How should we tag questions? What tags and tagging strategies might be useful? What tags are specifically unhelpful for this kind of site?

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There are three primary guidelines that I think are important:

  1. Choose tags that are sufficiently broad so as to be applicable to a reasonable number of different questions. Tags are the primary way that we categorize questions, and eventually it will be very useful to browse/sort questions by their tags. A bunch of incredibly specific tags won't be very useful for that. But broad tags that encompass an array of tightly-related questions are very useful.

    To that end, tags like and are very useful. Tags identifying specific, popular thinkers are also helpful, i.e. or . As, perhaps, are tags indicating very common philosophical concepts likely to be discussed by a non-trivial number of questions, like and .

    But creating a new tag that you can only imagine your individual question fitting into is probably a bad idea. Taking a gander at the tags list right now, I'd pick out , , and as probable examples of that.

  2. Avoid creating subtle variations of existing tags. Practically-speaking, this means checking to see what tags already exist, and trying to apply those tags to your question first. Don't create new tags based on alternate spellings of the same word or concept, like and . And don't create new tags by (re-)combining words to form phrases when a simpler tag already exists. For example, prefer the existing tag over creating a new tag.

  3. Avoid meta-tags. These are tags that comment on the type of question that you're asking, rather than the content of the question. Fortunately, it looks like we have few examples of that right now. One glaring example that does exist is . That's a bad tag, and it will be gone soon. :-)

    Examples of this from other sites in the network include things like , , , , , , , , , etc.

Obviously at this stage in the site, you will be creating a lot of new tags because there aren't very many questions posted yet and we haven't completely fleshed out the particular topics that we want to consider as being "on-topic". But eventually, once the site is more firmly established, I would recommend that users generally resist the urge to create brand new tags when picking tags to apply to a new question.

Also see these recommendations from the common SE FAQ: How do I correctly tag my questions?

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  • Our answers crossed in the post. I agree 100% with what you say here. Once again you've said it more clearly than I did. – boehj Jun 11 '11 at 7:27
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    +1, great answer here. (Thanks for providing a link to the global SE recommendations, too -- very helpful.) – Joseph Weissman Jun 11 '11 at 15:25

Good question. Let's try and get this right now and not have to fix a great deal of things later.

I'm of the opinion that philosophers' names should be used as tags. Things like 'Kant', 'Plato', 'Nietzsche' are all useful. If I'm not interested in the philosophy of 'Nietzsche' but am interested in 'Plato' I can filter these questions out.

Tags for schools can be useful of course. Synonyms will need to be made. I'm no expert on the tagging system on SE sites, especially when it comes to synonyms. Is this a potential problem? A question is tagged as 'Western philosophy', but there's already a synonym for 'Western philosophy' = 'Analytic philosophy' in place. However, the asker was referring to pre-Frege, yet still 'Western' philosophy. Will that confuse things?

What I'm saying here is that we'll need to be very careful when creating synonyms.

Very broad tags should include (at least):

  • logic
  • metaphysics
  • ontology
  • epistemology
  • ethics
  • aesthetics
  • philosophy of mind
  • philosophy of psychology???
  • philosophy of language
  • political philosophy
  • philosophy of science
  • methodology
  • philosophy of religion
  • philosophy of mathematics

Now is it useful to break these down into smaller parts? I think so. Perhaps a tag cluster for a hypothetical question could be: 'Russell', 'philosophy of language', 'definite descriptions'. Another question may have the cluster: 'Kripke', 'philosophy of language', 'rigid designator'.

Or maybe the two situations above would be better tagged by more 'meta' terms such as 'naming', 'reference', etc.

At this stage I'm not sure what to think.

I believe a tag becomes largely useless when it's a one-hit-wonder so to speak. If we drill down far enough we'll have an entire dictionary of tags, most of which will only be used once.

NB: I don't know anything about Continental or Eastern philosophy so someone else will need to point out the relevant tags for those.

I think the mods will have their work cut out for them if we're going to have a clean tagging system in place. We need to be pragmatic. If something's clearly detrimental, nuke it. If something's not entirely clear but is good enough, leave it be.


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  • Yes, the tag synonym system is very simplistic. If there's a synonym in place mapping "western-philosophy" to "analytical-philosophy", then all new questions with the tag "western-philosophy" will be automatically retagged to "analytical-philosophy". This is probably not what we want here, especially since there are many genres that can be considered Western. I'd go so far as to say "western-philosophy" is a bad tag because it doesn't convey enough information. You should choose a more specific sub-discipline in the first place. – Cody Gray Jun 11 '11 at 7:38
  • Agreed re: 'Western philosophy' being a poor tag. Thanks for the intro to how synonyms work on SE sites. – boehj Jun 11 '11 at 7:43

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