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The Stack Exchange prides itself on hosting a community of experts who volunteer their time and knowledge to assist others in understanding concepts they are inquiring about. In this, and other online forums, there are often numerous posts that seem hastily composed, lacking coherence, or demonstrating a lack of critical thinking. While it's easy to dismiss these contributions as unhelpful, many of which are quickly voted closed by the community at large, could there be value in these poorly thought-out posts?

I could argue that poorly thought-out posts contribute little or nothing to the quality of discussion, and indeed they distract from more substantive conversations, propagate misinformation, and waste the time of those who engage with them.

However, an alternative perspective could suggest that even poorly thought-out posts serve a purpose in fostering dialogue and critical thinking. They may prompt others to articulate counterarguments, clarify misconceptions, or even inspire more thoughtful contributions in response. Also, what resident experts may consider off topic, or too open of a question might bear the fruit of an intelligent and thought-provoking response that otherwise will go unnoticed.

This question raises several issues regarding the nature and function of discourse in SE spaces including: the contribution to overall discussion that poorly crafted questions provide; the possibility of productive or enlightening discussions derived from those questions; balancing the need between free expression and the quality of discussion; and, how to alleviate the natural curiosity of those visiting the site who ask out of desire to understand or learn without stunting that enthusiasm.

So, I guess the question is two-fold. 1) is there value in poorly thought-out posts; and 2) if there is possible value then isn’t closing them preventing that valuable discourse?

Please note that I do understand the need of reducing the number of posts deemed off topic or otherwise closed for the process of finding relevant answers to the questions that are of higher interest. The alternative of simply ignoring the posts you don’t feel are worthy of response very well might make the site unusable in time. This question is theoretical and does not express a desire to keep “bad” posts.

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  • they are likely useful for those who post them: sometimes a person does not (can not?) know something is poorly thought out without feedback from other people. useful for the larger community? not much likely...
    – ac15
    Apr 2 at 17:32
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    The effort to document, consider, and clarify poorly thought-out "posts" could serve as a description of the Socratic dialogues. Not to mention essential fodder for AI. Apr 2 at 18:26
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    IMO a question’s a question, and the “experts” on these blogs have never heard of the principle of charity. Even this post has a vote for closure. This is just a place for ego, authority, and dismissal, not for answering questions. Also, if there were a requirement for answers to be as in-depth as the questions, then there wouldn’t be so many duplicated questions.
    – PW_246
    Apr 2 at 18:57
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    " serve a purpose in fostering dialogue and critical thinking." this is not part of the telos of StackExchange sites as I understand it.
    – Dave
    Apr 2 at 19:48
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    @Dave It's part of this one, for good or for ill.
    – wizzwizz4
    Apr 2 at 22:58
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    The irony is that I wrote this post before reading others on the Meta that clarify the Philosophy Exchange is not a space for philosophical contemplation, but instead a space to assist in the understanding of established philosophical concepts. The purpose of my joining this site was in vain, but, alas, I understand the purpose.
    – mkinson
    Apr 3 at 12:55
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    mkinson -- I have found this site to be very helpful for learning some of the less obvious aspects of philosophy. I generally do so by trying to formulate useful answers to questions that interest me. Formulating answers, particularly if one is looking to use actual philosophic sources to substantiate them (I. E. good answers), is itself a very useful learning process, as Marco Ocram's answer points out. The other good answers on the site are also very useful guideposts to direct one's future philosophic reading. Dialog can be done in chats, so we have that here too.
    – Dcleve
    Apr 3 at 14:23

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I have answered poorly thought out questions, and when I do so, I try to explain what the weak/invalid assumptions are that are behind the question, and what a better assumption set and framing would be. As thinking thru philosophic problems appropriately is -- often not straightforward -- I have considered such answers to be potentially useful for both the poster, and the community at large.

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I have three parallel examples.

The first is that I used to volunteer as a 'beta reader', whose task is to review draft manuscripts and provide feedback to their authors. It was easy to spot faults in the drafts but it was altogether more difficult and taxing to provide accurate and unambiguous explanations of exactly what each fault was, especially since I was having to get the message across to someone who clearly didn't appreciate the relevant principles- otherwise they wouldn't have made the mistakes in the first place. That experience really sharpened my own understanding of style and grammar.

The second is a book I used to enjoy browsing which was about wood-working joints. The author- who was so clearly an expert- had worked for more than 30 years in a repair shop, and had learned how to create strong joints by encountering thousands of weak ones. Examining so many failed joints made him a quick and accurate judge who was able to pinpoint flaws and explain how they can be avoided.

On Physics SE, I often encounter questions from people who mis-understand Special Relativity in a way that is 'not even wrong', as one famous physicist put it. Isolating the specific faults in their thinking from the surrounding jumble of ideas, and drawing their attention to them in a way they might stand a chance of understanding, can be a huge challenge, but the more you do it, the better becomes your own understanding of the issues.

Given that, I could not agree more with Dcleve's answer.

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