I found this, which doesn't apply to learning philosophy imo

"Stack Exchange is about questions with objective, factual answers"

It's objective and (sometimes) factual to quote people. It's just not conducive to learning philosophy. Philosophy has never worked like that; it's about going beyond facts to meanings and assessing coherency.

It's about better or worse meanings, not better or worse discourses. Meanings are of two types: they're either defined objectively or they're subjective interpretations; both types are necessarily relevant to thinking, learning, coherency and practical wisdom. You can't do philosophy very well without considering both what's been said and what we think about what's been said.

Has anybody who discusses the guidelines taken this into account?

2 Answers 2


Just as we are not here to do philosophy, StackExchange, in general, and Philosophy.SE, in particular, is not a good place to learn a subject.

StackExchange has a very concisely defined purpose: Developing a database that gives objectively "correct" answers to a given question in a given subject. Correct should here be understood as appropriate according to the pragmatic need expressed in a question.

As of learning philosophy, this is a bit ambiguous. What should this mean? Learning to discuss philosophical questions? Learning how to read a philosophical text? Learning how to write a publishable paper? None of this can be provided simply by reading texts.

And how can the question "How can I learn philosophy?" have an answer that is not incorrect either because it is overly general or overly omissive?

Nevertheless, there are quite a few questions on this site that are about learning philosophy in a sense: Questions about introductory texts to philosophy in general or particular topics, questions about texts crucial to read for a broad overview, and many more.

To explicate the point made above: Philosophy, more than many other subjects, is a subject that lives through discourse, both "living" - in seminars, lectures, and conferences - and "dead" - in books and papers. Learning philosophy involves learning proper argumentation, identifying fallacious arguments, discussing the rules of a discourse, and - first and foremost - learning about all the arguments, objections to these arguments, and counter-arguments against these objections that have already been given on a given topic.

Why? Because humility based on the insight that almost any topic has been discussed with better arguments by much more knowledgeable people and in most cases long ago is one of the most fundamental things to learn when learning philosophy. Academic philosophy does not cite philosophers that are long dead because it looks good and is expected, but because pretending that nobody before me had this (more or less) ingenious idea is an expression of ignorance in like 99.99999999999% of the cases.

So, does Philosophy.SE miss something important for learning philosophy? Maybe, but it is also not its purpose to teach the topic. On the other hand, if one is willing to learn, what one needs the most are other persons helping to understand texts that are already there. And it is perfectly fine to ask questions about how to understand certain passages or arguments here.

  • Thanks, @PhilipKlocking. I get it. There's nothing immoral or mistaken about asking and answering questions. It's mistaken (IMO) to claim that we that we can set restrictions (reasonable or arbitrary, whichever) and then insist that these are the correct restrictions. As an educationist, my commitment is to seek and exploit opportunities for learning as effectively as we can, so that's the possibility which I'm discussing. Of course it's impossible if the people in charge are insisting that it's impossible!
    – Rortian
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 20:33
  • Also, @PhilipKlocking "On the other hand, if one is willing to learn, what one needs the most are other persons helping to understand texts that are already there. And it is perfectly fine to ask questions about how to understand certain passages or arguments here." That seems to me to be very close to what I've been promoting, which has been met with such vociferous disfavor! It's impracticable to discuss philosophy while ignoring the relevance of subjective interpretations as well as objective definitions. The guidelines (according to my perspective) are blatantly counterproductive.
    – Rortian
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 20:38
  • 2
    @Rortian: The people in charge are ultimately the people that developed the model of StackExchange. Also, I do not see any advantage to divert from their model on Philosophy.SE since everything you can say as an opinion, you can also say by citing a philosopher. This holds true for virtually every conceivable position, especially in the contexts you have so far asked and answered in. What is met with disfavour is questioning and objecting to every position that is not your own.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 20:54
  • 1
    @Rortian: To add to my last point: I often had the feeling that you answered to comments a) with a lot of comments and b) without even grasping or reacting to what was actually said in the comment. Instead, you seem to love to object. More constructive approaches may result in better learning as well as better impressions on all sides.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 20:56
  • "you seem to love to object".. is this an "objection"? is it antagonistic? Is it justified, or justifiable in this context? Do you have an objective definition (which you haven't shared) about what constitutes 'objecting'? How do you know what I "grasp"? This is the second shot fired at me today...I do object to being the target of unjust criticism...gee...I should be honored, I suppose.
    – Rortian
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 21:24
  • btw I've agreed quite well with some people see confirmation bias
    – Rortian
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 21:32

It's just how the site works, and it's not changing.

Just asked a question on history stackexchange, about how something happened, and all the answers are opinion based. However much history these people know, I'd prefer an interpretation that was thought out by the study of a historian, and then, perhaps, a personal opinion on it.

Philosophy may be slightly more argumentative than history, so that we need to engage with it like a philosopher in order to understand (and so repeat it without rote learning), but I don't see much difference between new philosophy and new science.

So in answer to your question: maybe. Maybe not. It doesn't really matter.

Incidentally, I might well think you're overplaying the relevance of 'coherence'. The most coherent interpretation is probably the best, but it's not like (IMHO) coherency is an unusual or sufficient virtue, either for understanding (else a rote transcription would suffice) or knowledge (else we can stop bothering about skepticism).

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