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The policy regarding on-topic

There are some recent questions on meta that ask for the actual policy on subjective or not perfectly formed questions and answers. Obviously, this is still a bit obscure for users (and moderators), which definitely is not a good thing since it solicits discussions and grudges between users.

I think one way to handle this is being more specific in the help center, since this is the reference point commonly referred to.

The page I have in mind in particular is this one, where it is specified what is on-topic and what is not.

I deem this page to be too unspecific and fuzzy.

On one hand, this is good as it does not exclude possibly valuable content. On the other hand, it allows for too much as it stands IMHO and is one of the reasons we have some grudges and much work for moderators here in comparison to activity and traffic.

Even worse, it stands at odds with other pages like the one about deletion of answers that imply much stricter rules especially regarding opinion and subjectivity.

Therefore, I would like to start a discussion. Answers can suggest any and every change thinkable in the text. The comments are explicitly allowing for discussions here (as opposed to the main site) and I would like to see many suggestions and honest votes.

How this should work

First of all, of course this in and of itself may be discussed in the comment section as well and is not set in stone.

My personal idea is that any answer with 6+ overall score will be enacted via edit. Therefore, please do only suggest one particular line/formulation to edit per answer. It will be better to discuss and vote very specific edits since this is a sensitive issue and one of the most important pages of the help center for reference and new users. This also means that if you really dislike a suggestion, I beg to downvote and discuss in comments.

In the end, this is about producing a current status of views and arguments about how the site is supposed to work like according to the community members, i.e. you. Therefore, there is nothing inherently wrong, but in the end, it may very well be that your suggestion is put down by the community.

So have your say and participate!

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Suggestions for language and content improvements welcome (please comment)

Text on the site:

It's OK to have opinions (even those that might differ from the "mainstream"), but you need to express them in a constructive way.

Suggestion:

It's OK to have opinions (even those that might differ from the "mainstream"), but you need to support them with arguments that consider different views as well.

  • By "different views" do you mean "opposite to that person's opinion"? Also, getting rid of the premise "express them in a constructive way" is going to unleash more of unwarranted hostility from certain user(s). – Iñaki Viggers Jan 12 at 13:14
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    @IñakiViggers: Well my idea behind the formulation is that if you have to consider arguments for and against positions different from your own, this kind of automatically results in constructive posts if taken seriously but also helps with objectivity. In the end, unconstructive and hostile answers and comments are usually linked to there being a person that does not even seriously consider alternative positions, i.e. whose post is one-sided in one way or another. Also, it is hard to imagine any problem, view, or opinion in philosophy where there literally are only two options, i.e. opposites. – Philip Klöcking Jan 12 at 13:48
  • @IñakiViggers to me, this suggestion is about contextualizing an answer to a broader perspective. (This is a real example that's somewhere on the site) Say someone asks something about the philosophy of mathematics and someone writes an answer, and this person is an intuitionist and they write their answer completely from that perspective, presupposing that intuitionism is correct and that anyone who disagrees with intuitionism is a moron. It's exactly like Philip says, they aren't considering any option other than their own because they're already convinced they're correct. (1/3) – Not_Here Jan 12 at 18:23
  • @IñakiViggers This is bad because it gives the person asking the question a skewed view of the situation. If the person asking the question is completely unfamiliar with the subject, they might take that answer and think its gospel without getting any sort of contextualization of "well, intuitionism is one view and it thinks this and rejects this, but here are other views and they think this and reject this", it just misses out on the entire context of the background of the question in, I believe, a critical way. It's one thing to write a paper and another to answer a question here. (2/3) – Not_Here Jan 12 at 18:25
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    Maybe I'm reading too much into the suggestion, but that's why I support this change. I think it's about trying to get answers to be more objective through contextualization which gives the person asking the question a much better ability to understand the situation moving forward. You can be an intuitionist all you want and you can argue in your answer from that perspective (hopefully with quotes and references) but you can't take an obstinate attitude of "it's because this view is right and I don't need to explain why it's right or any other views because they're all obviously incorrect". – Not_Here Jan 12 at 18:27
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    @Not_Here: This is actually exactly the thought behind the suggestion: By having to consider views different from your opinion, content automatically becomes less opinionated and more constructive as well as valuable for this site up to the point where the post is not opinionated - and thus off-topic and soliciting grudges - at all. It is hard to attack a post that argues from different sides. – Philip Klöcking Jan 12 at 19:14
  • @Not_Here Thanks for explaining (and Philip for confirming). That makes sense. It's just that sometimes contextualization (which in some cases sounds to me as equivalent to self-identification) will needlessly lengthen an answer, whereas other times it is going to be unclear what type or extent of contextualization will really help. I think the comments to an answer are still the best indicator of what one needs to contextualize (and thus clarify/qualify one's answer). – Iñaki Viggers Jan 12 at 20:05
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    @IñakiViggers: To be fair, if a good answer (i.e. with contextualisation at least shortly considering the main/all views) makes for too long an answer, the question is too broad. – Philip Klöcking Jan 12 at 20:28
  • @IñakiViggers I agree that if we take a broad view of contextualization, then it would probably result in too long answers. However, the edit suggestion doesn't use the word 'contextualize' or any of its cognates. I am saying that the reasoning behind asking to consider other points of views in an answer is to give a better contextualization of the answer to the person asking the question who might be ignorant of the context of their question within the broader scope of philosophy. It's not a requirement to give a complete, detailed analysis of the context, just to provide at least a modicum. – Not_Here Jan 13 at 0:03
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    If someone asked a question such as "what really are numbers?" and you had an answer that was from a nominalist, and their entire answer is phrased as "Well, numbers aren't real, mathematical statements aren't statements about any real domain. Here's a quote from Field about how we can still make sense of science:" and that could be fine, but when stated so definitively without any mention of alternative views, it gives a skewed perspective to the questioner. It wouldn't require a treatise on the history of phil. of math to expand that answer and explain where that view fits among others. – Not_Here Jan 13 at 0:10
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Text on site

Both academic (e.g., "How does Nietzsche define and characterize 'freedom' throughout his works?") and informal (e.g., "Could 'cogito ergo sum' possibly be false?") questions are welcome, but please keep in mind that some questions are too informal and well-trodden to be a good fit for this site (e.g., "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" and "What is good and what is evil?").

Suggestion

Both academic (e.g., "How does Nietzsche define and characterize 'freedom' throughout his works?") and informal (e.g., "Could 'cogito ergo sum' possibly be false?") questions are welcome. But you should only ask a question for which you expect there to be a definite answer. In particular, a question must be formulated in such a way that it allows for a definite answer.

Reasoning

I feel that there are many posts on the site, which attract opiniated answers and unnecessary discussions in the comment section. As an example I voted to close the question Is anything real? for this reason. A good reformulation of such a question would be, for example "Is there a philosophical position that denies the reality of a material world?" or "What arguments have philosophers put forward to to disprove the existence of a material world?".

Suggestions for language and content improvements welcome (please comment).

  • A similar comment should appear on How to ask a good question. A link from the on-topic site to there would be also good. – Jishin Noben Jan 22 at 13:22
  • I don't see how this suggested edit improves what is written or says anything functionally different in terms of strict adherence to the rule. In fact, I think it's entirely weaker and not a good suggestion. For example, "What is the sound of one hand clapping" does have a definite answer: "We define clapping as the act of two surfaces coming into contact and producing a sharp sound. One hand cannot perform such an action alone, so the question is a category mistake." Your edit allows these types of questions. The reason we excluded them is not because they don't have definitive answers. – Not_Here Jan 22 at 20:22
  • The hand-clapping question is already excluded by not being philosophical at all. It doesn't fit any of the categories epistemology, ethics, ... – Jishin Noben Jan 22 at 20:36
  • No, it is a metaphysical question with a definitive answer. And at any rate, you're addressing my example, not my point. This is not a good suggestion. – Not_Here Jan 22 at 20:50
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    Let me try that again. The intent of the original sentence is to sort out a certain type of questions, which may be on topic but are not a "good fit for the site". The replacement does so similarly with the advantage that "having a definite answer" is easier to understand than "too informal and well-trodden". The handclapping question is not metaphysical, it is just meaningless. Even if you insist that it is, "Your question has a category mistake" is not an answer to the question, it just points out that the question is flawed. – Jishin Noben Jan 22 at 21:13
  • I think @Not_Here's point is that questions should also be related to philosophy, and not only definite. So there's another requirement that should be added. To be fair though, the original text doesn't specify such a requirement either. The one hand question is given as an example of an "informal and well-trodden" question, not a non-philosophical one. I think the suggestion is good, but perhaps something should be added that disallows non-philosophical questions. Or maybe it's too obvious to be explicitly stated? I don't know. – Eliran Jan 22 at 21:15
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    The subject matter of a question is defined in the paragraph above this one. – Jishin Noben Jan 22 at 21:18
  • You're right. I had in mind the paragraph you quoted but forgot there's more. – Eliran Jan 22 at 21:20
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    Perhaps it would be good to say "definite answer of reasonable length (e.g., "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" does not have a definite answer and "What is good and what is evil?" would require a book for a more or less definite and exhaustive answer)." That way, the examples are not lost - one point of these paragraphs is to illustrate by examples - and they are linked to the formulation of the suggestion - which I am sympathetic with. – Philip Klöcking Jan 24 at 7:23

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