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In thinking about points #2 and #3 of the meta-question about gender roles, I'm interested in getting some opinions on how we should handle pure-opinion sections of answers. In order to (I hope) separate this question from the tricky topic of gender roles, imagine if we got the following question:

In the book of Joshua, the LORD tells Israel to drive out the Canaanite tribes. Did that mean it was ok by Him to kill everyone, including women and children?

Nothing in the question implies an application, but when answering, I might want to include the following opinion:

We can't take this to mean that what we call genocide can ever be justified in modern times.

This is my own point of view and I can't really substantiate it from Joshua or anywhere else in particular. But I could not in good conscience answer such a question without including some sort of admonition like this. In fact, even though it's technically off-topic, I'd want to highlight this and make sure everyone knows where I stand on this issue. And off-course, I'd want to include the on-topic answer to the question as well.

By off-topic, I specifically mean that this answer (taken on it's own) would not be welcome on Biblical Hermeneutics. It would be better as a comment or omitted altogether under most circumstances since it doesn't directly address the meaning of the text, but only how the text ought to be applied. (I don't think anyone would disagree with me in this particular case, but imagine that my opinion was one of several reasonable opinions.) The only reason I would want to include it in my answer is that I have very deep opinions on the topic that compel me to make some sort of mention of it.

What should be done about off-topic, point-of-view portions of answers?

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  • Can you explain precisely what you mean by "off-topic"? Just that it was not specifically asked for in the question, or something else? – Jack Douglas Feb 13 '12 at 22:19
  • @Jack: I mean it would not be considered a good answer (on it's own) on this site. I updated the question. Is that more clear? – Jon Ericson Feb 13 '12 at 22:29
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Every statement is a POV statement.

Whether we are talking about answers on this site or language in general, all statements are qualified by the context of the point of view of the person expressing themselves. Even a statement as simple as "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken," may be construed in wildly different ways depending on the context of the hearer. It is, lacking context, meaningless and vanity. However, given proper context, the statement is exceedingly valuable.

Our struggle on this site is to allow for multiple points of view to thrive without descending into meaninglessness inherent in uncontextualized statements.

We should contextualize our answers...

Since meaning requires context, we should provide that context when we answer questions. So in the example from the question, we can contextualize by saying:

I believe...

Or perhaps:

According to Christian theology...

Or better yet:

Nicholas Wolterstorff argues that...

Our site is striving for a family resemblance with Bible commentaries where this sort of qualification of statements is common. Since we aren't a Jewish site and we aren't a Christian site, we further emulate the sorts of commentaries that don't make doctrinal statements without qualification. Our answers need to make clear where they are coming from so that some random Googler who finds them will understand.

...and use peer pressure.

After we write the sorts of posts we want to read ourselves, we ought to use the persuasive power of comments and voting to encourage others to write those sorts of posts. Thankfully, our top users already write answers that I think would fit in nicely to a collection of commentaries. The occasional course correction might be needed, but we are looking good in terms of quality. My gut feeling is that people who answer with unqualified opinion are losing ground in the reputation race to people who answer with careful attribution to their sources. The data seems to agree with my gut.

If those of us who are regular voters value correct process over correct results, I think we will converge on a site that values contextualized and qualified answers. A point of view that is put in proper context (even if the context is not the text itself) should be seen as valuable.

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  • I value contextualized and qualified answers. Unqualified parts of answers are easy to spot and leaning on people to add 'I believe’ qualifiers is both unnecessary and antagonistic towards those who don't like doing so. I find these unqualified sections positively helpful as they help me to understand the POV of the contribution as a whole. If a good well reasoned comprehensible answer contains unqualified opinion I do not believe that is bad for the site—we should target the all-round poor answers instead IMO. -1 from me for those reasons. – Jack Douglas Jan 2 '13 at 23:20
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    @JackDouglas: I'm not really advocating for people to add that qualifier...especially if they don't want to. However, our culture ought to encourage answers that make clear their authority and discourage those that don't. I side-step the editing policy question here, if you notice. ;-) – Jon Ericson Jan 2 '13 at 23:59
  • @Monica I agree with Jon: 'every statement is a POV statement'. I don't think adding 'I think/believe' etc qualifiers makes anything clearer and the cost is increased wordiness/noise. – Jack Douglas Jan 3 '13 at 5:28
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Generally speaking, 'On-topic' only applies to questions - note the FAQ defines "What kind of questions can I ask here?" but says nothing about answers

This is because again, generally speaking, good/bad answers are handled purely by the voting system. Mod action is only called for in cases of clear abuse - and no-one should edit posts just because they don't like the style or point-of-view of the answer

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