I follow this forum on philosophy since several years. Sometimes I am a bit tired of reading again and again questions and answers from the history of philosophy: What did philosopher A claim concerning problem B, and why did philosopher C criticize philosopher A about his statement?

Therefore my question: Are we prepared for some fresh air in the forum by admitting opinion-based questions but requiring that the answers are supported by sound arguments?

Because in my opinion(!) all philosophy is just opinion supported by arguments.

This meta-question is triggered by the closure of my question Do you consider "essence“ a useful philosophical concept?

  • 5
    My issue with this question is that even if you believe that all philosophical questions are opinions, this isn't really a philosophical question in that way. This is like asking a room full of mathematicians if they do their work on graph paper or colleged rule, that's not a math question. It is explicitly asking for opinions about something, like its almost taking a survey. There is no possible way to give an objective answer to that type of question, or put a different way, everyone's answer is going to be equally as objective. That isn't a good type of question for how this site works.
    – Not_Here
    Dec 16, 2018 at 17:26
  • 3
    And I also want to point this out because it comes up all the time in questions like this, Stack exchange is not a forum.
    – Not_Here
    Dec 16, 2018 at 17:27
  • Even if it's all just opinions supported by arguments, I'm not sure why you would be interested in the opinions of philosophy.SE users rather than the opinions of philosophers, who have thought about this much more carefully and systematically and have better arguments for their opinions.
    – E...
    Dec 18, 2018 at 16:05
  • @Eliran I also welcome answers like „I agree with philosopher A because his argument B convinces me.“ But I prefer to take the view point starting from a given problem: Which problem is to be solved? How does the concept of an essence helps to solve the problem? Here I expect some fresh input from people who are free from the constraints of the philosophical tradition since Plato and Aristotle, i.e. not professionally blinkered.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 18, 2018 at 22:16
  • 1
    You underestimate the rigour and variety of professional philosophy here. The problem, as I already commented, is not that professional philosophy would not have anything "fresh" beyond Aristotle and Plato to give. It has too much of it. The relevance and limits of and need for essences have been discussed in ontological, epistemological, and moral contexts, and in more specific fields of application, e.g. the philosophy of science (How to define the relevant object(s) of research?). It generally is replaced by nomological and property-cluster approaches because of idealistic tendencies.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Dec 18, 2018 at 23:17
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    I think what you describe is rather a trope emerging out of two factors: 1) The lack of creative, yet answerable and reasonably confined questions and 2) The lack of truly knowledgeable users in the fields needed to answer. I happen to have some background in discussions about essences in recent philosophy because it had been part of a side-problem within my MA thesis. We essentially lack real experts in current philosophy, that's why it often looks like quoting long-dead canonical texts you can ask and answer with some more or less good undergrad level background.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Dec 18, 2018 at 23:38

4 Answers 4


I'll turn my comments into an answer since they seemed to have some support.

I do not think that we should allow the type of questions you are talking about and I'll explain why by addressing your closed question as an example.

First, I would reject the characterization that all philosophical positions are opinions. I think that is along the same line as the two "philosophical questions have no answers, it's just people arguing about their opinions" and "philosophy can't and doesn't make progress" arguments that people often use to attack the usefulness of philosophy. Both of those positions, I believe, are extremely harmful and just empirically incorrect (it is very easy to find examples of progress in philosophy).

However, I will grant you, for the sake of this question, that all philosophical positions are just opinions. Even still, that doesn't mean that any opinion on any subject is a philosophical position, or any act of giving an opinion is an act of doing philosophy, whether or not argumentation is involved.

If I were to ask my friend where we should eat for dinner, she could be inclined to give me her opinion. That doesn't make the question of where we should eat a philosophical question, nor does it make her opinion on where we should eat a philosophical position. Even if she went a step further and argued for why the sushi place is better than the Mexican place, that still does not constitute a philosophical argument grounded in a philosophical position about a philosophical question. So it is clear that some opinions are not philosophical positions, even if we grant that all philosophical positions are just opinions. Subject matter is a necessary criterion, but I will also argue below that it is not a sufficient criterion.

Granting the above, we have that some opinions are philosophical and some are not and what we need is a criterion to determine whether or not one is. I would argue that suggesting a criterion along the lines of "dealing with philosophical subject matter" is still not enough to make any opinion a philosophical position.

As per the example I gave in my comment, about asking a room full of mathematicians about whether they use graph paper or college ruled paper, even if each mathematician gave a five minute presentation about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of paper, that still is not a mathematical argument about a mathematical subject, or in other words, it's not mathematicians doing mathematics. So, likewise, I do not agree that asking a room full of philosophers (not that that's what this site is) whether or not they find a concept useful is a philosophical question or that their opinions on it are philosophical positions on a philosophical subject. It is not just the subject matter that turns any opinion into a philosophical position.

So all of this being said, even if I were to grant you that all philosophical positions are just opinions, not all opinions are philosophical positions, and the question which you were asking is one whose answers do not qualify as philosophical positions, they're just regular opinions. Honestly, if you disagree with my argument I would be open to a rebuttal, I would specifically want to know what sort of criterion you could propose that would separate "where should we eat" type opinions as well as "what type of paper do you use" opinions from "do you find this concept useful" opinions. It seems to me like your question is just a unary version of the binary what-type-paper question, as in your question wouldn't substantially change if you were to ask "which concept do you find more useful, x or y?", the only thing that would change is the arity of the judgement being made on the subject matter.

Whatever anyone thinks of my argument, an issue we can all agree on is that there is no objective way to answer the question you posted.

This site is designed for concrete, explicit questions and objective (or as close to objective as possible), factual answers. If you are asking the users of this site (the majority of which are not practicing philosophers) what their opinion is on whether or not a concept is useful, there is not any criterion that will make one answer better, or more objective, than the others. As I had said in the comments, they're all equally objective, because they're all answering the question "do you find this useful?". That means there is no criterion for selecting a correct answer and furthermore there is no future utility available for someone coming to the site looking for an answer to this or a related question. Any sort of chosen-as-correct answer would be up to your personal opinions on which argument you liked best, not on the veracity of the answer which is what this site is supposed to be aiming for.

  • The statement "philosophy is opinion plus argument" does not imply that "any opinion plus argument is philosophy", because "all A are B" does not imply "all B are A". - Concerning "What is a philosophical question?" see the paper with exactly this title by L. Floridi onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/…. See the answer of @Henry Story at philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/57880/…
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 19, 2018 at 23:53
  • @JoWehler I am completely aware of your first statement, the entirety of the first part of my argument is showing that not to be the case. But I'm glad you're trying to explain what my argument is to me incorrectly. Your question falls outside the scope of what a philosophy question is, your defense was "all philosophy is just opinions anyway" which isn't true, but granting it is true, that doesn't mean all opinions about philosophy are philosophical positions. If you actually read what I wrote you'd understand you didn't 'gotcha' me, you literally restated what I argued.
    – Not_Here
    Dec 20, 2018 at 0:22

I strongly agree with Not_Here.

I don't think what you're suggesting works on several fronts.

Let's consider the proposal:

Are we prepared for some fresh air in the forum by admitting opinion-based questions but requiring that the answers are supported by sound arguments?

There's two initial issues that make this problematic:

  1. forum -- as Not_Here and others have pointed out, this is not a forum. It's a question and answer site. Thus, it's not designed for broad-based discussion around a topic. It's designed to deal with questions that have answers and then to upvote correct answers that explain things well.

  2. sound arguments -- as you are well aware, a sound argument is one that has valid form and all true premises. But part of the reason why the SE for philosophy operates largely through the lens of understanding the arguments of philosophers from history (rather than evaluating novel arguments or reaching fundamental truths in metaphysics or the like) is that philosophers can and do disagree about the truth of different premises in arguments.

What we generally do agree on is the arguments in outline that philosophers have raised historically. That's why we can functionalize the SE model for these sorts of questions.

To generalize, an SE is a set of questions and answers that follow the following quasi-function: Q(x) = {A} where Q is a question, x is the variable content of the question and A is the set of objective ways to accomplish an answer to Q that are objective and upvotable.

This is accomplished differently in different SEs. In the core SEs, someone asks "how do I make the window background blue" or "what can I do about an ever growing iddata1 file" ? In academia.SE, people ask about common things in academia. In math.SE, questions about math. In chemistry.SE, questions about chemistry. In language SEs, language-related questions.

But each SE has rules to keep the questions with the scope of the SE and answerable. On Japanese.SE, for instance, questions about language learning whether resources or book recommendations or strategies are all off-topic. On academia.SE, questions about undergraduate life or undergraduate admissions or things that are generic work place questions or discipline-specific research standards are all off-topic.

The main thing philosophy.SE can do that fits this model is precisely the sort of questions you state bore you -- questions like what are some factors behind Nietzsche writing this way about Socrates? (questions about the thought of philosophers) or how do you solve X with natural deduction? (questions built on a largely shared model of how logic works).

Philosophy.SE != doing philosophy in the same way that many other SE are not identical to the name of their topic.


I think allowing opinion-based questions here would be a serious mistake, because it would allow the collective philosophical biases of the community free rein.

Although true objectivity is not possible here, having non-content-based standards around answerability makes it less likely that unpopular points of view will be downvoted or deleted based solely on the majority's own philosophical commitments.


It might be worthwhile to look at what the designers of these stack exchanges use to motivate behavior. Here is a link to the offered badges: https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/help/badges

Some of the badges depend on other people favoriting, viewing or up-voting a question. The ones over which the writer of questions has the most control have the following description: Ask a well-received question on X separate days, and maintain a positive question record. The X changes from 5 to 30 to 100 questions.

Based on that description these badges have three requirements:

  1. The question must have a net up-vote count of at least 1.
  2. There should only be one question per day.
  3. Do this for X number of questions.

Your question about essences could be expanded into 5 questions. Perhaps 30 questions. Perhaps even 100 questions. Having more questions rather than one general one would meet the third requirement about the quantity of questions.

Many questions, rather than one, also allows more people to become actively involved while indirectly thinking about your original question about essence. It gives more people opportunities to answer something or a chance to read something that is more pointedly relevant to what they are interested in.

So, by following how the designers are motivating users rather than asking one general, opinion-based question gives more people the opportunity to get involved and by following this flow you can earn badges and reputation.

  • 1
    Excellent answer. Rather than "no -- we can't talk about opinions or essences", you are advising him to recast his too-broad question into multiple bite-sized ones. Philosophy IS infomred optinion, but then the quesitson is narrower, the range of opinion that woud answer it is much more consistent with the site!
    – Dcleve
    Dec 22, 2018 at 4:50
  • @Dcleve Yes, exactly. It also helps the questioner to understand the topic better even if the questioner knows a lot about the topic already.. Dec 22, 2018 at 13:26

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