I've been informed that I've been laboring under a mistaken presumption about what people think they're doing here. I thought that it's a site for thinking about and discussing philosophy, but I've been informed that this is not the case. Here's what a longtime contributor told me "What I, or other users, think is for forums, not a Q&A site like SE".

This is not a very a very effective way for people to learn philosophy. It's a place where people can show off their supposed erudition by quoting or creating sterile (rather than progressive) dialogues. I've studied education; transmission and reception methods of "teaching" don't promote learning; they promote relatively incoherent teachings and some relatively more coherent ones, without any method whatsoever for determining degrees of coherency or encouraging people to actively consider what they've been told. It's a travesty of adult education and an insult to those who think deeply about things.

In my experience people learn philosophy by doing philosophy. Reading philosophy is a way to accumulate information, but doing philosophy is about justifying one's beliefs by thinking critically, and includes such practices as providing evidence and reasons for believing one thing rather than another, and comparing the applicability and the utility of various approaches (as I'm attempting to do here by stating my opinions; fortunately, I'm not asking anyone to assess my point of view on this!).

Is this person telling me that admitting and discussing our opinions is inappropriate in this in environment? Is that claim a correct one?



What that user told you is basically correct. This site is for Q&A about philosophy, and not for discussion.

The site is modeled on stackoverflow (and owned by the same company). There, users post specific technical questions about programming and get answers that fit their needs. You might analogously say that stackoverflow is not for learning programming because that requires doing programming (which from my experience is definitely right!), but that doesn't make stackoverflow useless. People have specific problems with their school/work/personal project, and they come there to solve them. Whether they learn anything by it is another question. But stackoverflow is very useful: it is a resource where you can look up questions that have already been answered and get a solution to your particular problem.

This site (and many others in the stackexchange network) is supposed to work in a similar fashion. People come here with specific questions and get specific answers. Whether they learn anything by it is another question. (I disagree that you don't learn here anything. I have learned quite a bit here myself, even that I don't usually ask questions, although it's usually from specific users who are really experts in their fields.) But over time it is supposed to grow into a similarly useful resource. Perhaps the idea is misguided because philosophy is very different from subjects such as programming, math, etc., but with sufficiently many knowledgeable users I think it can work.

You should still feel welcome to stay and share your knowledge and questions. You don't have to cite great dead philosophers in your questions and answers, but also keep in mind that they shouldn't invite discussion or state personal opinions. Questions on this site should be answerable and answers should be based on knowledge of the particular topic in question. If you're looking for discussion, I'm afraid this is not the place.

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    New users should be required to read this post, that would maybe reduce the amount of resentment. – Jishin Noben Apr 16 '19 at 10:41
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    @Eliran, "philosophy is very different from subjects such as programming, math, etc., but with sufficiently many knowledgeable users I think it can work."..Yes, learning is possible by exchanging information, but philosophy is a unique opportunity to understand thinking and knowing. It's not algorithmic, it's heuristic; it's not about information, it's about thinking and understanding. It's about examining how we think in addition to what we think. It's about things that nobody has the right answers about; it's not about bandying people's ideas as if they're necessarily correct... – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 11:50
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    ...Q and A doesn't cover that. It's 1950's style education. I edited my post to make my statement about learning less hyperbolic; I didn't mean to imply that no learning is possible here, only that it's not a very good idea to learn philosophy under such absurd restrictions. There are better ways to discuss and learn philosophy Imo – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 11:54
  • @Eliran, people can insist that we're right about what we do and how we do it. IMO it's better to learn to improve our ideas and our methods. We learn by appropriate methods; what you call "discussion" I call 'competition': Who knows more ideas and writes more clearly about them? That's not philosophy imo! It might be a travesty, but...who knows such things??? – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 12:07
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    @Rortian Of course there are better ways to discuss and learn philosophy; no one is claiming otherwise. But it looks like you haven't processed what I wrote. – Eliran Apr 16 '19 at 14:48
  • @Eliran, "it looks like you haven't processed what I wrote"...I have no idea what that means to you, or why you put it on me...Since you wrote that in a (somewhat) non-accusatory, way I can accept it, even though it's intended to signify something (whatever that might be) about me. I'm not clear that this is a useful contribution to me, though...do you think that I read it wrongly, or failed to read it? – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 18:55
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    @Rortian Your comments suggest to me that you did not fully understand my answer. You seem to be objecting to something, but to what, exactly? For instance, you say: "it's not a very good idea to learn philosophy under such absurd restrictions". OK, I agree. But I didn't claim that this place is for learning philosophy. Just as stackoverflow isn't for learning programming. This site is meant for answering very specific questions that people are having trouble with in their studies. Please understand first how the site is supposed to work and the analogy to stackoverflow. – Eliran Apr 16 '19 at 19:09
  • @Eliran! "You seem to be objecting to something, but to what, exactly?"...Hmmm. Interesting...that's exactly what my message to you meant! What a coincidence!. – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 20:02
  • @Eliran,"This site is meant for answering very specific questions that people are having trouble with in their studies." Yes, well, I've been so informed, and I've been objecting for a couple of days to the severe restrictions on the possible educational benefits which have been diminished/forbidden. You needn't be concerned with me or my perspectives; I hear your commitment to order (or whatever it might be that you're concerned about that's more important than using more effective methods). I infer that there's nothing for you hear from me that might be of benefit to you, including this. – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 20:06
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    @Eliran: Since I now had the time to consider all the posts and the agenda expressed by them, I will be more rigorous in my moderation. There is no sense in reiterating a point again and again that is simply ignored. Your answer, on the other hand, is exemplary. Thanks for taking your time and writing it. – Philip Klöcking Apr 24 '19 at 14:15
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    @Rortian then what you're fundamentally objecting to is the existence of a philosophy.SE. ... In order to keep existing within the SE framework, it must be as Eliran describes; it cannot achieve the other goals simultaneously. – virmaior Apr 25 '19 at 10:21
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    Let's assume the goals you have for philosophy are worth pursing, if so, then it'd be great if you made a site (forum? journal? blog? web 3.0?) on the internet that accomplished them. But this site cannot. – virmaior Apr 25 '19 at 10:22
  • @virmaior. "you're fundamentally objecting to is the existence of a philosophy SE" Nope. Not a bit. I support sincere attempts at producing educational events. I'm objecting to the idea that there's an applicable distinction between philosopher's opinions and objective knowledge. …"it cannot achieve the other goals simultaneously".....Yes, and that's the point I've been attempting to clarify. Thanks for echoing my meaning. – Rortian Apr 25 '19 at 11:44
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    I recognise that your intention today is to offer moral support to me and others, No, my point is to say that I think you're wrong and have misunderstood what an SE is and how it works. Regarding most of the rest of what you're writing, this feels roughly akin to calling the electricity company and arguing with them about the bill because electricity is a social construct. – virmaior Apr 25 '19 at 14:12
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    philosophy is all about opinions, isn't it? This is true only in the most trivial sense. Philosophy is about metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, pragmatism, asian philosophy ... and these interface with history, theology, psychology, and many other disciplines. – virmaior Apr 25 '19 at 14:14

In a comment to Eliran's answer, you write

"it's not a very good idea to learn philosophy under such absurd restrictions."

But these restrictions are on this site, not on on learning philosophy - there are other resources for learning philosophy! At no point is a user of this site restricting themselves to this site and nothing else. Yes, this site would provide a very poor philosophy education by itself - and math.stackexchange would provide a very poor mathematics education by itself, and etc. - but it's not supposed to be used that way in the first place. Rather, it's a specialized tool which could be part of the learning process, but certainly not the whole (or even the main part).

There's a fundamental tension between trying to do everything valuable and trying to do one valuable thing well. The stackexchange sites do the latter. And it's important to remember that a site focusing on one task need not assume that that task is maximally important, only that having a venue for focusing on it specifically is valuable. By disallowing certain things here, we're not saying that those things don't have value, merely that this particular site isn't the place for them.

  • Noah, I came here to find out who was interested in learning what. What I found was people telling me what they know about philosophers' opinions and what they thought about my style. I don't argue with folks who aren't listening for the purpose of learning, and I'm open for conversations with those who are committed to learning as much as they can. My chat room is called Higher Order Thinking. – Rortian Apr 28 '19 at 0:15
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    @Rortian And once again you demonstrate how misplaced your stance is. HOT is old news. How old it is can be realised by considering that several administrations around the world have already implemented it into their educational systems. You may have taken decades to reach that point, but it is nothing that special to have one's HOTs developed and understanding of oneself and critical philosophical positions reached in one's twenties, ready to keep learning things you do not teach. Indeed, it is not necessary but helpful for an academic career in philosophy. – Philip Klöcking Apr 28 '19 at 7:16

Thinking is allowed here, but the format is a question and answer site, not a discussion forum. Posts should be brief and clear and an exercise in rhetorical persuasion. You want to convince people that your question is worth spending time on and your answer is reasonably correct.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

When I write an answer I am only indirectly expressing my opinion. I express my opinion only in the way I present the references that I chose to use to answer the question. The references in turn support my answer and offer interested readers places to go for more information, places I have selected. These references point to other people, not me.

To address the question: Is discussing our opinions inappropriate in this in environment?

Opinions should be inappropriate here. However, people do give their opinions. As a reader what I am interested in are not those opinions but the references writers bring with their questions and answers. When I am interested I look up those references. There is no way I can look up their opinions for further information.

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    "* convince people*"?? No, thanks, Frank. To me this is a terrible idea. IMO Philosophy shouldn't be about persuasion or conviction! Not in the slightest...it should be about thinking and understanding. Philosophy isn't about remembering the right information, it's not about knowing the correct answers, it's about how we manage to understand things very well or less well. If we understand that then we can put information to better use than if we believe we know the right truths (btw - imo we don't!) – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 12:00
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    @Rortian I am not referring to convincing people that a philosophical position is correct. I agree with you that we don't know these answers and doing philosophy is about understanding. Rather I am thinking of this in terms of how these Q&A sites operate. It is a pragmatic concern. One has to convince whomever happens to read our questions or answers that they are worth spending time on or they are reasonably correct so someone (and it could be almost anyone) doesn't flag them as "not an answer" or "very low quality" or "close" the question. – Frank Hubeny Apr 16 '19 at 14:13
  • perhaps you can take into account the preconceived biases of the people to whom you're referring because you've learned what they like. I don't know them, and I've inquired (in a highly opiniated way, without insisting that my experience is relevant to their perspectives), whether their guidelines are suitable for learning philosophy with an appropriate (whatever that is, I have rather high standards on this) degree of effectiveness. I can only trust that those folks are assigning as high a priority to learning as to keeping order, but I'm still investigating their views on that. – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 14:49
  • Fortunately they allow chat rooms (like the Higher Order Thinking place I'm creating), and I'm presuming we can discuss our subjective beliefs and justifications without being bound by absurd restrictions on describing one's perspective. We could learn better from each other that way. We only know what we know subjectively, and IMO it's important to relate that to more authoritative opinions. – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 14:58
  • @Rortian I tried to answer one of your questions to illustrate what I was talking about. philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/61869/29944 – Frank Hubeny Apr 16 '19 at 15:56
  • Yes, thanks, Frank, I responded, but the @FrankHubeny tag doesn't seem to find you and gets dropped after I key it...dunno why...it seemed to survive this post, though(?). – Rortian Apr 16 '19 at 16:29
  • @Rortian When you responded to my answer I was given an alert. You would not need an explicit mention to notify me because I started that answer post. It may have survived here because it was not the first part of the comment, but I am not sure why. If you want to notify others than the author of a post you would have to mention them explicitly or they won't get a notice. – Frank Hubeny Apr 16 '19 at 16:49
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    @Rortian For someone who doesn't like persuasion you're doing a lot of it, at least implicitly. Your whole perspective of philosophy and all you're doing here in Meta is an exercise in persuasion. You say you can only know things subjectively, but that is highly contentious and disputed by many. – curiousdannii Apr 16 '19 at 23:41
  • @curiousdanni, yiur shot is poorly aimed. I said not a word about "persuasion"; I said that I have no interest in "! I'm not convinced that my ideas are the best ones available (let alone true), so why would I want anyone else to be convinved? Persuasion is a distinctly different context for progressive dialogue wherein people enhance our understandings (that is, learn) if we're committed to learning, Persuasion is about reasoning, critical analysis, evidence and justification. There's no truth or "conviction" in the sense of insisting on anything! I repeat myself when people... – Rortian Apr 17 '19 at 2:26
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    ...don't get it, but I hate doing that. Persuasion is what many people tend to do, and I don't see anything wrong with it per se; to the contrary, we've all persuaded others and been persuaded to mutual benefit. Of course there are relatively bad ways to persuade people... Anyway, most people are already naively convinced that they're beliefs are true, and they're not going to listen to reason, are they? I've simply been working to distinguish the truthseekers here (maybe a couple), the truthtellers (many, I suspect), and the wiser folks (some, fortunately). – Rortian Apr 17 '19 at 2:32
  • I left out some words in my first comment box "I have no interest in convincing people" is what I originally stated. – Rortian Apr 17 '19 at 2:35
  • Anyway, I'm tired, taking a break. I'll discuss the intersection of philosophy, psychology and education with anyone who wants to enhance our understandings of philosophical perspectives which have been developed in the last century and a half in my chat space. The older stuff is practically incoherent and practically inapplicable to the processes involved in critical thinking – Rortian Apr 17 '19 at 2:38
  • @Rortian Are you saying that no philosophers before a century and a half ago were critical thinkers? – curiousdannii Apr 17 '19 at 2:50
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    @Rortian I'd suggest you not confuse the terms "critical thinking" and "critical theory". I can't see that they have an awful lot in common. – curiousdannii Apr 19 '19 at 10:42
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    @Rotian It seemed to me that you did a bait and switch, saying "The older stuff is practically incoherent and practically inapplicable to the processes involved in critical thinking", which is nonsense, unless you are deliberately evoking critical theory when you say critical thinking. Not that that would make it any less nonsense, just a failed attempt at wordplay. – curiousdannii Apr 19 '19 at 21:57

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