I've seen good answers up voted and brilliant answers down voted. I understand that not everybody has the same intellectual ability. And, we do not know, what we do not know. Good answers are comprehended by average intellects, while brilliant answers are often not. So how do I tell if an answer is too complicated for me to understand or just wrong?

  • Questions about the operation of this site should be asked on Philosophy Meta.
    – Conifold
    Feb 4 '18 at 23:17
  • @Conifold the question is not about the operation of the site or any other site. I could Google something and not comprehend the answer but think it's wrong. Feb 4 '18 at 23:29
  • Related in that it is about the structure of SE philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/30217/3733
    – Dave
    Feb 4 '18 at 23:38
  • 2
    This seems a good reason to encourage down-voters to leave a comment. I don;t know haw to answer the question. It's a problem ion all areas of philosophy. When we think a writer is talking nonsense it may be that the words are going over our head. Learning philosophy is learning how to sort the wheat from the chaff and all one can do is keep going. .
    – user20253
    Feb 5 '18 at 12:34

Like SonOfThought says, of course we'll need to assume that the voting system can be completely mistaken. Unfortunately, if we've no knowledge of a field and some unqualified answers get upvoted then maybe we won't know whether they are unqualified. There might be some hints though. I'll try to construct some criteria for answers we might want to downvote (if we've knowledge about something) and from that try to give things that might make us skeptical (if we've no knowledge about something).

If you hover over the downvote button it says "This answer is not useful". So what is "use"? It has to answer the question in some way and be of good quality. One reason to downvote is if something misses the question. That's not an arbitrary criterion.

When is an answer of bad quality? Multiple things might give us reason to downvote:

1) Someone presents an argument that is clearly logically invalid.
2) Someone assserts something without argument when one should be required.
3) Factual errors when presenting something. For example misinterpretations of some positions etc.

I believe those can - somewhat - dodge biases. Whether the argument is sound shouldn't really matter unless the premises are unexplained and not even remotely plausible. But extensive arguments can't be expected in internet posts. So those might navigate how we should be voting if we have knowledge of something. Does that help for the case when we want to know something?

So how do I tell if an answer is too complicated for me to understand or just wrong?

Let's try to take those criteria and apply them to the point of view of having no knowledge of something. In order to know if something is clearly invalid I'll have to know a bit of basic logic. Without that we might want to suspend judgment. But then short answers should be suspicious (depending on the context). Remarks under answers should not be skipped, in case someone points out a misreading.

The opposite are long answers with some well-regarded sources (SEP etc.), with quotes or with an argument with clear premises. Those more likely can be good even if downvoted. Answers that present multiple approaches to some problem could also be good. For example, if there's a question about metaethics and someone presents multiple possibilites that are in conflict (non-cognitivism, error-theory, moral realism ...) then that could be a good sign.

Some topics also will probably have bad answers upvoted or good answers downvoted. For example, if someone presents a cosmological proof of god with great detail, he might still get downvoted just because people don't agree with the conclusion. And vice versa. Any topics that are popularly controversial should be taken with a grain of salt. Or rather a bucket of grains of salt.

Of course we can't avoid our own biases, especially in cases in which we have some sort of half-knowledge of something. But in that case we hopefully engage with something often enough to realize that we've missed something at some point.


So there's dozens of fancy directions an answer to this question could turn. We could talk about whether the goodness of an answer is objective or subjective. We could have fun with the unknown-unknown as you bring up. However your actual question focuses on "understanding." It is something that I think we all feel similar enough about that I can answer it directly:

An answer is too complicated for you to understand when it leaves you with no new questions.

If you finish an answer, sit back, and think "Wow. That really settles that, doesn't it?" then you may need to reread it for understanding. These questions and answers are not mountain peaks to be scaled: they are the pitted surface of the much bigger mountain that we are all climbing. If an answer does not make you look up a new mountain pitch and say, "I wonder what is on the other side of that rock field?" then it wasn't leading you towards climbing the mountain that matters to you.

For myself, this definition is important. I could easily get lost in the question of whether I had fully comprehended the author's true meaning. It's just how I am. But if an answer makes me peek up above a boulder and see a path full of questions that I could ask beyond it, then I'm comfortable saying that I understood it enough, and the rest is history.


Your observation is right. But not in all cases. My humble opinion is that you needn't bother about that. You can take good ideas from the down voted ones also and create an answer for your needs. It will take time; sometimes years to happen any changes in down votes. At present there is no solution to this problem. Stopping down voting might be a slightly hopeful solution. If one is brilliant he will certainly identify the brilliant one. Often brilliant and wise persons don't care about votes...they just share their ideas... and take only what is needed.

So how do I tell if an answer is too complicated for me to understand or just wrong?

In normal case, if an answer is illogical/irrational we can say it is wrong. But it is not easy to decide whether a complicated answer is wrong.

If you can't form a clear mental picture connecting the ideas in the answer and also if you can't say whether it is wrong, you can confirm that it is too complicated. Sometimes new ideas that supports facts/truths will emerge after each reading of such too complicated answers.

SE can make the voting process more reliable.

Each down vote should be given validity only if it is followed by good comments (without mentioning the voter's names). By this, the person or other persons can clarify the question/answer.

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