(I'm still experimenting with this site, so I'm trying out alternatives for having discourse within the confines of the current technology. I have created a tag 'experimental'. It is my belief that in order to improve the community, users on the meta side should have a certain leeway to play with the system. I think the comment fields are inadequate for organizing threads of discussion. Feel free to indulge my experimental impulse by editing the question directly on a point by point basis or abstaining from a response entirely. My goal has been to find someone ambitious enough to have a serious dialectic about what happens here and to coalesce around a platform to vote and advocate as a bloc on these matters. My intent is not to attack your position, but to find common ground. I believe the Q&A mechanism fundamentally discourages that.)



As one of the legendary moderators of this site said in the past: no, we are not philosophers (and I don't like that you've edit the post with a question mark; it defeats the whole point of the post).

Objection noted, however, without the question mark to at least hide the lack of question as rhetorical, it's not even a Q&A post, but rather an A&A post, which is sort of silly, UNLESS we're allowed to use the Q&A format to just post our thoughts without any concern for the Q&A format. I didn't mean to go Trebek, but it seems that we are supposed to adhere to a polite convention to at least pretend that we are seeking input from others, no?



We are not a community of philosophers, or an academic enclave. We are a group of students and teachers of philosophy...

We are not philosophers, but we are teachers of philosophy? I was a licensed educator, so let me say that no teacher of philosophy who is not a philosopher can actually teach philosophy. This is self-evident. Would you accept a teacher of piloting who wasn't a pilot, would you learn to defuse bombs from someone who isn't skilled in ordnance, a teacher of surgery who wasn't a surgeon? Of course not. Are you familiar with Vygotskian notions of the zone of proximal development? From a constructivist perspective on educational psychology, non-philosophers teaching philosophy is an existential impossibility. Besides, this whole fact-opinion dichotomy, isn't it a false dilemma? Isn't there a middle ground of editorial discrimination required?



Has the political will of the veteran user base decided that the current status quo is the terminal velocity and terminus of this institution that aims to facilitate philosophical pedagogy and critical thinking?

How exactly is the political will of the veteran base decided at all? Is there even a mechanism for polling?



The users of this site (mostly mods but also "regular" users like you and I) have repeatedly tried in the past to change the "velocity", direction and style of this site. As Philip wrote in his post, and in many other places, this isn't the first time the red flag has been raised (perhaps most recently was my post from over a year ago). Voting System

Yes, but this time, we should be empowered to vote on by-laws to assist the moderators and moderation-minded on collaborating so this forum functions as a bazaar instead of a cathedral, right?



Again, we cannot afford to have questions that lean to the more discussion-y type.

Why not? Is there not enough room on the server for two communities by differentiating quality by tag? Couldn't a question be tagged or maybe voted as high-quality subjecting it to a second set of moderating principles?



Personally, I do not see the benefit of down-voting instead of closing a question that does not fit our model. I haven't spend too much time in other SEs to really know, but I assume that with the nature of this SE we get (at least currently, perhaps forever) a truly vast amount of questions that simply don't fit this site (see this post for example).

Do you or do you not believe that the Q&A format is pedagogical? A teacher of philosophy does not have the luxury of just ignoring questions that require work; that is the prerogative of the professional philosopher! If you believe that we are teachers of philosophy, then the proper response is to facilitate the transformation of the question from poorly-formed to well-formed. Isn't that the basis of the Socratic method and the dialectic, and isn't the slaughtering of imperfect questions an act of philosophy and not philosophical pedagogy?



Obviously, if a user thinks this question is not a good question within the constraints of the site's model, I'd expect them to down-vote, and not vote to close. But it's a bit of a thin line and I'll understand a user that decides to vote to close instead. After all, for a question to be closed we require at 5 votes - it takes time to get 5 votes, which that gives the OP time to revise their question. And even after that the OP can edit the post and request to reopen it. A very standard procedure on the SE network.

Do you believe that many questions that are rewritten stay dead because there is simply a lack of interest in moderation duties?



The fact that you've brought the FAQ into question baffles me a bit (perhaps I understood wrongly?), as the way I see it the on-topic post is very clear on the rules of the site.

And since you believe it's clear, it's not open to debate, revision, or separate interpretation? What if I were to say that the language is ambiguous? How we would go about resolving that conflict? What if the moderators themselves disagreed? What if I were to tell you from a veteran teacher's perspective, nothing short of a rubric of would suffice? Are we possession of such a metric?



I did nevertheless thought while reading the question and the answers here, and have a suggestion (which I hinted to in the past) to help solve our rather distinct issue: "discussion" tag on the main site

Agreed that tweaking features can improve the site, but where are the by-laws that govern how they can be requested, debated, voted on, and implemented? Do the moderators simply have absolute power and regular users must rely on their goodwill?



As Philip rightfully said, "regular" users are currently simply not active enough in their review queues (and I'm no saint at all). In my opinion we need some way to encourage more activity (new users, but more importantly keep "regular" users active), and I honestly think this might be a good way to do so. Give the users a) the option to have free discussion, and b) take away some pressure from the review queues.

From my experience, I'm not sure why anyone who has recently been involved would venture to take on moderation at all with such a lack of guidance. I've been on the site for more than a year, and I'm just getting hang of it. What if the problem isn't a lack of will, but a lack of resources to clarify how the culture functions?



Finally, I do agree with Philip that at the end of the day moderation, moderation and moderation is what keeps this site (as every other SE site) enjoyable. I'm simply attempting to ease the need for moderation a bit while trying to solve another big issue (active userbase) as well.

Do you also agree with Philip that this place is a cathedral precisely because the moderation falls entirely on the moderators? And do you not agree with him that a framework of rules to assist him in remaining apolitical in moderation would be an aid?

  • @YechaimWeiss This is an experimental post. I'm trying to find contributors invested enough to improve the site through political organization and trial and error. Feel free to respond or ignore as you see fit.
    – J D
    Dec 29, 2020 at 9:49
  • J D, I am sorry for not responding, haven't seen this post (and you tagged me with a typo so I didn't get the notification!). Anyway, I see @PhilipKlöcking wrote an extensive and well-thought answer that applies to my thoughts as well. I would add however one point as to close voting - I, personally, try to always comment what I think would make the post more answerable. The fact remains, as Philip noted, that there is a very small percentage of reworks - and even fewer proper ones. Mar 27, 2021 at 11:04
  • @YechiamWeiss No sweat. I'm on a philosophy hiatus, but when I return, I'll review Herr Kloecking's thoughts. My intent was to provoke discussion for consideration and nothing more. I began endeavor when two of the three sysadmin's voted to close a post as off-topic even though it had an SEP article devoted to it. That struck me as rather unusual. I've seen a number of your posts, and of course, hold your enthusiasm and participation in high regard.
    – J D
    Apr 3, 2021 at 14:25
  • Hope I tagged you correctly this time... :)
    – J D
    Apr 3, 2021 at 14:25
  • Indeed you have :) Apr 3, 2021 at 14:47

2 Answers 2


This is one of two answers (the other one will follow later this day). This one focuses on StackExchange and its nature. It think the OP contains the background content of assumptions about SE and how it can/should be used and specific discussion points on top of that. I think it's important that these layers are kept apart with regards to votes and discussion, so I, once again, tried to give a condensed account of what I think Philosophy.SE should aspire to be and do.

First things first: Meta works a bit differently from the main site. That's why we, as a matter of fact, do have a discussion tag here. Thus, even if the form of the threads remains, we do not have to stick to Q&A style here as if it were absolute gospel. It is nice to put a feature request or a discussion point into question form, still, but sometimes, you can make a point by deliberately not doing that. I mean seriously, how am I supposed to give a meaningful answer to the OP here instead of just adding related discussion points and views?

Secondly, I think we should be clear about what StackExchange is supposed to be. As far as I understand it from countless posts by the founders and (former) community managers in blogs and Meta.SE discussions, it should be a database where you can head to with a specific question on a given subject and find the answer to it right away (if already asked earlier, which after some years should be the standard case, really), or be given an answer as thorough and definite as humanly possible within the constraints of the format (which basically means length).

What we cannot and should not do here is, IMHO, teach (parts of the) subject. If someone asks on SO which function to use in language XY to get output Z, you might get the answer that output A does a better job at what one needs and an explanation for that assertion while they spell out how it works with both of them. What you will not get is which other languages there are or which functions there are to get related (but not specifically asked for/needed) output. You will not be taught about the subject of programming, you will get an answer to your specific question with explanations where necessary, and nothing more. That is an important difference, because it means that without a specific question, there is not much to give in the context of StackExchange. Of course we could offer more in other contexts in our capabilities as philosophers and/or subject matter experts, but not on the main site in this format. This has to happen elsewhere in a different format, for example in chat. That's the whole point behind the post by Joseph (and the original, related post on Christianity.SE)

That means for us that any question that does not, very specifically, state its context is simply a bad one. Because it means we would have to teach the poster about the subject before they can post a good question. Yes, it is hard to nail down these more or less fuzzy, philosophical thoughts without already having quite a broad knowledge base. But seriously, we cannot answer every question with short synopses of every relevant historical view or SEP article or wait until a comment discussion finally worked out some details. This defeats the purpose of StackExchange as a place to find the question and answer you are looking for. Questions are supposed to be reworked after closure and/or before posting them. Close votes are not final, and how they are received depends on how we sell them, as a community.

Similarly, it is certainly nice to point out when a question faces the XY problem - something which is the case for like 70% of our contributions by new users at a minimum - and maybe the question can and will be reworked to express the real problem. But what we should stop, as a practice, is allowing users to answer with their related musings (keeping the tone set by the OP!) while the ill-stated question remains open. We do implicitly encourage bad habits and ever more bad content by that, and I cannot even blame the users since that's what they encounter and reproduce/respond to. Instead, this content should probably be deleted because it does in no way meet above-stated goals.

It may help people to learn philosophy if we carefully address every individual and the personal needs in each single post thread, but it does not help people heading here to get their specific question answered when we have myriads of related ill-stated questions and even more opinionated or outright wrong answers. Ask yourself: do we really have so few duplicates? Try to use the search function and find a good, sourced answer on the question of whether we have free will. Good luck! Hint: they are hidden somewhere behind these thousands of very similar questions.

As of moderation, I can only repeat that we do have a lot of rules (help center, Meta.SE) and means available to highrep users. They can even vote to delete bad questions and answers themselves (5 votes necessary). It is not, in principle, the call of moderators only, nor should it be! We do not exactly like that we have to take that responsibility by our binding votes, either, since mistakes are human and happen. Thus, it's certainly nice to have by-laws, but a first step would be enforcing the existing ones. Beyond that, Meta discussions can lead to new close reasons or their edition. That has happened in the past. Posting on Meta.SE can lead to help center posts being edited for all sites.

So the posts comes to a full circle: Either we aspire to be a StackExchange community - this includes helping to realise its goals first and foremost - or we aspire to be a philosophy community - which IMHO in most cases simply means we should do that in a different place than a main site of the StackExchange network. I really love developing a thought with people, teaching and helping them to love and understand philosophy. But the places to do that are universities and reading groups, among others. With many problems due to the format it can even be a chat. What I am certain of is that StackExchange main sites are not the place to do that, at least not as the leading principle which other, network-wide aspirations have to be subordinated under.


This is my other answer. I hope it does not sound overly apologetic, harsh, or reactionary. I simply want to have the discussion going and give my personal view on these points. Discussions are welcome.

Ad 1

As should be obvious from my other answer, I do agree with Yechiam here that I see no problem in that the post was deliberately titled not as a question, but an assertion - and a deliberately ambiguous and challenging at that, one that is supposed to solicit thought and discussion. That's ok when we discuss 'political' matters with regards to the site IMHO. In the end, it is a huge difference whether we want to encourage a structured knowledge base with a certain level of expertise expressed in the answers (main site) or whether we do, as peers, try to make implicit policies more overt or discuss certain points (meta). Again, this is probably stated nowhere as an overt rule, and maybe I am even totally misguided in this view, but that is how I see things happening on other sites as well.

Ad 2

I think it is clear from the context that this is meant to say that the community basically has to contain two different groups: those that ask and those that answer. Most questions occur in the study of a subject and those who teach that subject are commonly best suited to answer these questions. Insofar I can agree with the quote. But, as I tried to clarify in my other answer, I think it misleading to speak of a teacher of philosophy that is not a philosopher. That is why we cling so much to that clumsy expression "subject matter expert": those who are supposed to answer here are supposed to do only that, ie. answer a question on the subject matter at hand. And only that. They should not teach, nor philosophise beyond that. In that sense we are neither teachers of philosophy nor philosophers when we answer, but simply experts on the subject matter. That these groups are almost congruent does not make the difference matter less, since it is the attitude and method that differs. As a philosopher, I have to discuss relevant positions, preemptively address possible objections, formulate and define as precise as possible etc., which I may have to do in answers as well, but not always. But, most importantly, I have to develop my own, original line of thought on top of that. Something which is not a good fit for this site. As a teacher, I have to sort the relevant literature and choose the most expressive bits so that the students are guided in their apprehension and discussion of the topic and present it in a way that is appropriate to them. Again, highly sought-after skills for answering here. But at the same time, answering specific questions is only a very small part of teaching, and teaching has to do so much more.

Ad 3

The political will is determined by votes on contributions in meta discussions here. Since the veteran users are more likely to participate and vote in them, it is mostly, albeit (which is a good thing!) certainly not exclusively their will represented in there votes.

Ad 4

This way was open to the community all the time. It has been pointed out and input in the form of specific proposals has been asked for. So in that regard, this time is in no way special, even if I hope the outcome will be.

Ad 5

That's addressed in my other answer: We would defeat the purpose of StackExchange if we bloated the main site with content that does not contain succinct questions and expert answers since this kind of content tends to drown both visually and in the search function. Not that we wouldn't already have that problem, but my incentives to encourage this situation are not overly pressing. That does not mean I would not discuss or defend the idea when bringing it up to community managers - if that is what you guys decide.

Ad 6

Again, see my other answer. I see no point in inviting people to casually 'answer' casual questions just for the sake of leaving them open. Closing is supposed to barr new, bad content and give time to rework without deletion. It is not a bad thing per se, it is all about how we sell it.

Ad 7

I do think that many closed questions that are reworked (which is a really small fraction, tbh) are either not any better after being reworked and deserve to stay closed, or do not get their 5 votes because too few users go through all the review queues, yes. That is my personal, firm belief, anyway.

Ad 8 et 9

Well, there is no such thing as unambiguous language. My study of law taught me that and my study of philosophy made that belief only more firm. We do have the possibility to consult other, veteran moderators in the network as well as community managers in individual cases if we are not sure on how to apply the rules. A rubric may be of help as well, but who is to say that it is less ambiguous in its application to a particular case? If done well, it shifts the posts in a good way, but the central problem remains. Carl Schmitt had a point when he stated that under the rule of law, the individual judge - and be it of the highest court only - is the real sovereign, even in democracies. That's why high courts do consist of more than one judge, but even if it is a group it is, in a sense, the sovereign in each individual case. That is a problem and I am more than happy that my decisions can be appealed via meta and contacting community managers. That way, I am free from this burden, in a sense. Also, as I mentioned in the other answer, it is not only moderators who can delete answers and questions. In principle, any group of five highrep users could. And if people are not content with how the rules are read, they can make a case here. It has been tried several times, but without success (more positive votes than the clarification by moderators) so far.

Ad 10 et 11

I think that is, in a sense, an excuse. Some time ago, we had the user Frank Hubeny coming to our site. He got the reputation but struggled to enact the rules. So he joined and opened discussions here on meta. And became an active editor and reviewer on our site. A pity he is gone, no idea why, actually. But the point stands: If people would want to, there is nothing stopping them to get involved. That is exactly what you yourself do, isn't it? So while I know from my start as a moderator that it would certainly help to have some definite compendium for starters, it is not the main reason IMHO. If one carefully read all pages in the help center and maybe followed some meta discussions, there isn't much to do but to start, really. It's not like you'd go to prison if you make a mistake. The 5-votes principle is corrective enough. I hope some rules can be of help, but what happens for the most part right now is that people want to come here and do their thing, not caring about what makes this site special at all. Who did really read and try to digest all the articles in the help center, the outcome of more than a decade of experience and edition? I guess the percentage of users below 1k reputation is close to nil, with not much betterment beyond that.

So while we are talking about that, maybe the real question is: How do we communicate what StackExchange is for and what we expect so that people really care?

  • 1
    Happy New Year! I saw your responses, but busy season at work. People need their drugs. Thanks for engaging with this rabble of one.
    – J D
    Jan 1, 2021 at 20:13

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