NOTE: This post does NOT argue that this site should be a "place for moot philosophical debate".

It raises an issue about the confusion between the role of a moderator on this site, and that of a philosophy lecturer leading a classroom discussion, or graduating student essays.

In particular, it argues that observance of formal "academic" rules ("always quote", etc.) should not destroy substance; and that moderators should keep in mind that this is not a day job at a university or college, where they have been appointed to teach a course on a syllabus, and then give grades to the students about their acquisition of the material.

I would like to raise an issue with the way the moderator, in the following question, systematically asked for "citations": Is there such thing as the present?

It is obvious that there is a number of cases where citations are indispensable, typically for questions of the type: "what is the attitude of XY toward subject Z?" A recourse to primary sources would be the best way to settle the issue. Furthermore, we do not wish this forum to become a debate of moot opinions.

More generally, we should encourage participants to this forum to read philosophers, present and past and learn to use the concepts they are reading about, or to argue about them.

Nevertheless, this site is not in a class seminar where the purpose of the discussion is to "activate" the readings -- as well as an opportunity for the teacher to assess whether the students have actually read the material assigned.

Here, like elsewhere, there is a philosophical principle that needs to be respected, and that is sapere aude. To quote Immanuel Kant's essay "What is Enlightenment":

"Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) "Have the courage to use your own understanding," is therefore the motto of the enlightenment."

And particularly:

"If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on--then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me."

I therefore argue that in Philosophy, just as in any other pursuit of learning, who should have the right to observe, reason and demonstrate, without necessarily having to quote a "master".

Once again, this is not an argument for moot debate and it is not an argument against the necessity of reading much and being able to quote authors. It an argument for a particular ability: to formulate elaborate concepts in one's own terms.

It also includes the freedom to answer a question at the level that the reader requires. There is no point in making a towering display of erudition if a simple answer will satisfy the needs of the person who asks.

The implications of denying the participants of this forum the right to intervene without "a citation" to back up what they are stating may have various implications, which could be arguments ad personam:

  • intellectual cowardice, the fear to express one's views (or that someone else express their views), with the need to always "cover one's back" with a quote from an authority or celebrity, thus living by a system of "authorities".
  • conservatism, the fear of progress, or more accurately progressive ideas that could change the status quo, including the order system on this forum. In the extreme, this would issue into "police actions", with the purpose of constraining the freedom of speech of the participants.
  • infantilization, the denial of the right of other individuals (and particularly of students of philosophy or individuals outside Academia) to think for themselves
  • pedantry, implying that the person who wrote is not cultured enough to express an observation or fact, and generally to think for themselves. In particular, the requirement of reliable source infers, logically, that the participant to this forum is presumed not to be reliable.

Enlightenment should thus be a process of graduating from the obsequience to authorities, and particularly rattling off citations without understanding or critical spirit, hence being unable to reformulate a view in one's own terms. Of course, abusus non tollit usum: learning about philosophy requires much reading, and the ability to quote; but also a healthy dose of intellectual independence and thus right to disagree with a philosopher or even reject them altogether -- and thus the freedom to deliberately not quoting them.

In practice, should the requirement of citations on this forum not be used "with a pinch of salt"? When an answer holds itself factually or logically, is there a point for demanding a citation to support it?.

As for detecting unreliable or illogical answers, the system of peer review that is built in Stack Exchange should be amply sufficient. A comment is all what it takes.

Also, should the person requiring the citation also politely state what they would want the citation to be about, and why they feel a citation would be useful?


The defensive answers to this post seem to demonstrate the existence of a problem of social status quo ante, whose governance seems to have drifted toward aristocracy, more than republic (which is an operating definition of StackOverflow).

And for once, let me give you return the favor with a few elements of logics and applied political philosophy. Let's start with the latter.

As Montesquieu noted,

In an aristocracy the supreme power is lodged in the hands of a certain number of persons. These are invested both with the legislative and executive authority; and the rest of the people are, in respect to them, the same as the subjects of a monarchy in regard to the sovereign.They do not vote here by lot, for this would be productive of inconveniences only. (Spirit of Laws, Book II, Chapter 3)

I believe that describes well what happened in that instance, i.e. a top-down view of legitimacy, instead of bottom-up. And, moreover, it seemed that the decision of one person had to be unquestionable and final.

Yet, on this case, the people did upvote, but this fact was obviously discounted by the moderator, who felt he had the right to censor the contributors for formal reasons. His justification for personally overriding the community, was the sacredness of rules . Forgetting that those sames rules emanated from the community that elected him, so as preserve the social contract. And that he should not engage in useless enforcement were peace was not threatened; because in doing so he violated the peace and thus the social contract.

But, reflecting on the application and thus the validity of theories might be applied philosophy, which might fall under the deprecated heading "of musings" (no offense intended of course) that "sound like the thoughts of first-year undergraduate students in philosophy".

Indeed, the contempt for "musing", which Webster defined in 1828 as meditating in silence is revelatory.

For the flaws in the logical reasoning, I was taken aback by this sentence:

StackExchange is not for doing philosophy. If you like to study wisdom, read, discuss, write or do a university course. If you like to answer here, you are supposed to already be an expert and answer in your capacity as such within the subject, not hypothesise about topics.

Let's break it down (perform analysis).

Assertion: this is not for doing philosophy; and this social media (a metaphorical exchange or online forum) is not for discussion.

This is Kafkaesque. Once again, this is not the place for moot philosophical debate. Nevertheless, for the word discussion we will understand (we hope):

  1. Consideration of a subject by a group; an earnest conversation.
  2. A formal discourse on a topic; an exposition. (See American Heritage)

Without going into an etymological analysis that would take us to Roman urban design, we would all agree that an exchange or forum without discussion would be quite a dead place and no business would ever be carried out!

If you like to study wisdom, read, discuss, write or do a university course.

That seems to be quite an assertion of monopoly on knowledge, doesn't it? Once again, this site is not a classroom seminar where students must come after doing a specific reading assignment. Their selection of authors, even if it is not on your syllabus, is their business. Indeed, should people be barred from reading, e.g. Plato and discuss it between themselves on social media? Unless the only way to access knowledge will be through the intermediation of a priestly figure who will bestow on us the understanding of the scriptures? Are we slowly drifting to new times of Counter-Reform?

If you like to answer here, you are supposed to already be an expert and answer in your capacity as such within the subject, not hypothesise about topics.

That's a fascinating view: a person who answers is not supposed to provide hypotheses. So the existence of God, monism, dualism are well established truths, not the subject of hypothesis? And to give a "true", canonic answer, and a person should be an expert (whatever the credentials should be, but we would imagine that a master in philosophy would be a requirement, otherwise some equivalence would be needed).

Note here the petitio principii, that the expert is the guardian of the quality, and only "experts" have the right to set the rules and evaluate other experts. And contradicting the expert (moderator) is morally wrong because the expert knows what the rules should be and how they should be applied. We always come back to this circular reasoning, as an argument of authority (which can be easily broken by the reasoning above on social contract and election).

I believe that there should be a re-clarification of the definition of philosophy here, which seems to have been confused with exegesis (critical analysis of texts).

To return to the basics of philosophy, here is what Webser wrote in 1828:

Literally, the love of wisdom. But in modern acceptation, philosophy is a general term denoting an explanation of the reasons of things; or an investigation of the causes of all phenomena both of mind and of matter. When applied to any particular department of knowledge, it denotes the collection of general laws or principles under which all the subordinate phenomena or facts relating to that subject, are comprehended. (...)

The objects of philosophy are to ascertain facts or truth, and the causes of things or their phenomena; to enlarge our views of God and his works, and to render our knowledge of both practically useful and subservient to human happiness.

Let us remember that philosophy also includes the foundations of physical science. And the denial of the right to "muse" is the denial of the right to formulate hypotheses, lay out the facts and work backward to invalidate the hypotheses until (one day) one will fails to do so. That is how you demonstrate things in modern philosophy, not by a reference to the writings of an authority. Unless of course you prefer to be wrong with Galienus that right with Harvey.

As such this attitude of preventing people to ever formulate an observation or conclusion is dogmatism, which is obviously contrary to the definition of modern philosophy itself (the Kantian precept sapere aude).

Basically, I am objecting to that circular reasoning that redefines en passant some technical terms like philosophy and forum, discussion so that moderators can pose as the sole legitimate intermediaries to "orthodoxy" (whatever they might think it is). And asserting their personal norms, even against the community, including on how a forum is supposed to run (and philosophy should be practiced). Thus leading to naively illogical statements that should be obvious even to a high-school student.

Once again, this is not an argument for moot debate and it is not an argument against the necessity of reading much and being able to quote authors. It an argument for a particular ability: to formulate elaborate concepts in one's own terms, and particularly to answer a question in such a way that it will be understood by the person who asked the question.

  • 4
    Instead of simply opening a new thread, how about participating in an existing one? Long story short: Because StackExchange is not the right place for musings, opinions, and original philosophy. StackExchange is not for doing philosophy, but asking experts about existing philosophy.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Oct 27, 2018 at 17:54
  • Regarding the answers that caused you to write this thread: The post notices are mine. Because philosophy of time is really a huge and growing field within philosophy and the answers all failed to refer to the actual discourse going on and instead wrote about either one position of many or their personal opinion. Both cases do not constitute answers that fundamentally answer the question and may thus be deleted. Why do you think does this post notice exist? And yes, I was deliberately setting a warning example there.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Oct 27, 2018 at 17:59
  • 1
    In all fairness, more humility would be required. Philosophy is about the study of wisdom, not assertion of spiritual authority.
    – fralau
    Oct 27, 2018 at 19:10
  • 2
    In all fairness, StackExchange is not for doing philosophy. If you like to study wisdom, read, discuss, write or do a university course. If you like to answer here, you are supposed to already be an expert and answer in your capacity as such within the subject, not hypothesise about topics. Btw, humility would also be accepting that there are professionals and historical philosophers that have thought about things much deeper and with much greater knowledge background than most if not all living humans will ever do.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Oct 27, 2018 at 19:33
  • 1
    I agree with you in principle. In practice, who has to right to define who is an "expert"? The essence of StackExchange (whether we agree or not) is that points and consensus determine credibility. It looks to me as if a group of moderators are seeking to skew this dynamic, by establishing what they believe should be "orthodoxy" and looking down on those who do not fit their idea of it. I have practiced several forums on StackExchange and must say the attitude here strikes me as particularly condescending.
    – fralau
    Oct 27, 2018 at 19:40
  • 2
    You've never been on Sceptics, have you? Apart from that, I do not know how much you know about the philosophy of time. I know that there are three main theories discussed, all of which can be summarised in a few sentences. Thus, any expert answer on the subject matter would have to reflect this fact. Most answers to this question are either in the mode of "of course it's like ..., duh!" without any credibility beyond "because I say so", or they endorse a single, arbitrarily chosen position existent in literature because, well, it suits them. THAT is not how StackExchange is supposed to work.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Oct 27, 2018 at 19:44
  • 1
    This kind of haughtiness is making my point.
    – fralau
    Oct 27, 2018 at 19:46
  • 6
    What you call haughtiness is based on having been in personal contact with some active researchers in this subject. I do not say that noone should have their pet theory and think for themselves and everyone should sheepily restate someone else in philosophy, nothing could be farther from the truth. It's just that the format is a bad place for doing philosophy and trying yourself out. Just like answering with your personal theory on Physics.SE or Math.SE will not go well.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Oct 27, 2018 at 19:51
  • 2
    You know little to nothing of me, yet you are sitting in judgement of the intentions, knowledge and skills of other individuals, and dismissing them based on 4 lines answer. What tells you that things are really how you think they are? I hope you realize the imprudence of your ways. Actually this might be a tell-tale sign of insecurity: with due respect, aren't you trying to cover-up the self-perceived shallowness of your own scholarship under a pretense of authority?
    – fralau
    Oct 28, 2018 at 6:10
  • 2
    I have not judged any person here, I only judge the answers and their style based on SE rules and the experience of what people that published papers and books on the philosophy of time (i.e. subject matter experts) had to say and were able to formulate on that matter. I do not criticize the knowledge base I cannot possibly know, but the mode of answering. Equally, I'd kindly ask you to stop speculating about my motives and abilities.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Oct 28, 2018 at 6:55
  • 2
    Firstly, zealotry is a term that fits better for your post as it stands now. Secondly, yes, SE is democratic to some extent and that's a fine aspect of this network. But this has limits in the fundamental precepts of "experts answer to your questions". In all seriousness: Most of what you write is perfectly correct for philosophy as a discipline, freedom in education, etc. And if it were not that we are speaking of the shortcomings of the SE format when it comes to the subject of philosophy, we would not even have a disagreement. I support philosophical discussions in chat.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Oct 28, 2018 at 12:10
  • +1 I do think answers should cite references, but I see no point in down voting questions about this site. Oct 28, 2018 at 18:39
  • 2
    Sounds like this is the millionth case of someone crusading that "this site is about philosophy and is supposed to be a socratic forum open to all of the beauty that is the love of wisdom" instead of realizing that it's a question and answer site on the internet. This site is not and has never been a holy ground for 'the practice of philosophy' and I can link you to a million examples of people doing exactly what you're doing here to no avail. This site has rules and citations and discouragement of merely personal opinion answers are among them.
    – Not_Here
    Oct 29, 2018 at 11:05
  • I suggest your read more carefully: this post never argued that this site is a "place for debate." It argues that a) citation is NOT always required b) Moderators should remember they are elected people, not guardians of some sacred temple.
    – fralau
    Oct 30, 2018 at 6:40
  • I'll just tag this in here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/56751/33787 and philosophy.meta.stackexchange.com/q/3714/33787 - to show my support for much of your sentiment. That said, I think the moderators are doing an admirable job considering the peculiar circumstance. The concerns you raise are systemically produced rather than by agency, remember moderators are chosen to uphold the system, regardless there are some workarounds and violations of the system, that mods tacitly endorse. In short, its a balancing act, expecting everybody to be happy all the time is ludicrous.
    – christo183
    Nov 1, 2018 at 12:04

1 Answer 1


No, references are not necessary for a good answer. But a good answer has to be based on some relevant knowledge of the subject in question. When that's the case, it's usually apparent even without any references (see list below).

Honestly, and no offense intended, all the answers in the question you linked to sound like the thoughts of first-year undergraduate students in philosophy. There's nothing wrong with such thoughts. Some of them are quite advanced and sophisticated. But it's fairly obvious that they're not based on expertise in the relevant field, which is really what this Q&A site is looking for. (If you're looking for discussion, I'm afraid this site is not the place for that.)

Here's a selection of excellent answers with no references whatsoever:












  • 1
    Thanks and your examples make a useful addition. On the other hand, isn't your remark about "thoughts of first-year undergraduate students in philosophy" making my own point about pedantry? Should we require university credentials before someone is authorized to participate?
    – fralau
    Oct 27, 2018 at 19:20
  • 5
    @fralau Certainly not: university credentials are not required. What is required is some knowledge of the subject in question, no matter how you've obtained that knowledge.
    – E...
    Oct 27, 2018 at 19:22
  • 2
    As a reader answers without references are nearly useless to me. Oct 28, 2018 at 18:50

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