This discussion was relocated to http://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/463

I've now looked at many questions that have been closed, citing "subjective and argumentative" as the reason. And I've seen this article: Good Subjective, Bad Subjective linked to several times as well. Particularly this thread about this question* brings up the point in a very real way but only addresses a single question and not the problem of subjectivity in general.

* The question has now been edited so that it is much softer in tone and requests a more objective response. However, for the sake of meta, I feel it's important to still discuss the issue. andyvn22 originally requested for reliable sources of new compositions that are considered innovative in the classical community.

Can we brainstorm sets of objective criteria for what isn't just "mindless social fun" (referring to #6 of the "six subjective question guidelines")?

  • For those that are interested, the last paragraph amongst other things here have been discussed in this room. If you however feel you could compose up your own view on this as an answer, feel free to do so... :) May 13, 2011 at 14:30

3 Answers 3


One category of SA questions here are questions that solicit opinons that, by their definition, cannot be supported by the answerer's personal experienced.

I'm inclined to suggest, as an example, that J. S. Bach's place in musical history is such a question.

It's 'S&A' because it solicits opinions about musical history. This is not a subject where people can share their experience. All they can do is type up their opinion.

There is plenty that is murky in history, and hiding under almost any historical 'fact' is opinion and interpretation. However, 'place in history' is rather a meta-historical question, and, in my opinion, much further out on the 'bad subjective' scale than, say, 'what year was the first public performance on a kazoo.'

  • I agree with option 1, disagree with option 2. History has a place here, as per the FAQ. May 11, 2011 at 6:32
  • While this opinion may have it's place, it is not actually an answer to this question (and is loosely connected at best). In addition, @Neilfein is correct in regards to your second point, so when you find the correct place to voice your concern you should omit that portion.
    – SRiss
    May 13, 2011 at 8:04
  • 1
    Typically, concrete examples are considered useful in meta-discussions. In addition, my point is that it asks for opinion about history, not fact.
    – bmargulies
    May 13, 2011 at 11:00
  • @bmarguiles, This edit now answers the question. Thank you for rewording it. And now that you've altered your point on history (before you said "History" has nothing to do with "practice or performance") to say it asks a subjective determination about history, I'm much more inclined to consider your point. I will mention that what is and isn't fact in history frequently changes as new things are learned or as perspective changes (for better or worse). Also it looks to be good subjective: asks "why did Bach focus on the baroque" and by it's nature needs to be cited with references.
    – SRiss
    May 13, 2011 at 15:54
  • @SRiss, it's a matter of degree and I have no fundamental disagreement with you.
    – bmargulies
    May 13, 2011 at 20:40

The subjective and argumentative closure reason isn't meant to be used to close questions that can be viewed as subjective or can be argued about. Both of those criteria are necessary, in a "real" way (not just "I could imagine someone possibly arguing if they thought you meant this", but that the question is obviously likely to provoke an argument or be unanswerable), but they are not sufficient.

Questions should be closed as subjective and argumentative when they are bad subjective, as laid out in the blog post. In reference to the "well-regarded art-music composers" question, especially consider points 4 and 5 in the blog post:

4) Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions.

You can't really have "an experience with" regarding composers, that doesn't really make sense. But regarding/evaluating someone as "innovative" is definitely about opinion. Solely about opinion, in fact. What music people like is a notoriously subjective topic, and strong disagreement is guaranteed.

5) Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.

You can theoretically find other people that think certain composers are innovative. That's not a hard fact, however -- the fact is that other people have opinions, not that the composers are innovative. We already know people got opinions :P

As well, as I said in a comment on one of the answers to the meta question:

I highly doubt the contemporary art composition community (which is a subjectively defined group) has a fixed list of their opinions that all members agree on. Any answer would be too localized, as well (new composers come along, some die or retire or stop innovating, whatever; the list would quickly be out of date).

A question should also not be evaluated according to its answers. While it's wonderful that we are receiving great answers on this site, bad subjective questions solicit bad answers. That should not be encouraged, even if it's not a problem at this very early stage of the site. You are right, though, that we should also encourage good answers that are not provocative or over-argumentative.

  • Please note that questions should be based on actual problems you face as the FAQ states. Warm-up exercises aren't really a problem as you can easily find them on a site like Google. Although a question can be written to be a good subjective, answers can still be bad subjective in that case. I would suggest not too focus on these rules too much, see an example here. May 9, 2011 at 22:09
  • The discussion here has been cleared up and was further discussed in this chat room. May 13, 2011 at 14:28

Again, I propose that we focus on being mature and intelligent answerers of questions. If it becomes clear that people are arguing, then it might be time to remove a question for being argumentative, not before.

Frankly, we are not alone. Bad subjective or questions that are not about an actual problem will not result in mature and intelligent answers from a wide audience, while you can try to do your outer best to try to compile up a good subjective answer it's simply not worth trying so as people will argue about it anyway. That is because it's the nature of the question, it's inevitable and this can't be prevented from happening...

We shouldn't wait either for people to be in a comment war, that just doesn't look good. Other than that, consider the time they have wasted on producing these bad subjective answers and comments. The time sent on such flame war is better spent elsewhere, such rule has a direct effect on the overall quality.

Please note that bad subjective questions about actual problems can sometimes be saved by rewriting...

In addition to this, can we brainstorm sets of objective criteria for what isn't just "mindless social fun" (referring to #6 of the "six subjective question guidelines")

I belief that What kind of questions should I not ask here? explains this well enough.

If you want a really good example from back in the bad subjectivity days:

Can I play the flute while I'm standing in the rain on a fishing boat?

  • 1
    I don't believe the faq explains this well enough, because andyvn22's question was not like any of the ones it says not to ask. I do however *love your example about playing the flute!
    – SRiss
    May 9, 2011 at 22:44

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