If this site is intended for discussion of philosophy, then perhaps it would be appropriate to strive for academic answers to questions, even when the questions are not academic themselves. However, as an autodidact whose understanding of philosophy comes from reading and thinking, with a lack of academic discussion on the concepts, but with much informal discussion on the concepts with other readers and thinkers, I would personally find a requirement for academic answers crippling, even in the case where it's decided that this site is only for discussion and not doing. Quoting of texts is great, and links for clarification on the academic definition of concepts is fine, but I would hope that sometimes an informal, conversational, answer by a non-academic can hit the nail right on the head for some users.

Further, is it not an unfair constraint to the general doing of philosophy by our users, who may not be academics, to demand that answers to questions be stated in the context of academia's perspective on the pre-existing philosophical corpus? Certainly, many philosophers of the past—while not operating completely in a void, insofar as their society was likely influenced by past philosophers—did not have printed materials nor anything resembling academia to reference or educate when constructing their arguments. And yet, while they may have covered a lot of the same ground, we respect some of the different conclusions they've come to.

Note: I am using the vocabulary of the question of whether this site is for doing philosophy or discussing philosophy in this one, as the answers to this question may also imply answers to that one. Also, I am using the terms academic and academia in reference to the current state of higher education; i.e., the modern university system.

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    I completely agree, and would also extend it to expecting questions to be rooted in the academic study of philosophy (which is akin to reading a Ba in history) is unrealistic.
    – Chris S
    Jun 8, 2011 at 10:20

1 Answer 1


A well articulated answer is critical. An articulated answer that demonstrates awareness of the literature is even more useful, as it helps people learn from the sources of the discipline.

On the nature of the site: my mod over at RPG.SE says: "The core use case of a stack exchange is people asking real questions they need answered, and other experts helping them with their question. Anything else gets short shrift from me..." (Says @mxyzplk)

In order to usefully answer a question, it need not be situated in the academic literature, but must be articualted, demonstrate an awareness of the problem and problem space, and some considerations of why and how the answer was arrived at. While it's certainly possible for an amateur to derive such an understanding (and some of the best novel understandings come from that direction) a lack of domain expertise or an awareness of the common problems encountered by that type of answer to that type of problems simply isn't useful.

This site is neither for doing nor for discussing philosophy: it is for answering philosophical problems by experts. If there is literature on the topic, fantastic. If there isn't, we can still take a stab. However, I'm not interested in reading an answer that assumes on the basis of a few minutes of thought that they've achieved some sort of genuine enlightenment. I demand domain awareness (if not mastery nor expertise) and having someone answer without that awareness is an insulting waste of time.

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    +1 for "domain awareness". While I might personally prefer a more academic-style site, I recognize that such might not be conducive to everyone's interests and thus not be in the best interests of the site at large. But I am categorically not willing to support pure "armchair philosophy". Jun 8, 2011 at 11:32
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    I would like some clarification on the meaning of the term expert as used in this statement: "[This site] is for answering philosophical problems by experts". Perhaps this is worth its own meta question, but I'll avoid that for now. If an expert is, as I discussed with someone in the chat, and as you seem to imply by "domain awareness", simply someone well-read and persuasive, then it's tricky. Should five unpersuaded people be able to close questions that they deem to be unsupportive of persuasive answers? My main concern is that we don't have many questions yet, and too many are closed. Jun 8, 2011 at 11:46
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    reviewing all of the closed questions, all of them demonstrate significant lacks of domain awareness. We want to close bad questions, or we'll be stuck with them forever. Now's not the time for bad questions, now is the time for really good questions that shape the site's direction. Jun 8, 2011 at 11:53
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    @Brian Could you address my question about the term expert, and/or the term domain awareness? If you are willing to accept, at least for the purpose of this discussion, that an expert is defined as someone persuasive, then how exactly should we handle the subjectivity of persuasion? Jun 8, 2011 at 12:21
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    I disagree with your definition :) An expert is someone who can communicate their domain knowledge. There's nothing subjective about that. Jun 8, 2011 at 12:22
  • @Brian Epistemological nightmares await us. Jun 8, 2011 at 12:39
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    Ayup. This is a site for philosophers. What were you expecting? There's no beer. Jun 8, 2011 at 12:40

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