I wanted to try to make something of a positive statement about our definition and scope, since admittedly it can be somewhat difficult to get your arms around. It was certainly difficult enough for the earliest involved to wrap their heads around the proper delimitation of scope for a "Philosophy" Q&A community. It took several weeks of discussion and several more months of trial-and-error before something like well-established borderlines were drawn. Through these adaptations, our community's definition, as you can imagine, had mutated somewhat from the original proposal. The biggest lesson from that time that I took away was the following:

We are here to learn -- not to vent, bully or distract. We have a shared ethos with Wikipedia for a reason. It's really important that content is formulated from a neutral point of view. This dramatically increases the quality of contributions, but also speaks to the basic foundations of our community -- that we're here for education, not here to impose our views on others.

None of this is to say that debate and discussion aren't encouraged -- but they need to express themselves through the Q&A process, and find clear, contextualized, neutral ways to express problems. The chat and meta spaces exist to support this process: to help develop ideas and understanding so that more effective and interesting questions can be posed and answered.

It might be helpful to keep in mind the context. We are not a community of philosophers, or an academic enclave. We are a group of students and teachers of philosophy collaborating with an American corporation (StackExchange); and while part of their corporate vision involves providing open and free educational resources, another part of it is profit. StackExchange bootstraps and maintains the system, and their rules are the rules. While they grant us a liberal degree of operational autonomy, there are boundaries.

The most productive way to think this to me is that, for better or for worse, we are SE's "philosophy" working group. The best and most constructive use I think we could make of the resources provided would be to use them to organize a generative and effective machine. To a large degree this has been done by the community itself with little overt guidance.

So what's the scope of the site? We've touched on it here already; and the scope of the site has been put forward here on meta in a few different places already -- this isn't anything new, but just what I hope might be an easy way to think about it.

Our goal is not to create new concepts, to "play philosophers"; our goal within the context of the main page is to behave like responsible students and teachers of philosophy. Which just means: asking questions that arise during the study of philosophy; answering with an appropriate degree of clarity, depth and rigor that hopefully spark interest in the discipline.

Our scope is involved with the context and motivation of a concern -- and perhaps the most trivial way to demonstrate theoretical context is to connect the question to a text or thinker, serving to indicate at least a minimum of topical research and reflection. (This can of course be done without recourse to another thinker or text, but will naturally need more explanation of the motivations of the concern to demonstrate topicality.)

In the style of the FAQ: you should only ask questions that are practical, answerable ones that you run into while studying philosophy. Answers should address the question directly, with rigor and depth. Both should be framed in clear and neutral language.

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    (Partially inspired by an old post of Caleb's over on meta.christianity. Note that no part of the above is intended to chastise any particular instance of user behavior; it's really just to have an official record of "my take" on the topicality line, and hopefully to provide something of a guide to the motivations behind why the line is where it is today.)
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 17:31
  • Given that you can run into practical answerable problems that are nonetheless of grave social and emotional content--let's say the political philosophy expoused in Mein Kampf, for example--do you envision language that is nonetheless strictly value neutral even in the face of something that seems anything but?
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 17:27
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    @RexKerr it's a good point. There are definitely bounds of reason here. To be very clear: the idea is not "no boundaries, it's all context!" One way of expressing the idea is that our scope involves a heuristic rather than an axiom. Given the nature of the discipline, context and motivation are part of how we have to judge whether or not the question is topical.
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 1:13
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    Just in passing, the goal behind 'neutrality' is not necessarily value-neutral language; rather it would be fair, proportionate, unbiased language. The key thing for me would really be presenting viewpoints in an appropriately contextualized way. (Wikipedia's guidelines on controversial subjects is interesting here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…)
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 1:19
  • Coming from the field of humanities education, I have to ask: is the Socratic method included under "direct" answers to questions? Pedagogically, leading a questioner to a reasoned conclusion avoids losing information in translation between the individual and historic sources. Or are dialectics beyond what we should attempt to demonstrate? Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 2:23
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    @SAHornickel I suppose "direct" might not have been the best word choice here. I certainly wouldn't want to discourage Socratic-style probing of questions.
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 21:58
  • Philosophy is strange in that Philosophy is often cited as being "subjective." Stack Exchange keeps everything technical. This results in us being slanted towards History of Philosophy, Cosmology, Analytic Philosophy, und/oder the like. Commented Jun 25, 2022 at 19:44

2 Answers 2


Just to clarify --as with the "Brothers, we are not Christians" post --the point is not that none of us are philosophers (which would be false), it is that we are not here in our capacity as philosophers, but in our capacity as subject matter experts about the field of philosophy. Our task is to answer questions about philosophy, not philosophy questions per se. The reason is that StackExchange itself is oriented towards questions with well-defined, objective answers, and few (if any) open philosophical questions have those.

It's theoretically possible that a site with a similar format could do well in addressing questions of real philosophical weight, but this is not that site.

  • This is still how the site should be used.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Commented Apr 1 at 10:30

I agree that there is no place here for opinion, ranting, or bullying. An exchange of ideas involves teaching, learning, and consideration of ideas. In a philosophical context, this is philosophy. We are all philosophers here - or could be. Were the students of Aristotle and Plato not philosophers? A question in philosophy is not like a plumbing question. How do I change a u-bend without getting soaked? Philosophy is not dead. It is active. It founds political systems. It underpins our lives. I would hope that we are friends here - and philosophers.

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    It could be argued that every human being willing and able to understand her environment is a philosopher, that the alternative to good philosophy is not no philosophy, but bad philosophy. So in this sense we are indeed all philosophers. But I think the OP means something like : "here is not the place for members to expound on their own personal philosophy at length". IOW, write a book if you will but not here. At most here you can test a few arguments, one argument at a time, or ask for clarification on one concept at a time.
    – Olivier5
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 11:44

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