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Idea for New Objectivism Website

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BrandonMV
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Enixyle, I just wanted to make a quick comment. We all appreciate how much personal interest and time you are putting forth in this endeavor. It seems to me like you are excited to get something like this running, just let it be known that there is no rush necessary and you are more than welcome to take as much time as you would like regarding this topic and in getting back to us regarding certain comments (as you have suggested in your latest post) :thumbsup:

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I think it would be helpful to focus on the desiderata (and why they are desirable), because those then are the values that we would be working towards, and obviously we would want to organize those values hierarchically.

I propose that the purpose of such a site is to provide a venue where good questions from people with a certain familiarity with Objectivism can receive high-quality answers. (This serves a higher purpose, the promulgation of Objectivism, which serves an even higher purpose, all of which we can assume). Obviously, this purpose would be a matter for discussion, but assuming that this is the purpose, then reaching that goal requires attention to two specifics: "good questions" and "high-quality answers". What are "good question", and "high-quality answers"?

I think that a "good question" (not just about Objectivism, but in general) is one that fully exploits the assumed knowledge context and gives a reason why the answer is not self-evidently known to the level of being certain. What is most crucial here is saying what that assumed knowledge context is, i.e. "who is the audience?". If you assume a relatively low level of exposure to Objectivism (e.g. "I am currently reading a Rand novel"), then certain kinds of questions would count as "good" -- because their answers are not obvious, given that level of knowledge -- as compared to the assumption that people will have read the novels, VOS, CUI, ITOE, and OPAR. I'll refer to these contexts as the "elementary exposure" and "advanced familiarity" contexts

"Good questions" must be differentiated from "bad questions" -- presumably, via moderation, "bad questions" would either be converted to "good questions" by re-writing, or would be excluded. A bad question could be "not actually a question", that is, using a question mark or question form as a means of making an assertion -- a favorite tool of trolls, who will say "Many people say X about Rand (X is some insulting characterization); how can you disagree?". Assuming that the question really is a request for information, it should request further information not only on what conclusion Rand has specifically drawn, but also why that conclusion is necessary, given facts and more basic assumptions; and there should be some reason for that conclusion to be possible, given the assumed knowledge context. For instance, in the advanced familiarity context, asking "Since one's own interest is what defines moral choices, is a life of theft a morally proper choice if, to the best of you knowledge, you can get away with it undetected?" would be a bad question; on the other hand, it is a credible question for a noob in the "elementary exposure" stage.

So in my opinion, one of the most important issues that has to be addressed is the level of background knowledge that is assumed. I don't think it should be too high; it should also not be zero. The problem of "noise" is caused not by people who don't know enough about Objectivism, but by those who will not take serious action to overcome their lack of knowledge.

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You refer to "good questions" and "high-quality answers." These things are not obvious.
Are you able to identify a good question, or answer?
You seem to be heading for a concensus approach.
Nonsense. Not only am I not heading for a "consensus approach", I don't even seem to be doing so.
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Are you able to identify a good question, or answer?Nonsense. Not only am I not heading for a "consensus approach", I don't even seem to be doing so.

My "you" was a general one, including all the enthusiasts. But judgment as to what is a "good" question in philosophy is not to be taken for granted. It is not nonsense to respect the complexity of philosophy.

That "you" resort to terms such as "good question," reflects the fundamental need for wise, knowledgeable people. Your several levels of learners, with implied standards for each just elaborates that requirement. An earlier post mentioned answers that would get a contributor voted, or recognized, as an expert... That is consensus instead of knowledge. If there isn't one expert to set all these criteria, it will take majority agreement to do it, right? Consensus. Who will decide whether a position exhibits a stolen concept versus commits question-begging? What if everybody doesn't always agree?

What about the disservice "you" do when you give an answer that, though you believe it is valid, is incoherent or misses the essential point? That isn't much of an issue when people ask and respond as equals, which is what takes place here. When people set themselves up as experts, to whatever degree, they take on a corresponding degree of responsibility. I don't see on-line Objectivist sites as being over-run with the required expertise.

How do Forum questions placed here fail to offer what your new blog-site would provide?

-- Mindy

Edited by Mindy
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I think it would be helpful to focus on the desiderata (and why they are desirable), because those then are the values that we would be working towards, and obviously we would want to organize those values hierarchically.

I propose that the purpose of such a site is to provide a venue where good questions from people with a certain familiarity with Objectivism can receive high-quality answers. (This serves a higher purpose, the promulgation of Objectivism, which serves an even higher purpose, all of which we can assume). Obviously, this purpose would be a matter for discussion, but assuming that this is the purpose, then reaching that goal requires attention to two specifics: "good questions" and "high-quality answers". What are "good question", and "high-quality answers"?

I think that a "good question" (not just about Objectivism, but in general) is one that fully exploits the assumed knowledge context and gives a reason why the answer is not self-evidently known to the level of being certain. What is most crucial here is saying what that assumed knowledge context is, i.e. "who is the audience?". If you assume a relatively low level of exposure to Objectivism (e.g. "I am currently reading a Rand novel"), then certain kinds of questions would count as "good" -- because their answers are not obvious, given that level of knowledge -- as compared to the assumption that people will have read the novels, VOS, CUI, ITOE, and OPAR. I'll refer to these contexts as the "elementary exposure" and "advanced familiarity" contexts

"Good questions" must be differentiated from "bad questions" -- presumably, via moderation, "bad questions" would either be converted to "good questions" by re-writing, or would be excluded. A bad question could be "not actually a question", that is, using a question mark or question form as a means of making an assertion -- a favorite tool of trolls, who will say "Many people say X about Rand (X is some insulting characterization); how can you disagree?". Assuming that the question really is a request for information, it should request further information not only on what conclusion Rand has specifically drawn, but also why that conclusion is necessary, given facts and more basic assumptions; and there should be some reason for that conclusion to be possible, given the assumed knowledge context. For instance, in the advanced familiarity context, asking "Since one's own interest is what defines moral choices, is a life of theft a morally proper choice if, to the best of you knowledge, you can get away with it undetected?" would be a bad question; on the other hand, it is a credible question for a noob in the "elementary exposure" stage.

So in my opinion, one of the most important issues that has to be addressed is the level of background knowledge that is assumed. I don't think it should be too high; it should also not be zero. The problem of "noise" is caused not by people who don't know enough about Objectivism, but by those who will not take serious action to overcome their lack of knowledge.

I agree here. Each post need not have the same assumed knowledge; it could be "for more about rational self-interest, read VOS," etc.

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David, thank you for your post. That's very helpful and well put.

Mindy, no post has mentioned that contributors may attain expert status through voting. Contributors themselves would receive no votes. Rather, contributions may be voted as good, which then will accumulatively build the contributor's reputation. And having a good reputation means only that one is largely considered good at something among a community. As in other contexts, that information is often useful. It is not a claim to expertise, especially not on Objectivism, which is Ayn Rand's philosophy. Contributors will speak only for themselves, as I would be sure to note on the website. Moreover, reputation is only as good as the community that gives rise to it. And I believe that attracting the best community possible would be the result of pursuing a valuable purpose, such as David Odden described.

As for disagreements, that's one reason I'm strongly leaning towards a voting system over a Wiki system. A voting system allows for multiple highly rated answers and retains answers that have are not highly rated (provided they don't violate the rules), so each user has all of the information there for him to judge, even when there's controversy.

And I've already mentioned several ways, multiple times, in which this website (not "blog-site") could more effectively serve the function of question-answering.

Edited by Enixyle
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I created a proposal for Objectivism here. If you like the idea, please Follow this proposal (it needs 60 followers) or add example questions (it needs 5 that are on-topic and 5 that are off-topic) to help move it into the next stage of production. I will keep looking for alternatives as well.

I think this is a great idea. I would suggest considering the Objectivism Wiki as either a source or a place to put answers once they are finalized. There is already a lot of content on it, and it will remain free and online indefinitely, which can't be said for most commercial .com sites.

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The people behind Stack Overflow have opened up the engine (called Stack Exchange) to power any group. I think their setup would be ideal for the site you describe. You can suggest the project at http://area51.stack exchange.com/ and then get people to vote on the project.

[EDIT: never mind, I didn't see the link in the post above.]

Bill

Edited by bbrown
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Bill, no problem. I would very much like to use the StackExchange engine, but based on my reading of the FAQ, moderation control is based entirely on one's reputation. That is, the person(s) who proposed the website do not necessarily have any control to establish rules of conduct or enforce them. With the right community, maybe it could work, but there's no guarantee that it wouldn't be overrun or corrupted. I posted a question on the StackExchange website to confirm this. If that's correct, then I think it would be best to use another engine. I'm looking into a few others in the meantime.

Edited by Enixyle
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I would very much like to use the StackExchange engine, but based on my reading of the FAQ, moderation control is based entirely on one's reputation. That is, the person(s) who proposed the website do not necessarily have any control to establish rules of conduct or enforce them. With the right community, maybe it could work, but there's no guarantee that it wouldn't be overrun or corrupted.
If you'd like an example of an unmoderated forum, the original Usenet new group alt.philosophy.objectivism has decayed totally into insane blithering, and the lightly moderated humanities.philosophy.objectivism has fallen into total disrepute and disrepair. "Reputation" is not something that you earn by doing good things, it's a function of votes, which if organized correctly will result in Justin Bieber going to North Korea and Miley Cyrus going to Antarctica for teh lulz. There's not a lot of point in bothering, if 4chan or the anarchists hijack the project.
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I think an inability to have final control is a non-starter. Even if you let the community self-police to a large extent, you still need to deal with a highly possible concerted attack, not just a group of trolls.

I suggest you do a preliminary survey and then pick a site or software and give it a spin: for instance, if it is Shapado, you can start by posting a few questions and answers there and let others volunteers do the same. If you have to move in early days, the Q&A can easily be reposted elsewhere.

If a host can be found, then the other open-source engines may work too, but I don't know much about that.
Hosting should not be a problem. If you prefer some open-source solution that needs to be hosted, just ask.

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From Enixyle, today, 2:48 pm:

"Mindy, no post has mentioned that contributors may attain expert status through voting. Contributors themselves would receive no votes. Rather, contributions may be voted as good, which then will accumulatively build the contributor's reputation."

Mindy:

Now there's a distinction without a difference... The contradictory nature of your defense is, I am forced to say, a condemnation of the project in exactly the aspect I first stated.

Enixyle:

"As for disagreements, that's one reason I'm strongly leaning towards a voting system over a Wiki system." (same post)

Your second comment is hardly needed, as you've indicted yourself with your highly equivocal statements on "voting," and, which is the significant point, consensus, as your measure of adequacy.

I do not mean to offend anyone, but you aren't considering the consumer of this project. If your esteemed contributors can't agree on an answer, how can it seem feasible that by giving the questioner a spate of inconsistent responses, you are helping them? You guys can't sort it out, but the newbie can?? Reminds me of those who say let the kids decide what to learn in school, let them write the curriculum.

Anybody remember a "game" that Rand's "group" used to play, in which someone was given two terms of philosophical significance, and had to, off the top of their head, explain the connection between them? I suggest that until you can do that, and not just to your own personal satisfaction, you aren't qualified to hold yourself out as teaching or explaining Objectivism.

How about forming a sub-forum in which people are invited to test one another on their mastery of Objectivism?

-- Mindy

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Mindy, let me put this in your terms: The consensus of a good community on the usefulness of an answer is valuable information that should not and need not be equated with a claim to expertise. So please stop asserting that there is no distinction. That was the point of my paragraph from which you quoted. (How to establish a good community, then, is a different question.)

As for my paragraph on disagreements, I was addressing your question of who would decide what the final answer should be. To summarize myself again, in essence, there would be no "final" answer. A voting system would allow for conflicting answers (that don't violate the rules) to co-exist for each person to judge for himself. That's why that comment was needed.

And we are considering the consumers of the project. For example, contrary to what you imply, the questioners need not all be newbies. Individuals with all levels of knowledge ask questions. Moreover, newsbies are qualified to say for themselves which answers are most useful for them and other contributors can vote on the quality too. And what do we do with this information? We don't claim that answerers are thereby experts. We take that information for what it is and nothing more. The consensus of quality is one way of organizing answers as opposed to chronology, and can be a very helpful form of organization among a good community. Maybe you prefer to sift through tens of pages of chronically organized answers (which are not all independent attempts at answering the question, they often depend on a context interwoven in the previous answers). Then you are free to use whatever forums you wish.

I can discuss other advantages, but I'm done repeating myself.

Edited by Enixyle
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softwareNerd, I agree and that's a good way of putting the problem. I won't push for the website without being able to establish that control.

Currently, I'm researching different options. I'm still waiting for a response concerning StackExchange and whether a person who proposes a website there becomes its administrator, though I think the answer will be no. Shapado.com is another option, which allows for an administrator, moderators, and question/answer moderation, but I don't see a way to ban users, which I don't like. I'm looking into that. OSQA.net is yet another option, which is an open-source engine built using Python and seems to have all the features I'm looking for. It requires separate hosting, so I'm setting up a virtual server to play with it. There are other possibilities as well. I'll post my findings (including whether a host will be necessary). Thanks.

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Mindy, let me put this in your terms: The consensus of a good community on the usefulness of an answer is valuable information that should not and need not be equated with a claim to expertise. So please stop asserting that there is no distinction. That was the point of my paragraph from which you quoted. (How to establish a good community, then, is a different question.)

As for my paragraph on disagreements, I was addressing your question of who would decide what the final answer should be. To summarize myself again, in essence, there would be no "final" answer. A voting system would allow for conflicting answers (that don't violate the rules) to co-exist for each person to judge for himself. That's why that comment was needed.

And we are considering the consumers of the project. For example, contrary to what you imply, the questioners need not all be newbies. Individuals with all levels of knowledge ask questions. Moreover, newsbies are qualified to say for themselves which answers are most useful for them and other contributors can vote on the quality too. And what do we do with this information? We don't claim that answerers are thereby experts. We take that information for what it is and nothing more. The consensus of quality is one way of organizing answers as opposed to chronology, and can be a very helpful form of organization among a good community. Maybe you prefer to sift through tens of pages of chronically organized answers (which are not all independent attempts at answering the question, they often depend on a context interwoven in the previous answers). Then you are free to use whatever forums you wish.

I can discuss other advantages, but I'm done repeating myself.

Me, too.

I will point out that you beg the question when you say your consensus is of "a good community." That is not another matter, but the central issue.

If consensus is good enough for you, so be it. Whatever you offer, however, that is consistent with replacing reason with consensus will not properly be termed "Objectivism."

-- Mindy

Edited by Mindy
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If your esteemed contributors can't agree on an answer, how can it seem feasible that by giving the questioner a spate of inconsistent responses, you are helping them? You guys can't sort it out, but the newbie can?? Reminds me of those who say let the kids decide what to learn in school, let them write the curriculum.
The situation would be untenable if each newbie question resulted in a whole lot of debate among the contributors which a newbie then has to wade through. If that happens, the site would be a failure. However, if this type of thing is the exception rather than the norm, the site can be useful. (The Wikipedia has a way by which moderators mark certain topics as controversial, alerting the reader that the content may have below-average reliability.)

It is important not to let perfect be the enemy of the good in a project like this. If the contributors can add value it is a good thing for the reader. Also, one of Enixyle's purposes is for this to be of value to the writer, not just to the reader. As long as it is clear that the site is not an expert place, the reader will be alerted. As long as it is clear that the contributors have read Rand enough to be seriously on the path to adopting Objectivism in their own lives, but are not professional intellectuals, the intelligent reader will be able to make his own decision.

In this internet age, the costs of startup and failure are small. I suggest that Enixyle should decide on software/site. Having done that, make the briefest possible set of rules and guidelines, being clear that they are drafts that will be revised. With those in hand, just start by creating a couple of Q&A, and also by adding a few (say 10) unanswered questions and then inviting two or three other volunteers to contribute to those. A trial-run like that will sort out some of the mechanics and standards and will allow the guidelines to be firmed up a bit and will give people something concrete to think about. Once the first round of "polishing" is done, move on to inviting more people to contribute. Something along these lines (i.e. iterative design and development) is the way to go.

Edited by softwareNerd
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