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Wikipedia has a fairly strict policy requiring all articles to be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV). In fact, this is one of the five fundamental principles of their site:

Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view.

We strive for articles that document and explain the major points of view in a balanced and impartial manner. We avoid advocacy and we characterize information and issues rather than debate them. In some areas there may be just one well-recognized point of view; in other areas we describe multiple points of view, presenting each accurately and in context, and not presenting any point of view as "the truth" or "the best view". All articles must strive for verifiable accuracy: unreferenced material may be removed, so please provide references. Editors' personal experiences, interpretations, or opinions do not belong here. That means citing verifiable, authoritative sources, especially on controversial topics and when the subject is a living person.

Does the same policy apply to Philosophy.SE? Are questions and answers required to be written from a strictly neutral point of view, or are we allowed to express our own opinions?

What is the policy here with regard to:

  • The necessity to present all points of view or otherwise conform strictly to a neutral point of view?
  • Citation requirements for answers?
  • The acceptability of original research or one's own experiences?
  • The general style and tone of posts?

Return to FAQ index

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Officially we're here to give objective answers, and to keep our own opinions out of it. However, I think we all know none of us do that 100% of the time. So is it possible for there to be a "right" way to be subjective in an answer?

These are the standards I've generally arrived at personally:

1) Don't answer a question at all unless you have at least some on topic, sourced, objective material to share.
2) Lead with the above.
3) At the end, offer your own opinion in no more than one or two sentences, clearly labeled as such and/or link to an (again clearly labeled) opinion piece that matches your point of view.

Of course, I don't always meet this standard, but I've found in general that answers formed this way are well-received.

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Is it necessary for posts to present all points of view, or conform strictly to a neutral point of view?

Despite our shared ethos with Wikipedia, posts here are not necessarily expected to conform to a strictly neutral point of view. All contributions are signed with your user card, which links back to your personal profile, and makes it clear that the opinions expressed in your posts are your own:

               example user card http://cdn.sstatic.net/img/faq/faq-user-card.png

But, in order to ensure the high quality of content on this site, we do still have some important standards that apply to user contributions. Please read on for more specific information…

Do all answers need to be cited?

Yes, including appropriate citations in your answers (and perhaps your questions, when applicable) is strongly encouraged! Good answers to a philosophy question will almost inevitably cite some sources. In particular, whenever you make a substantial claim or reference the works of others, you need to provide a reference.

However, we understand that the nature of philosophy implies a certain degree of subjectivity in answers. There are multiple perspectives to any issue, and each is often justifiable in its own right.

{ IN PROGRESS }

Are there standards that govern the general style and tone of posts?

Yes—it is never appropriate to be a jerk. As the "Etiquette" section of our site FAQ makes clear:

Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated.

Be nice.
Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you. We’re all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor.

This is a basic tenet of the site, and it's not optional. Any hostile behavior or ad hominem attacks will not be tolerated. You must treat other people and their ideas with respect, regardless of whether or not you agree with them. You are, of course, free to disagree with other people's opinions as expressed in their questions and answers, but you must do so in a constructive way.

This is a question-and-answer (Q&A) site, not your personal soapbox. As such, you should limit the expression of your opinions to only those which are relevant to the question being asked or answered. This is not the place to post rants, inflammatory questions/answers, or unsubstantiated opinions. If you have an agenda, whether personal, professional, or ideological, then this site is probably not the place for you. Consider hosting a blog instead—you can link to it from your personal user profile.

Please take care to temper your attitude and the forcefulness with which you feel compelled to express your opinions. Above all, try not to take anything personally! We're all here to learn.

  • Unfortunately, most people interpret disagreeing with their stated opinions as "being a jerk", so people (like me) get accused of ad-hominem attacks that are not there. – Ron Maimon May 2 '12 at 17:09
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    As has been pointed out many times, the grace with which you disagree with someone is quite important. Telling them that their ideas are stupid and worthless is not acceptable. If you're unable to tell the difference, this site is probably not the place for you. The ad hominem attacks are there, at the moment you change the discussion from one about ideas to one about people who hold those ideas—that's what ad hominem means. I can't believe I just had to explain that. If you're "being a jerk" in the mind of the majority of our users, then you're a jerk. This is not a gray area. – Cody Gray May 3 '12 at 1:26
  • Does {IN PROGRESS} mean you are going to elaborate on that particular point? I find it very important and would be delighted to see further explanations. In particular it seems that in some cases strongly encouraged actually means strictly necessary (see meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/2836/5765) and I am eager to know when exactly. – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Mar 31 '15 at 10:28
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I have recently been working my way through this problem myself, trying out different solutions and taking the advice of moderators and commentators on my posts. My experience and opinion so far is as follows.

The site's rules state that "...answers should not be primarily opinion-based". This, however, is drawn from a general rule which applies to all SE sites. Philosophy contains whole schools of thinking which are entirely opinion based. The solution that has been proposed in many meta posts on the subject in the past (see the link in the comments above for example) is to state that "philosopher X said Y", thus making the answer into an objective fact.

Personally, I find this to be an unsatisfactory solution. Saying that "it is a fact that philosopher X said Y, therefore it is objective and fits the format" is not any different to getting around the problem of personal opinions by saying “It is a fact that my opinion is this...” and claiming the answer is therefore objective. Ultimately, the answer that the questioner is going to take away is the opinion they read at the end of the process, placing one stage of removal in the way by referring does not change the fact that they are going away with just an opinion as their answer.

By extension, any solution in place to prevent this opinion-as-answer problem (like asking for good reasoning, supporting evidence, alternative views etc) could be applied equally to the direct answers of contributors as to the referred answers of philosophers.

Ultimately, a site about philosophy cannot follow the no opinion-based answers rule in a simple and honest way. It would be better, I think to be open about this from the outset and respond to the problem by being strict in moderation about answers which do not show any reasoning or evidence, regardless of their origin. Not all questions solicit opinion-based answers of course, but most do (at least to some extent). Thus, to these types of question, “Kant said this...” and “I reckon this...” would be equally poor answers, but “Kant's argument is as follows... “and “One argument you might consider is as follows...” with good reasoning and evidence would both be equally good answers.

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    "Philosophy contains whole schools of thinking which are entirely opinion based." -- this is a gross misunderstanding of philosophy. – Eliran Sep 25 '16 at 9:08
  • Using Plato's distinction between opinion and knowledge, how would you argue that existentialism, for example, was based on anything other than opinion? Even the existentialists themselves rejected basing their philosophy on empirical facts. Note I said "opinion-based", not "entirely made up of opinion". The question seemed to me to be about whether personal opinions could be acceptable within the SE format, my answer is making the point that some engagement with personal opinion will be, in any case, necessary in the study of some schools of philosophy. – Isaacson Sep 25 '16 at 10:13
  • @Eliran I realise I left your username off my last comment so you may not have been made aware of any response, but I do appreciate a comment or downvote being explained. Comments which are essentially nothing more than "You're wrong" are not very helpful in generating better answers. Could you please elaborate on why you think that philosophy does not contain any schools whose works are based on an opinion, as opposed to a fact? – Isaacson Sep 26 '16 at 7:10
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    If you look at current philosophy (at least analytic philosophy), you'll see that a lot of progress has been made. Take Descartes for example. We know that he was wrong about many things. Kant, among others, showed this. Kant was also wrong about many (other) things, as some later philosophers demonstrated. It's not just one thinks A and another thinks B. Another thing is that today we have much better tools for philosophical analysis, many of them come from logic. Much progress is made in such and other ways. There is consensus in philosophy about many of these things. ... (1/2) – Eliran Sep 26 '16 at 10:57
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    ... Of course, the fact that philosophers such as Descartes and Kant were wrong does not mean that they didn't make great contributions. Our understanding of philosophy is better thanks to them. (Newton too was wrong, but he still made one of the greatest contributions to science.) Yes, today still there are disagreements, perhaps to a greater extent than in other disciplines, but this is mostly a matter of degree -- there are disagreements in every discipline, even in math. (2/2) – Eliran Sep 26 '16 at 10:58
  • @Eliran I agree entirely with your analysis, it's the reason I got into philosophy. My point is that an answer on this site based on Kant or Descartes, even specifically in the areas where they have been shown to be "wrong", would be accepted, as would answers from existentialists, yet both of these types of answer would be opinion-based. The first because you'd have to believe in it despite the wealth of evidence demonstrating that it is wrong, and the second because the work openly avoids basing itself on facts. – Isaacson Sep 26 '16 at 11:18
  • The point of my answer is not to say, "all of philosophy is just opinion so we we might as well all chip in" as my views on this matter are commonly characterised. It is to say that some of philosophy is opinion-based and including this type of thinking, but excluding personal opinion does not have any basis in logic. It makes philosophy look more like a religious cult to treat the opinions of some as more valid than others without evidence or logic, and more importantly, it demeans the very good work in analytical and logical philosophy (for example) that you have so eruditely outlined. – Isaacson Sep 26 '16 at 11:24
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    I have to disagree. A major part of our job here is to share expert information about the field philosophy. "Kant said X" is an entirely valid and useful answer under our charter, entirely independent of the rightness of X. I don't ask that we do no advocacy at all for the view we find most correct, but we have to keep in mind that's not what people come here for. There's also another reason it's different to say "Kant said X for [good reason]" than "X because [good reason]." The "name" philosophers have survived a harsh vetting process that you and I have not (as yet). – Chris Sunami Sep 26 '16 at 13:40
  • @Chris If by "vetting process" you mean the process by which a group of 90% white affluent men, paid to be academics, decide which authors it is in their own self-interest to publicise, then I think "harsh" is an entirely appropriate adjective, but not, perhaps, in the manner you intended. If, alternatively, you are referring to the system where a population (such as 1930's Paris) decide, entirely at the whim of ever-changing fashion, which books it is in their best self-interests to claim to have read, then "arbitrary" might be better. – Isaacson Sep 27 '16 at 6:11
  • And before I get a slew of "it may be flawed but it's the best we've got" type of responses, I don't believe it is. I believe we have a much better system right here, which is why it's management is such bone of contention for me. Here, anyone can ask a question, anyone can answer, the most useful answers are voted to the top, people who consistently provide useful answers gain reputation. It is utility to the user, not the self-interest of a select group that judges quality. – Isaacson Sep 27 '16 at 6:16

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