I am asking about questions in the line of "would doing X be perceived as intrusive?", "would doing Y invoke the eager to continue?". In general, they ask for the possible outcomes of the target person in question.

I think this kind of question can be seen as subjective and objective at the same time. It is subjective because it can be interpreted as mind reading (e.g. "would he reply?" "what would she feel?"), and only that person can know. But it is also objective because the OP feels unsure about it. If someone is not completely convinced towards the proposal, I think that feeling is objective, not subjective.

For example, my case is to find the fine line between positive persistence and stalking, so that the intention won't be misinterpreted, and the message is crafted and sent effectively. Naturally, the questions will always have a sense of "what would she think?", and I agree that only she can know what she thinks. However, based on the context other users can still be unconvinced, feel unclear, or feel this is possible. After working out they can even estimate the possibility of success, or suggest another better approaches. One user can disagree with another, but the answers are still something can be voted on. These feelings are objective, and are what I'm looking for after all when asking on this site.

So, even a question seems to be about mind reading, it can always be answered based on the feeling of the users, thus setting the direction of the question. What do you think?

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    IPS questions often seem to walk a fine line in this objective vs subjective area. But most users seem to get a feel for it after using the site for a while. I don't think we can properly answer this (better than the large network wide post if someone wants to link that) as it varies so much from question to question. Because of this I think this meta might work best on a question by question basis here.
    – Jesse
    Dec 27, 2018 at 12:50

2 Answers 2


I don't disagree that there is an objective component to most questions. But there are a couple of issues with requests for information in which objectivity is not clear, some of which relate to the SE format:

1. Questions that are open-ended (the famous "what should I do?"-style questions) are subjective, but not so much because of the content of the questions themselves. The problem is more about connecting answers to the question actually asked.

It's more a matter of individual IPS users having to determine for themselves what context the asker is in, what things the asker wants, how the asker would value any tradeoffs they might have to make, and on and on. The result is potentially infinite answers, all slightly different from one another, none of which are more clearly valid or related to the question or the desired result than others. Such questions are essentially undefined, and so addressing them requires answerers to invent details until they are defined enough to be answerable. "The feeling of the users" may diverge wildly, and without a lot of context from each user defining their views (and the assumptions that led to them) voting doesn't really address this.

The more subjectivity there is in a question, the broader the scope becomes for potentially valid answers, and the chances for answers which don't actually apply to the asker's situation or goal become greater. Questions become less clear, and answers less useful.

2. Ironing out the subjectivity from (1), such that everyone can agree they are discussing the same thing, doesn't work with the SE format.

As is often pointed out, SE is not a discussion forum. It is not designed for, nor intended to facilitate, ongoing conversations or discussions. It's about questions and answers, which is why we require that questions include things like clear, specific goals relevant to the stack. The amount of discussion and consensus-seeking to resolve (1), or to make such floods of answers usable in the intended SE mode, requires more communication than the short, one-off essays that comprise answers here. Voting simply doesn't convey enough information, and even if it did votes can only be cast after the answerer has made every assumption and baked it into the answer.

This is especially important in the context of guessing at the minds and motivations of third parties. Taking your example situation, we don't know the person with whom you would like to be persistent but not stalk. An interpersonal approach to that issue is going to involve a lot of observing her reactions and responding. An answer like "9 out of 10 people surveyed would not consider behavior X to be stalking" is not useful here-- there is only one relevant opinion, which we can't know or even guess at very well. Collecting a nonrandom sample of opinions from the internet isn't even a terribly reliable guide to what "society" would think-- the IPS.SE user base is not likely to reflect broad groups of people around the world very precisely on issues like social appropriateness. This is decidedly not a "wisdom of crowds" scenario, and IPS.SE is no more a polling site than a discussion forum.

3. Formulating a fundamentally subjective question into an objective mold doesn't address these issues.

It is objectively true that I have an opinion about the plans expressed in your question which prompted this meta thread. That my opinion exists is an objective fact, but this does not in any way dilute the subjectivity which informs that opinion.

Is it socially acceptable to do X?

is not a question that has a firm, objective answer. X might be OK in some places, but not others, etc. Reframing this as a question eliciting an objective statement only means that a different question has an objective answer.

Does Upper_Case think it is socially acceptable to do X?

is a question with an objective answer, where X is defined and I have an opinion about it. But now the question is about what I think, and not about what is objectively true. By changing the question to an easier one it becomes possible to answer objectively, but at the cost of all relevance to the original question of whether or not X is OK to do. And, as above, it's not a more objective question for anyone other than myself-- nearly 100% of the subjectivity problems remain.

This is always a problem on IPS, where questions skirt the line of having a clearly, objectively correct answer at all. That's why the "back it up" policy is so important here-- why you think an answer will work is more important here than on, say, StackOverflow, where solutions can be tested easily, safely, and quickly to verify that desired results will follow.


Whether or not posters would like to discuss more subjective topics, the SE format is meant to elicit clear questions with informed answers. Being interested in what people think about a topic is fine, but the SE model can't support it well. Case-by-case review on subjectivity is probably necessary, per Jesse's comment. But I feel that we should be more skeptical of subjectivity here, not less. I just don't see what good things a more relaxed approach adds, while I do see downsides.

  • Thank you for spending time crafting this answer. As how I understand from 1 and 2, if the question has more than a threshold of possible interpretations and assumptions, (say 3), then it's subjective and unanswerable; if lower, then it's objective and answerable. So if OP does the homework and reduces the possible assumptions, then the question will become objective. It's the body of the question determines its objectiveness/subjectiveness, not the title. Is my understanding correct?
    – Ooker
    Dec 28, 2018 at 10:05
  • In your example question ("Does Upper_Case think..."), I'm not sure you put yourself as an answerer or the target person in a mind reading question.// Unrelated, but I want to thank you for asking these questions.
    – Ooker
    Dec 28, 2018 at 10:11
  • @Ooker For your first question, maybe. We can discuss what wavelengths of light define the "blue" portion of the spectrum, because even if there is some disagreement over where the threshold is we are at least talking about the same thing measured in the same way. Discussing which color is best doesn't have those properties, and so everyone has to define "color" and "best" for themselves to try to answer. Refining the question of the "best" color to some specific criteria may make the question more objective, but that question is no longer "which color is best?" It's about the new criteria.
    – Upper_Case
    Dec 28, 2018 at 17:47
  • And for my example, it's irrelevant which role I have. the point is that my opinion is subjective. It's tied in to my personal views on what is appropriate, based on my own criteria, which have no broader social relevance or authority. While you can ask an objective question about what I think, that doesn't change the underlying opinions' being fundamentally subjective, and therefore having the same problems as any other subjective question or answer. But for the record, I was referring to myself as the answerer.
    – Upper_Case
    Dec 28, 2018 at 17:50
  • I port my idea into an answer. What do you think?
    – Ooker
    Dec 29, 2018 at 5:09

As how I understand from point 1 and 2 of Upper_Case's answer, if the question has more than a threshold of possible interpretations and assumptions, (say 3), then it's subjective and unanswerable; if lower, then it's objective and answerable. So if OP does the homework and reduces the possible assumptions, then the question will become objective. It's the body of the question determines its objectiveness/subjectiveness, not the title.

Because if the objectiveness of a question is determined by the number of assumptions, then if the OP feel that their question does have a simple and effective answer, yet still be closed as unanswerable, then they will be frustrated for not knowing why. Worse, other users cannot help, because if they don't know the assumptions the OP makes, they can't give guiding questions if they haven't had the same experience of the OP. They want to help, but they don't know where to start. On the other hand, if we frame the problem as "requiring many assumptions", then both sides will be aware of their own assumptions, and can make an actionable plan to unstuck it. Therefore, the subjective question becomes an objective one fundamentally.

In cognitive psychology and social psychology, these phenomena are called illusion of transparency (for the part that the OP isn't aware that they have assumptions) and naïve realism (for the part that the OP expects other users to have the same assumptions like them, thus when it fails they have a frustration.)

  • 1
    This doesn't really address the arguments that I laid out. The asker's feeling that a question has an effective answer is irrelevant. If you ask "what's the best color?" I would assume you think that an effective answer exists, but one doesn't. If you lay out the criteria (like "What color is most popular in Australia in 2018?") then the question is answerable only due to the objective piece-- the bit about popularity in Australia defines the question in a way that an effective answer could exist (maybe there have been surveys, etc.). Pointing out that a question requires a lot of
    – Upper_Case
    Dec 29, 2018 at 15:33
  • 3
    (continued) assumptions, to the point that it is subjective, does not make the question objective. Being aware of the presence of a problem is not the same as having solved that problem. The broader issue here is more straightforward than this-- the question needs to suggest a common understanding of what it's asking, and what a "good answer" will address and include. The more a question is like this, the less likely it is to be closed as "too subjective". Skirting the line (being as subjective as you think you can "get away with") does not offer much benefit on SE.
    – Upper_Case
    Dec 29, 2018 at 15:42
  • hmm, let's say that someone asks me "what's the best color", and I notice that it seems that he insists that there is an effective answer, then I would ask "ok, what's that best color for?". He will say, "oh, it's for the hair". It turns out that somehow he thinks that picking colors is only about hair colors. This is the kind of assumption I'm talking about.
    – Ooker
    Dec 29, 2018 at 16:16
  • 3
    1) That's exactly the kind of thing that works poorly on IPS.SE. It's not designed for that sort of back-and-forth. The context needs to be in the question, as does the desired outcome. 2) That example still doesn't work, because even while adding "hair color" defines the question more, it still isn't defined enough-- what would the criteria be for determining a hair color to be the best? Every answerer would have to determine it for themselves, and without more discussion (which, again, SE doesn't support) that's going to be all over the place.
    – Upper_Case
    Dec 29, 2018 at 19:51
  • Yes, it doesn't define the question enough, but then both the asker and the answerers know what to do next. That's my focus. This would require more back and forth conversation, but isn't that after some turns the system will ask us to move the conversation to chat? So in the end I don't propose to change any policy, but I want us to have more "let's move this to chat" links rather than leaving the OPs not knowing how to express their actual, clear questions. Likewise, we can teach them to proactively create chatrooms for their questions if they feel their questions aren't clear enough
    – Ooker
    Dec 30, 2018 at 3:46
  • 4
    @Ooker Mods don't move 'useful' comments to chat. So if people are requesting clarification of a question you can rest assured those comments will remain and will only be removed once the question is improved. If people need more guidance than comments can provide, we have a Sandbox for that reason, there's no need to create chatrooms. If a question still isn't clear, the discussion should move to meta, not chat.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Dec 30, 2018 at 11:12
  • @Tinkeringbell I'm quite confused. You say that comments won't be removed if they request clarification, but by their nature they need to be back-and-forth, and Upper_Case says such things work poorly on SE. I agree on both sides, but then after all how to use comments? Also, why do you think that these comments don't request any clarification?
    – Ooker
    Dec 30, 2018 at 12:51
  • 2
    @Ooker we had that exact conversation in chat. Answers in comments != comments requesting a question to be clarified/requesting additional details. That screenshot is exactly the kind of back and forth that works poorly on SE. You ask a question, you get an answer. Not a chat with people, not a comment thread.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Dec 30, 2018 at 12:54
  • 1
    @Ooker I think I'm starting to lose the thread of what you're suggesting. We already use comments to focus and improve questions, but that process does not itself address a too-subjective question-- only changes to the question will do that. When people refuse to make those changes, or insist that the question is in some way objective enough, then we don't have many options other than closing the question. Maybe we can publicize the sandbox more, and get the same result with less risk of question closure or confusion?
    – Upper_Case
    Dec 30, 2018 at 16:17

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