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Perhaps it's my imagination, but it seems like there has been a sharp uptick in the number of deleted questions and answers, lately, and that both are being deleted when they could better be edited, commented on, downvoted, or all three. In addition, the deletions are frequently by moderator fiat given our lack of bylaws, which is different and subject to fewer limitations than the process of being deleted by the community.

In my opinion, and my experience, as a long term, high-rep member of this StackExchange, this is not correct SE behavior. Deletion should be reserved for answers that are abusive, spam, posted in bad faith, or entirely unrelated to the question. Downvoting --in contrast to this meta answer --is the correct process for low-quality answers, ideally with a comment explaining what is wrong and suggesting improvements. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to edit the post yourself and leave a comment explaining your edits.

Are these standards for deletion correct? If not, what should be our current standards as of January 2019?

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On deletion of answers

There are clear guidelines regarding deletion of answers in the help center that go well beyond "abusive, spam, posted in bad faith, or entirely unrelated to the question", see the page for Why and how are some answers deleted?:

Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are:

  • commentary on the question or other answers
  • asking another, different question
  • “thanks!” or “me too!” responses
  • exact duplicates of other answers
  • barely more than a link to an external site
  • not even a partial answer to the actual question

This, to me, includes answers to questions that have a clear context in determinate literature and consist of mere argumentation or musings. While answers that only reflect personal musings are to be deleted in general since they are virtually never able to "fundamentally answer a question", argumentations may be fine in some cases as long as there is no specific context given in the question and the argumentation reflects an appropriate knowledge background.

Personally, I would still prefer sourced answers, but a lack of reference can hardly justify deletion if the above criteria are not relevant.

On the deletion of questions

Here, there are likewise clear standards that are much less strict and almost meet the description given in the OP:

Questions that are extremely off topic, or of very low quality, may be removed at the discretion of the community and moderators.

Over time, closed questions that are not useful as signpoints to other questions may also be removed, as well as questions which have no significant activity over a very long period after being asked. If you want to improve a question to keep it from being deleted, click the edit button beneath it. See How to Ask for more tips on improving questions.

Here, at least as far as I am aware of, the second case, i.e. deletion by the community-bot, is much more frequent than actual moderator deletion (as opposed to putting on hold).

Why the uptick?

I guess this is due to a simple fact: We get more flags pointing out problematic posts. This, coupled with the fact that active highrep users that used to handle revision queues are now actually moderators results in very few posts handled by the community by itself. This results indeed in comparatively more posts deleted or closed by moderator votes.

I, personally, would prefer a vivid community of highrep users enacting the StackExchange model as far as their privileges go, but unfortunately, the activity and structure of our community just do not allow for this at the moment.

On downvoting

I agree that as far as escalation is concerned, downvoting surely is the first step, ideally with a comment explaining what is lacking. In bigger and/or more rigorous communities, you can see how this works perfectly. This is just not the case for Philosophy.SE at the moment.

As a moderator, I do distinguish here between posts by new users and posts by the ones that are about for long enough so that they should understand how the site works: The former are given a downvote, a comment and ~24h to make improvements before deletion (if mendable - e.g. comments in answers are deleted directly with a comment as of why). The latter are deleted on the spot.

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Since down-voting costs a reputation point I prefer flagging questions and answers or voting to close questions. This action sends the post to a review queue or to a moderator. I have no preference who resolves the issue.

Regarding standards, answers that do not support opinions with references, in my view, should be deleted or converted to comments. One can be more tolerant of questions, but even questions need context (read, references) to justify paying attention to the question.

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The answer to your question is a firm yes. While I recognize the impulse to delete is related to an effort to maintain a certain level of quality in our knowledge base, it has become obvious that there's apathy in maintaining quality by means other than speedy deletion. In fact, it is my observation over the last year, many excellent questions are rapidly removed because they are slightly not entirely well-formed or that the voters simply lack the subject-matter expertise they imagine themselves to have.

The first obvious example of the latter is tackled in this post: Friends, how could a question about an idea with its own article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy be closed as off-topic? Clearly, dispositions are a topic to be addressed here. In particular, the original question addressed the intersectionality of philosophy of mind and philosophy of law in the practical use of expert testimony as considered in such works as the US Federal Rules of Evidence which every lawyer in the US studies prior to seeking admission in their state bar. The notion of disposition is critical in judicial proceedings when used by forensic psychology. My goal is not to embarrass those who made the mistake of reopening it, but rather to establish the clear fact that this site has a struggle with maintaining or elevating quality. The results of that discussion matched my observation, that closure is largely expediency without penalty and it is applied willy-nilly. (In the manner Socrates used the term.)

The second evidence of this lack of effort is placed in retaining a good question that is better retained by our knowledge base. We are not here exclusively to tickle our trivia bones, but on behalf of the Stack Exchange corporation, to build a quality knowledge base of Q&A. That means we should be striving to retain every decent question that can be modified a bit to serve as a means of drawing in users from search engines. Every time someone types into Ecosia "What is philosophy?", we should come up first, or second after Wikipedia to be realistic. Each and every time we kill a good question phrased well, we are failing our obligation to our corporate partner. I'm no philosophy SME, but I can tell the difference between a good philosophy question and a bad one, though sometimes it takes some edits to get it right.

Lastly, let's consider more evidence related to to this question I posed: What can we learn from a practical exercise of simple questions and closure? When I asked Which discipline of philosophy is most interested and relevant to studying the nature of change? on the non-Meta side, there was no lack of subject-matter expertise; there were no answers other than the one I posted, and two votes for closure, which I did my best to edit to prevent closure. And a question like:

Which discipline of philosophy is most interested and relevant to studying the nature of change?

This is the exact sort of question our knowledge base should be full of to draw more traffic, but time and time again, questions like 'What's the difference between naive and formal set theory'? Come up and are quickly in danger of being deleted because either a lack of editorial consistency and user's insistence on defending poorly-formed questions. For instance, a good potential contribution to the knowledge base was here: Is everything in the Naive Set Theory included in the Axiomatic Set Theory? After a couple of closure votes, I attempted an edit to improve both the title and the body and answer it to the best of my ability, however, the user rolled it back. Should we close it? No. We should have a process in place for using editorial discrimination to ensure it matches the quality we want over the objection of the user after some period of time. The T&Cs at this site are very clear regarding the ability to edit.

Now my point here isn't to insult or prove we're not perfect, but rather point out that the origin of excessive closure is clearly tied to a more important issue related to governance: the cooperative use and conflict resolution regarding policies and mechanisms of our platform. And until those are addressed, I can understand why so many frustrated contributors of both questions and answers will choose to believe that the status quo is acceptable and unavoidable. It is this lack of structure that ultimately discourages participation and prevents kaizen.

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