I wanted to try to make something of a positive statement about our definition and scope, since admittedly it can be somewhat difficult to get your arms around. It was certainly difficult enough for the earliest involved to wrap their heads around the proper delimitation of scope for a "Philosophy" Q&A community. It took several weeks of discussion and several more months of trial-and-error before something like well-established borderlines were drawn. Through these adaptations, our community's definition, as you can imagine, had mutated somewhat from the original proposal. The biggest lesson from that time that I took away was the following:

We are here to learn -- not to vent, bully or distract. We have a shared ethos with Wikipedia for a reason. It's really important that content is formulated from a neutral point of view. This dramatically increases the quality of contributions, but also speaks to the basic foundations of our community -- that we're here for education, not here to impose our views on others.

None of this is to say that debate and discussion aren't encouraged -- but they need to express themselves through the Q&A process, and find clear, contextualized, neutral ways to express problems. The chat and meta spaces exist to support this process: to help develop ideas and understanding so that more effective and interesting questions can be posed and answered.

It might be helpful to keep in mind the context. We are not a community of philosophers, or an academic enclave. We are a group of students and teachers of philosophy collaborating with an American corporation (StackExchange); and while part of their corporate vision involves providing open and free educational resources, another part of it is profit. StackExchange bootstraps and maintains the system, and their rules are the rules. While they grant us a liberal degree of operational autonomy, there are boundaries.

The most productive way to think this to me is that, for better or for worse, we are SE's "philosophy" working group. The best and most constructive use I think we could make of the resources provided would be to use them to organize a generative and effective machine. To a large degree this has been done by the community itself with little overt guidance.

To really jumpstart a higher-order degree of generativity would perhaps involve additional activities in the chat spaces, new contests, a community blog, or perhaps even events linking our community and the other "humanities" communities on SE (and maybe even the wider web.) This would probably demand the organization of committees and so forth. I'd be happy to help organize this effort, but for the time being it probably makes the most sense to continue focusing directly on the Q&A side of things -- maybe doing research and study groups in the chat room to help brainstorm and generate questions, etc.

So what's the scope of the site? We've touched on it here already; and the scope of the site has been put forward here on meta in a few different places already -- this isn't anything new, but just what I hope might be an easy way to think about it.

Our goal is not to create new concepts, to "play philosophers"; our goal within the context of the main page is to behave like responsible students and teachers of philosophy. Which just means: asking questions that arise during the study of philosophy; answering with an appropriate degree of clarity, depth and rigor that hopefully spark interest in the discipline.

The point is that context matters, since a student of philosophy can encounter a problem with anything; any idea whatsoever, in any domain of human inquiry, can suffer from a defect or flaw that a sufficiently acute student of philosophy may be able to classify. Paradoxes are also often uncannily 'domain-generic' and can be productively embedded in a wide variety of contexts.

Our scope is involved with the context and motivation of a concern -- and perhaps the most trivial way to demonstrate theoretical context is to connect the question to a text or thinker, serving to indicate at least a minimum of topical research and reflection. (This can of course be done without recourse to another thinker or text, but will naturally need more explanation of the motivations of the concern to demonstrate topicality.)

In the style of the FAQ: you should only ask questions that are practical, answerable ones that you run into while studying philosophy. Answers should address the question directly, with rigor and depth. Both should be framed in clear and neutral language.

share
    
(Partially inspired by an old post of Caleb's over on meta.christianity. Note that no part of the above is intended to chastise any particular instance of user behavior; it's really just to have an official record of "my take" on the topicality line, and hopefully to provide something of a guide to the motivations behind why the line is where it is today.) –  Joseph Weissman Dec 28 '12 at 17:31
    
Given that you can run into practical answerable problems that are nonetheless of grave social and emotional content--let's say the political philosophy expoused in Mein Kampf, for example--do you envision language that is nonetheless strictly value neutral even in the face of something that seems anything but? –  Rex Kerr Jan 2 '13 at 17:27
    
@RexKerr it's a good point. There are definitely bounds of reason here. To be very clear: the idea is not "no boundaries, it's all context!" One way of expressing the idea is that our scope involves a heuristic rather than an axiom. Given the nature of the discipline, context and motivation are part of how we have to judge whether or not the question is topical. –  Joseph Weissman Jan 3 '13 at 1:13
    
Just in passing, the goal behind 'neutrality' is not necessarily value-neutral language; rather it would be fair, proportionate, unbiased language. The key thing for me would really be presenting viewpoints in an appropriately contextualized way. (And just to have this pinned to this post: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) –  Joseph Weissman Jan 3 '13 at 1:19
    
Coming from the field of humanities education, I have to ask: is the Socratic method included under "direct" answers to questions? Pedagogically, leading a questioner to a reasoned conclusion avoids losing information in translation between the individual and historic sources. Or are dialectics beyond what we should attempt to demonstrate? –  SAHornickel Jan 3 '13 at 2:23
    
@SAHornickel I suppose "direct" might not have been the best word choice here. I certainly wouldn't want to discourage Socratic-style probing of questions. –  Joseph Weissman Jan 4 '13 at 21:58

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Just to clarify --as with the "Brothers, we are not Christians" post --the point is not that none of us are philosophers (which would be false), it is that we are not here in our capacity as philosophers, but in our capacity as subject matter experts about the field of philosophy. Our task is to answer questions about philosophy, not philosophy questions per se. The reason is that StackExchange itself is oriented towards questions with well-defined, objective answers, and few (if any) open philosophical questions have those.

It's theoretically possible that a site with a similar format could do well in addressing questions of real philosophical weight, but this is not that site.

share

I am a philosopher. What makes you say you aren't?

I've come to notice that those who consider philosophy an academic field of study distinct from daily life fail to grasp what philosophy is all about, namely the organic enterprise of individuals trying to make sense of the universe we live in on a daily basis. IMO they should all first read "Sophie's World" before moving on to Plato or Kant.

Philosophy really is nothing but the organic enterprise of individuals trying to make sense of the universe we live in, and in a way every new generation of philosophers is an authority in its own right. You don't need a degree for it nor anything else besides a strong affinity with logic.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Many of those who never read a single work of Socrates, Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche still have a far better understanding of the universe we live in than Descartes or any of his contemporaries had a few centuries ago. In a sense, that makes all of us philosophers and thus authorities in the field.

Or to quote Terrence McKenna:

We all must try to understand what is happening. We need to try to understand what is happening, and in my humble opinion ideology is only going to get in your way.

Nobody understands what is happening. Not Buddhists, not Christians, not government scientists. No one understands what is happening.

So, forget ideology. They betray. They limit. They lead astray.

Just deal with the raw data and trust yourself. Nobody is smarter than you are.

And what if they are? What good is their understanding doing you? People walk around saying, "I don't understand Quantum Physics, but somewhere somebody understands it." That's not a very helpful attitude towards preserving the insights of Quantum Physics.

Inform yourself. What does inform yourself mean? It means transcend and mistrust ideology. Go for direct experience.

What do YOU think when YOU face the waterfall? What do YOU think when YOU have sex? What do YOU think when YOU take psilocybin?

Everything else is unconfirmable rumor, useless, probably lies. So, liberate yourself from the illusion of culture. Take responsibility for what you think and what you do.

share

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .