meaning of a passage in such a way where both are respectable answers; e.g. "what does passage Z mean in the Apology?" often has two answers depending on whether one reads it ironically or not).

  • i think that's fair enough, but maybe edit more for those that are struggling
    – user25714
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:35
  • 1
    How can we edit when we cannot figure out what is essential to someone's question (criterion (a))???
    – virmaior
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:36
  • i see your point... i was just suggesting edits which reword ambiguities into fitting the site (what do you think -> reference request). editing is always tricky
    – user25714
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:42
  • Not being able to mind read either, I can't really unravel what the problem is here but just in case it's related, how exactly does one compose a question that "produces a limited number of answers that exist in the literature". Presumably the users of this site don't all know "the literature" and so cannot possibly pre-empt whether their question will have an answer in it?
    – user22791
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:45
  • @Isaacson the example in the question here is just a means to suggest editing strategies. so in ambiguously worded questions, editing to go with the narrower and site suitable alternative. as with e.g. changing subjective questions to reference requests
    – user25714
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:48
  • @Isaacson that is a fair question. Two thoughts on that. (1) I don't mean answers that exist in single instances across every book, article, and blog written on a topic. I mean something like left and right Hegelians. So if the question were "what does Hegel mean by QQQ?" then presumably both types of answers fit and the question is answerable to a reasonable degree.
    – virmaior
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:52
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    (2) Conversely, there are questions that are patently not single-answerable ("what are the different views on ..."). With rare exception, these types tend to no work. / But both worries together, I have a suspicion that SE is not really a good format for answering philosophy questions at the end of it all.
    – virmaior
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:53
  • I guess in response to both of you, I've never really understood the "reference-request" tag and tend to stay away from it when I see it (both in answering and editing and voting up/down and voting to close/reopen)
    – virmaior
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:55
  • fair enough. @virmaior i think the site would actually be a tonne better if even users with high reputation could suggest edits rather than make them. as it stands?
    – user25714
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:59
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    I see, with a charitable reading, I thought that's what you meant, but a new user having lots of questions closed and coming across this meta post for guidance might be a bit put off by the wording. The trouble is, for the "Philosophy" in Philosophy.SE to mean anything other than "things I reckon" it has to refer to predefined literature but this inevitably mean that anyone not familiar with the literature will struggle to ask viable questions. Even "what are the different views on..." is only obviously unanswerable to someone who already knows there are more than would fit in a short answer.
    – user22791
    Jun 15, 2017 at 7:00
  • @Isaacson you do need to be able to google, but it's the same as any stackexchange in that respect. maybe encourage new users to do so, explain good use of google, etc
    – user25714
    Jun 15, 2017 at 7:03
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    That's something of an issue with all SE sites, how much prior research should be expected. I think all the more difficult on Philosophy.SE. Most facts of the "what did x say about..." type can be found on Google eventually, especially with resources like SEP. "What did x mean when he said..." is more something a community of amateur and professional philosophers could be helpful in answering, but then verges increasingly on the subjective.
    – user22791
    Jun 15, 2017 at 7:14
  • btw i downvoted because i misunderstood your lead sentence, and now can't unvote :/
    – user25714
    Jun 22, 2017 at 19:40

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