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Many new users posts questions which amounts to "is X ethical ?" (see for example "Would reincarnated prisoners...".) Without any mention of an ethical setting or another, answers for those questions will very often be opinion-based.

This is not a new issue. It has been discussed many times (here long ago, there and also there not long ago). It seems that the consensus is that those questions should be closed as they open the door for opinion-based answers and as, almost always, answerer do not try to specify any ethical framework for their answer.

Still, when flagging them and sharing feedback for new users, I find it hard not to be too cold without spending too much time repeating the same things. Bluntly saying that the question is opinion-based and not appropriate seems a bit harsh. Writing a paragraph to explain the historicity of moral and how many different ethical frameworks will lead to different answers can seem a bit lengthy and a bit useless (if the user are unaware enough of the subjectivity of such questions to ask them, I am not sure a short explanation will help or convince them).

For this reason, I think we should agree on a standardized feedback for those questions. Ideally, this feedback should

  • Clearly explain why such questions are considered opinion-based. (You can post your suggestions as answers.)
  • Be available as a Community Bot answer when reviewing new questions. (Is this possible?)
  • Link to an agreed-upon online resource which give a more detailed and beginner-friendly explanation of the issue. For example, it could be a quick panorama of how diverse ethical literature is. (You can also post your suggestions as answers.)

I think such a standardized feedback would greatly help (and also guide) the review of new questions. If pedagogic and kind enough, it would also benefit new users.

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    I support you on this. Mar 14 at 16:59
  • It seems like you are taking it for granted that ethical questions can only be answered in relation to a particular ethical framework, i.e. you are claiming that there is no universal, objective ethics. That's quite a claim, and not one everyone would agree with!
    – causative
    Mar 20 at 17:00
  • @causative Isn't it enough to exhibit two periods of time or cultures or whatever with different ethical mindsets to establish evidence of this?
    – Johan
    Mar 20 at 19:02
  • 1
    @Johan No, because one or both times/cultures may have incorrect ethics. Slavery in the American South, for example.
    – causative
    Mar 20 at 22:15

1 Answer 1

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I’ve recently also been posting about my desire to see some collaborative work done by the community on developing some more, new moderation policies, so I’ll engage with your answer to try to stimulate a conversation about this, and invite others to join in. For now, I may just respond with related thoughts beneath various excerpts of your post. Anything I post preceded by an arrow (‘->’) is open to being posted as its own question, to encourage breaking apart vast discussions like these into concentrated, modular sub-questions.


“Policy and standardized feedback for opinion-based ethic questions”

-> Let’s say we do end up drafting some policy about a post type. What would be the “Stack Exchange” way to semi-‘enact’ it? Should it be in the Site Tour official pages, should it be a community-wiki Meta post which stands as reference material, or could it be in the tag wiki as tag usage guidelines?

-> Wikipedia has policies which people cite using abbreviations. For example, if you think a comment, line, or article is not neutral, you can efficiently reply to it with the abbreviation (‘WP:NPOV’). This links to the full policy page where analysis and explanation of the policy and its subaspects are detailed. On Stack Exchange, one common such “named question type” is the “XY problem”. So, one way we could actually stimulate users and editors to abide by content guidelines is by naming them and being able to link to a page explaining them. Then editors can simply comment whenever they see a post relevant to that guideline.

-> On the other hand, it is an issue if a group of people draft a policy suggestion and start moderating in accordance with it, if this guideline hasn’t been accepted in a communal way. I am not sure if there is a kind of “ratification” process for guideline suggestions. I leave this question open for others to answer.

“Many new users posts questions which amounts to "is X ethical ?" (see for example "Would reincarnated prisoners...".)”

-> Trying to standardize a description of a “question type” might invite us to simultaneously try to standardize the process of standardizing a question type. For example, if there are many variations of a question, is there a methodology by which we decide what form represents the most abstract summary of all those variations? What if people disagree that a suggested variation amounts to the same type of question? Here’s a minimal working hypothesis for this:

Step 1: Gather as many concrete examples of questions you think amount to the same, or similar, form. Post links to them in the Meta post in which you suggest these questions are of the same type.

Step 2: Hopefully, through community discussion, if some degree of consensus is reached about what the question type is, dedicate a lone post solely to asserting the existence of that category of question. In order to filter and organize ensuing discussion, I suggest one aims to separate the questions of “Are the following examples a recurrent question type (RQT)?”, “Suggested name for the following RQT”, then maybe “Recurrent issues (RI) with this RQT” (i.e., RQT:ETHICAL (“Is X ethical?”) has RI:OPINION (it invites opinion based answers)”, and then finally proposed guidelines to counteract those RIs.

Step 3: Hopefully some idea of a guideline is now discernible and people may begin at least linking to the meta pages discussing those question types - even though they are in no way “official” or “obligatory” to follow, they can at least be referred to, voluntarily.

“Without any mention of an ethical setting or another, answers for those questions will very often be opinion-based.”

So, this could be expressed as:

RQT:ETHICAL RQT:ETH

This would be a meta post listing every known example on the site of such a question, with discussion about what they have in common and a suggested “abstract question form” (AQF), for example, “Is X ethical?”.

RQT:ETH may have its own meta post in which it is suggested what the RIs are, for example:

RI:OPINION RI:OP

This would link to its own extended discussion page about what we actually mean by saying something is “opinion based” (I find this question paramount as opposed to pedantic).

And so on. This would just be a suggested format to kick us off, and would be revised, altered, extended, etc,

“Still, when flagging them and sharing feedback for new users, I find it hard not to be too cold without spending too much time repeating the same things. Bluntly saying that the question is opinion-based and not appropriate seems a bit harsh. Writing a paragraph to explain the historicity of moral [philosophy] and how many different ethical frameworks will lead to different answers can seem a bit lengthy and a bit useless (if the user are unaware enough of the subjectivity of such questions to ask them, I am not sure a short explanation will help or convince them).

This should be included in the discussion about RI:ETH.

“For this reason, I think we should agree on a standardized feedback for those questions. Ideally, this feedback should i) clearly explain why such questions are considered opinion-based. ii) be available as a Community Bot answer when reviewing new questions. iii) Link to an agreed-upon online resource which give a more detailed and beginner-friendly explanation of the issue.”

I think these are excellent suggestions, and could possibly be one of the most significant changes we’ve seen to our site in recent times, if implemented, and pave the way for new changes going forward. Here is a suggested codification for the guidelines for RQT:ETH:

ETH1:INFORM ETH1:INF

Guideline 1: Notify the poster that you believe this to be an RQT:ETH question. Include the AQT, “Is X ethical?” in your comment, since a beginner may not understand an abbreviation. We can have a boilerplate message someone can copy and paste, maybe. Invite them to dispute if their question is indeed of that form. Also suggest it may be to their benefit if the question is identified as such, since we have a standardized process for getting better answers for such questions, when they go through our editorial pipeline.

ETH1:OPINION ETH1:OPIN ETH1:OP

Maybe, explain in 1-2 sentences why you think the question is opinion based (but I actually am not sure about this, as this can just be discussed on the linked RQT:ETH page.)

There’s more to say but I’m gonna stop here for now. I think the guidelines maybe should have some useful heuristics for easily converting an opinion based ethics question to a more answerable one. I don’t necessarily think it has to be making an ethical philosophy, though. It could be as little as a subtle change of wording. Naming an ethical philosophy could be one of multiple suggested edits. One reason I think it should not be obligatory is because it would sort of constrain people into only being able to ask questions about pre-existing philosophical paradigms, but I believe there should be room for asking authentic philosophical questions, like what you believe is true, regardless of what some theorist of the past thought. For example, we could suggest at the asker provides just a few words on what they think it means for something to be “ethical” (maybe).

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  • Hi Julius, I'll answer your remark one after the other.
    – Johan
    Mar 20 at 14:24
  • -> How to semi-enact it ? Yes that is maybe the most important question on which I am waiting an answer from one of the moderators.
    – Johan
    Mar 20 at 14:25
  • ->Yes it would be great to have a page for each of the standardized feedback. This leads us to the next point of standardized standardization. I think maybe we will have a better insight in this question when we managed to do so for at least one type of question (and when the problem like that of semi-enacting are solved as well).
    – Johan
    Mar 20 at 14:27
  • Other than that I agree with your suggestions of workflow and organisation. Let's wait to hear back on the position of moderation on all of this.
    – Johan
    Mar 20 at 14:31

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