I mean phrasing your answer in a weird pseudo-neutral, pseudo-detached, cumbersome and guarded way … also pondering and avuncular … this faux “academic overview” style.

(Of course I don’t mean backing up your answer with sources in an academic way. That’s good.)

I find this increasingly annoying. No need to hide that your answer is opinionated and lacking in breadth. It’s most of the time still better than no answer.

A truly neutral, rigorous and broad philosophical overview is always going to sound cumbersome. But just sounding cumbersome like a scholar who researched that topic for years doesn’t mean you’re on his level.

It’s cargo-cult philosophical writing. People note this style and then try to emulate it without understanding the reasons for that style.

  1. It’s not enough to put in endless qualifications in your answers. They also have to be the right qualifications!

  2. Often academic overviews try to elicit some appetite for wonder in the reader. Which is very difficult for philosophy. It’s not like piquing an interest in something that is obviously mysterious compared to normal life like quantum mechanics. The writer has to list some cutesy trivial observations (that the person on the street would not find at all puzzling) and use his rhetorical skill to transport a feeling of “non-obviousness” to the reader. Again, SE users try to emulate this and 95%+ fail horribly. They only manage to make their answers needlessly boring and verbose and pretentious to the point of self-parody.

  3. Worst case, for a naive questioner this style gives authority to the answer it does not have.

Exhibit A – a very heavily opinionated, low quality philosophy.SE answer in faux-academic style:

A perfect circle can be imagined and visualized by a mathematician who is a geometer, and its definition can be precisely expressed by him or her mathematically.

That mathematical expression can be readily presented graphically as part of the definition and accepted as valid by other mathematicians, even though the graphic representation of it is imperfectly rendered.

A perfect circle cannot be realized in the world we inhabit because there is no infinitely precise manufacturing method that can produce one.

Exhibit B – professional philosophical writing (from Michael Loux, Metaphysics):

The objects we talk and think about can be classified in all kinds of ways. We sort things by color, and we have red things, yellow things, and blue things. We sort them by shape, and we have triangular things, circular things, and square things. We sort them by kind, and we have elephants, oak trees, and paramecia. The kind of classification at work in these cases is an essential component in our experience of the world. There is little, if anything, that we can think or say, little, if anything, that counts as experience, that does not involve groupings of these kinds. Although almost everyone will concede that some of our ways of classifying objects reflect our interests, goals, and values, few will deny that many of our ways of sorting things are fixed by the objects themselves. It is not as if we just arbitrarily choose to call some things triangular, others circular, and still others square; they are triangular, circular, and square. Likewise, it is not a mere consequence of human thought or language that there are elephants, oak trees, and paramecia. They come that way, and our language and thought reflect these antecedently given facts about them.

See what I mean?

Ok, some of you do philosophy professionally. Still better not to adopt this “academic overview” style. Who puts the same energy into an SE answer as in the introductory chapter of his monograph about a topic he researched for years?

And it takes even more genius and writing skills to condense broad scholarly knowledge into a short SE answer.

There are indeed a handful of users here who can do this. But most of us cannot. In that case, it’s the way lesser evil to write in an “amateur style”.

  • 4
    How is this post not a screed of the very sort to which it objects?
    – J D
    Feb 16, 2020 at 22:01
  • 2
    @JD because 1. I do not emulate the style of someone with scholarly knowledge which I myself do not have (it's not about philosophy, it's meta) 2. it is clearly not pseudo-neutral.
    – viuser
    Feb 16, 2020 at 22:35
  • 4
    Until you characterize the difference between "amateur style" and "weird pseudo-neutral, pseudo-detached, cumbersome and guarded way … also pondering and avuncular", I think it might be tough to understand your critique fully.
    – J D
    Feb 17, 2020 at 19:10
  • 3
    What constitutes a "right qualification"? How does one go about "creating wonder"? How can one be assured one is too assured and not knowledgable enough? Isn't that the whole point of having a peer-moderated forum?
    – J D
    Feb 17, 2020 at 19:12
  • if the replies were clearly written without bullshit then it would be obvious they'd missed the point
    – user44289
    Feb 21, 2020 at 11:17
  • @JD If all this is just a result of honest mistakes, then I’m wrong and there is no easy way to remedy the problem. I just suspect that this strange style is motivated by attempting to hide partiality and lack of knowledge. Initially the problem is ofc caused by broad and general questions. They (a) tend to invite opinionated answers and (b) anyone can answer them (no specific expertise needed). In that case, if you know you are an amateur, it’s way better to write as one – in plain language. Avoid weird emulation of the style grand scholars of philosophy adopt when they tackle broad themes.
    – viuser
    Feb 22, 2020 at 16:42
  • 1
    it's just a means to make yourself seem different from other users, while belonging enough to maintain a sense of in and out groups. i.e. "i am special".
    – user44289
    Feb 24, 2020 at 14:13

2 Answers 2


To be fair, I am increasingly annoyed by wall-of-text like musings which tangentially touch the actual question, are written in pseudo-lecturing style and lack any depth, useful reference, or actual impartiality.

I think it is telling that some of them are praised for their insights by members, since this shows the level of experience of the users: They simply cannot look through the appearance and see it for what it is, ie. pretension of expertise.

The only solution I can think of is consequently downvoting this style of answering, since deleting seems too harsh while just letting it be will only lead towards the authors and others thinking it validated to answer that way.

  • 5
    Tangential content could also be edited out of the answers so that only what is actually relevant is left. Feb 16, 2020 at 14:22
  • 1
    I can't tell if I'm supposed to up- or down-vote the question based on this answer.
    – Mitch
    Feb 20, 2020 at 17:39
  • @Mitch Well, obviously this is up to you. I just wanted to contribute my understanding of and view on the problematic style of answers which I noticed to become more prevalent as well.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Feb 20, 2020 at 19:24
  • 1
    I was being slightly tongue in cheek since your admonition seemed to apply to the OP here, well, at least the wall of text.
    – Mitch
    Feb 20, 2020 at 20:00
  • 2
    @Mitch A “wall of text” isn’t just any long text (that would be a very bad criticism of an answer; also inconsistent – Philip Klöcking posted a few rather long answers himself). It is a long text which is unstructured (in the worst case lacking paragraphs and punctuation).
    – viuser
    Feb 22, 2020 at 15:41
  • @wolf-revo-cats Honestly, as much as I agree, I'd like to add that it might also be new users on SO that don't know how to format their text properly. I surely had some issues with it at first. Perhaps down voting is a big too much. (obviously wall of irrelevant text is something else.) Apr 18, 2020 at 11:04

Some very significant 20th century philosophers, and arguably a lot of excitement in contemporary philosophy (think blogosphere) works out as cultural or media studies.

So, if you think your question is weird and interesting, then factor in philosophy.stack's google rating, and wait until everyone around you takes for granted that philosophy is written and thought about by creating new pseudo jargons.

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