# Can we get rid of the “philosophy” tag?

I know there are good tags and not-so-good tags, but this one in particular just irks me. Physics is not philosophy; philosophy is not physics, and if we have a "philosophy" tag on the site, it's going to motivate people to ask questions about abstract concepts that physics doesn't deal with. Like this one:

What is an "Idea" in terms of time space and matter?

Looking at the list of questions tagged [philosophy], I don't think we really need this tag. Other than the one I linked above, I think the [philosophy] questions aren't actually about philosophy and could have the tag removed. Some of those questions are about interpretation of physical results, so maybe we could have an "interpretation" tag, but I think we really need to push the message that philosophy itself is off-topic.

Does anyone else agree?

• There is a whole (however small) dicipline called philosophy of physics. See for example: princeton.edu/~hhalvors/teaching/philphysics.html. I think it is equally part of physics and part of philosophy. So I think questions about philosophy of physics should have a philosophy tag. – student Dec 17 '10 at 20:06
• @student: I know people who have done this sort of work. Sure it uses concepts of physics, but generally speaking, it's not actually physics. – David Z Dec 17 '10 at 20:27
• one could say this of physics. Sure it uses concepts of philosophy, but generally speaking, it's not actually philosophy. I do agree with @student in this case. We need to exhibit the maturity to deal with such questions rather than avoid them. "You can take the physics out of the philosophy, but you can't take the philosophy out of the physics." – Deepak Vaid Apr 12 '11 at 4:49
• Can we also get rid of the 'math' tag? The 'mathematics' tag should only be used for advanced pure mathematics, and when people only bother to write the shortened 'math' in the tag line, the 'mathematics' tag is almost certainly not appropriate for the question. I have sofar retagged the 'math' questions. – Qmechanic Jul 14 '11 at 10:25

## 7 Answers

I agree -- this tag has been removed, it can only be problematic.

I disagree.

It often helps to understand if one asks about technical details of, for example, quantum measurement or "What is >the very meaning< of a quantum measurement?".

• Well, what kind of answer would you be expecting for "the very meaning of quantum measurement"? If you're asking about, say, a description of wavefunction collapse (what it is and when it happens), then sure the question is fine, but it's not a philosophy question, it's a QM question. On the other hand, a real philosophy question (IMO) is e.g. asking which of the many named interpretations of quantum mechanics is correct, but physics can't answer that and thus it doesn't belong here. (Asking what the interpretations are, without inviting speculation about which one is right, is fine) – David Z Nov 13 '10 at 21:52
• I have changed my mind. Even if in theory still I would like to have 'philosophy' tag (some off-topic questions still may be interesting and IMHO are relevant), in practice the tag is misused. Anyway, sometimes there is no clear distinction between philosophy and physics (e.g. some interpretations of QM may be proven wrong by experiment, not only believe, i.e. hidden variables). – Piotr Migdal Nov 14 '10 at 18:32
• Good point. I would argue if an interpretation of QM is proven wrong by experiment, that is clearly physics, not philosophy. In my previous comment, I neglected to mention that I was specifically referring to comparing interpretations of QM which make identical predictions and thus cannot be distinguished by experiments. – David Z Nov 15 '10 at 5:15

We should, because it tends to be a meta-tag (not in the meaning it is, but users use and will use it as so).

I believe that there are two kinds of physicists, the ones that love the subject formula-wise, and the ones that love the subject meaning-wise.

I do believe that good physics teachers are more of the second sort. Probably researchers (especially theoretical ones) are more of the first kind. Both do physics and should be represented in this site.

Also, there are arguably many divulgative physics books (Brief history of time, etc.), which, although they are "soft-physics" they propose argumentations and discussions which are undoubtedly physical - assertions can be proven or disproven through experiment - and this makes these kinds of topics very different from abstract philosophy.

For example, the question in your example is a bad question for many reasons, but it does have a very clear physical answer. Information is related to physics in some way.

• So why do we need to tag it as "philosophy" ? – Cedric H. Nov 17 '10 at 11:01
• We can tag it semiotic, epistemology etc... probably philosophy is simpler. However my point is that there are on-topic philosophical questions. We shouldn't get rid of it, but an equivalent term is acceptable. – Sklivvz Nov 17 '10 at 18:25
• Certainly there are on-topic question that go to the meaning of entities or words in various theories and toward the practice of physics and the way we think. But that doesn't mean that a poorly defined [philosophy] tag is good for the site. I think the tag is a invitation to abuse. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Apr 11 '11 at 20:38
• Agreed. Something to cover epistemology but to exclude meaningless chatter would be more appropriate. – Sklivvz Apr 11 '11 at 21:19
• how about "Philosophy-of-physics"? – Deepak Vaid Apr 12 '11 at 4:51

What about using the tag "soft question", as one does in math.stack exchange or mathoverflow? It might be more precise and less aggrandizing.

• I guess my main complaint is that a lot of the questions that the [philosophy] tag is likely to apply to are not actually appropriate for the site, at least I think not. Using [soft-question] instead doesn't fix that. Although, I would not be opposed to introducing the [soft-question] tag for actual soft questions (i.e. no single correct answer). – David Z Nov 16 '10 at 4:24

I think most people frequenting this site are not qualified to answer questions in the philosophy of science (which does not stop them from having strong opinions on the subject). So, that tag "philosophy" (as in hypothetical tags "biology" or "dog breeding") is just a shorthand for "off topic".

physics is asking questions about nature and giving mathematical models to explain it. Philosophy is asking questions about nature and giving abstract models to explain it. In the end its about asking the right questions and giving the right answers. Since both ask questions about nature, I think they are two sides of the same coin.