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This is related to, but more specific than, What can we do to avoid questions that will attract bad answers?


This was motivated specifically by this question, but I think we could eventually have many philosophical Q&A. The choice to be a vegetarian or vegan is often based on philosophical and ethical motivations, and it is quite understandable for such topics to be of interest on Veg*n.SE!

Questions about health or nutrition are obviously answerable within StackExchange standards. Philosophical debates seem much more subjective. However, I'm quite willing to admit that I don't have a strong background in philosophy or logic.

As a community, what do we want to do with questions about morality, ethics, and philosophy? How can we ensure that when they arise, they're handled in a way that is consistent with StackExchange standards?

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    Related Should ethics be allowed – Zanna Mar 15 '17 at 18:52
  • Good find, thank you :) Interestingly, "too subjective" is not one of the cons mentioned! – Erica Mar 15 '17 at 19:08
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    I firmly believe, and celebrate the fact, that everything is subjective ;) however, some questions are answerable in SE format, others not. – Zanna Mar 15 '17 at 19:31
  • @Zanna, maybe for your subjective definition of "subjective" ;) ironically, some philosophers of science might disagree. – Turion Mar 28 '17 at 16:02
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    @Turion I humbly submit that the better ones would not, ie, it is widely accepted that the act of observing a phenomenon is analytically inseparable from the phenomenon observed and speaking more broadly (and relevantly) meaning can't be separated from some sort of interpretation. This is not to deny that there is an external world but to admit that knowing it or discussing it in any way involves subjectivity. – Zanna Mar 31 '17 at 15:40
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Questions about morality, ethics, and philosophy can get bogged down by personal beliefs. However, they are subjects that are rigorously studied and for which there can be objective answers.

In order for an ethics or philosophy question to stay objective it needs to:

  1. Provide a specific ethical framework - This is important because not everyone will agree on which ethical frameworks should be used. By defining this in the question, everyone knows what context to frame their answers in.
  2. Provide a set of premises - This keeps the question specific, and provides a set of agreed upon facts. Answers should avoid challenging the provided facts except to perhaps point out when a fact is disputed.

Answers should focus on answering the question in the context of the provided framework and facts. You are free to disagree with the facts and the framework, but answers should suppose they are true as a general rule. Answers should also avoid adding to the provided premises to answer the question, but may do so to provide detail beyond what is required to answer the question.


In the example of the linked question:

Basic facts:

Recent research has revealed that plants are able to communicate, learn, and respond to harm.

Ethical framework:

an ethical framework which seeks to minimize suffering

Question:

Are these intelligent behaviours sufficient for moral consideration

A good answer would point out that intelligent behaviour does not imply consciousness or the ability to experience things, and that the ability to have experiences is required for suffering. Therefore intelligent behaviour does not lead to the conclusion that plants require moral consideration.

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I echo nloewen in that ethics is studied quite rigorously and there is a case that our users have potential to follow the rigorous path.

Pragmatically speaking, at this point in our beta we have a bit of a question volume problem, so we need to be careful not to remove a potentially valuable category of questions. In my opinion they very much are valuable. As a vegan, I do find these topics quite valuable to explore as rigorously as possible.

My proposal would be to leave them open under and revisit this question in 3 months or so, and see how they have fared in terms of quality answers that at a glance do not seem too subjective. I feel this is pragmatic: it gives our community a chance to see how we interact with these questions and is an open-minded approach both for the pro-ethics questions and anti-ethics questions crowds, given that subjectivity is the point of contention.

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