Currently we have the "rude and abusive" flag:

rude or abusive
A reasonable person would find this content inappropriate for respectful discourse.


Question: If "a reasonable person would find this content inappropriate..." flag is rejected, is the flagger being judged as unreasonable?


  1. Leslie* is a reasonable person;
  2. Leslie finds this content inappropriate for respectful discourse; and
  3. Leslie has their "rude or abusive" flag rejected.

Logically, 3. implies someone has judged that 1. and/or 2. is false. I'm guessing 2. is not up for debate, from which we conclude that 1. is false, i.e.: Leslie is judged as unreasonable. (Not again, Leslie!)

* Some random name I thought of at the time of writing.

  • IMO the wording is just bad, since it tags people, exactly as you found. Who is to judge if the person flagging is reasonable or not? Is there a test to measure it? No and no. So the real problem is the wording, sadly I can't think of something better. Dec 11, 2019 at 7:41
  • Yes, and if they got upset over that implication, they'd be demonstrating their unreasonableness. Dec 11, 2019 at 19:25

6 Answers 6


The "reasonable person" in the textbox does not actually exist. They are a hypothetical tool of argument, and cannot be directly equated to any real person.

When "Leslie" flags a post, they are not doing so as the reasonable person; they are stating their opinion that the reasonable person would find this content objectionable.

Declining such a flag does not say that Leslie is not a reasonable person, but that the moderator disagrees with their assessment of what the reasonable person would think.

Unfortunately, English is weird, and conflating a reasonable person (in reference to the reasonable person) with any person that is reasonable, is going to happen here. The wording could be made more lawyerly, but it would no longer be flowing or natural and would probably make less sense to more people than it does now

  • There's a great RadioLab podcast about the history of the "reasonable person" in law, it's a good listen. It's funny, too, that this hypothetical reasonable person is supposed to be an objective standard, but it is entirely subjective.
    – Chris
    Dec 12, 2019 at 5:19
  • I think the entire point is that it's not meant to be an objective standard at all, but a subjective standard. The distinction is that it expects a "balanced" answer, avoiding excessive responses. For example, the definition of assault includes in some jurisdictions the requirement not that the victim did actually fear for their safety, but that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have such fear, clearly something that cannot be wholly objective in all circumstances.
    – Nij
    Dec 12, 2019 at 5:30
  • @Chris Yeah, I learned the history because I study law, and heard the phrase used on the Ken Ham & Bill Nye debate and it triggered me to look up the history. It's really cool. It stretches all the way back to Roman times. They called it the vir bonus or bonus pater familias. The British popularized it with the man on the Clapham omnibus, which is really just a British vir bonus. The premise was always the same - an imaginary individual of good social standing and personality. I find it intriguing that such a small concept survived for thousands of years. Dec 12, 2019 at 16:48

The key here is the word 'find', which makes it an opinion. At least sort of. Maybe the follow analogy makes sense?

I'd like to think of myself as a reasonable person. However, I dislike cheese. Does that mean I could classify a plate of cheese as disgusting, since 'a reasonable person would find this food inappropriate for eating'?

Now, if Leslie takes this into account, flags as a post as rude/abusive because they know an average reasonable Stack Exchange user would, and the flag gets declined, Leslie shouldn't assume the system/community deems Leslie unreasonable; they should post on Meta instead. Another scenario which sometimes happens is that the post is edited from something rude/abusive into something more civil in the grace period; you don't get notified as flagger and ♦ moderators don't see it either.

  • 1
    Very well put, but now I crave a plate of cheese ;)
    – iLuvLogix
    Dec 11, 2019 at 8:43
  • 3
    You can have mine :)
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Dec 11, 2019 at 8:44
  • 1
    What kind of Dutch person doesn't like cheese? Dec 11, 2019 at 11:40
  • Cheese? meta.stackexchange.com/q/316515/364003 (the good old time :P)
    – MEE
    Dec 11, 2019 at 14:26
  • 1
    @MEE-ReinstateMonica Yeah, I remember those days, a long time ago.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Dec 11, 2019 at 14:27

No person is perfectly reasonable. We are all imperfect mortal beings.

Let R be a hypothetical perfectly reasonable person. Leslie's flag being declined just means that Leslie's and the moderator's opinion about what R would find inappropriate differ.


I would bring the following concept here: sufficient and necessary condition.

The fact that

A reasonable person would find this content inappropriate for respectful discourse.

is only a necessary condition. Maybe, even only one of the necessary conditions. It is not a sufficient one.

Since this is not a sufficient AND necessary condition, Leslie is not at all judged unreasonable by the flag being rejected.

There are other logical arguments that can be made.

I would be also against adding more wording to the flag description because I think it serves its purpose: identify when this flag should be used. It does not say anything about unreasonability of a person when it is rejected.

In this abstract situation, Leslie was right to flag the post/comment. The moderator could be right or wrong by rejecting the flag. Depending on how Leslie feels about the post and the way the flag was handled (moderator can provide a reason for rejecting the flag), there are different courses of action possible.


The wording has a cool history. It's a real rhetorical device.

It comes from the man on the Clapham omnibus, a common law legal reference first used in a case McQuire v. Western Morning News in England in 1903. "A reasonable man" is a hypothetical individual. It is not a real person, but rather a rhetorical device used to ask an audience, in the former case a jury, what would constitute as reasonable or unreasonable in a given context.

Since then, it expanded to other legal concepts beyond negligence, and expanded to other non-legal contexts such as intellectual and philosophical debate. For example, you will see it used in noise ordinances, where the text will say something like "a reasonable person of ordinary sensitivity." Or in the middle of a philosophical debate, an opponent would suggest that a certain premise be taken on the basis of what is reasonable. Or in web design guidelines, where a designer is asked to give a reasonable attempt at design that would aid those with disabilities.

What they all have in common is that it's a normative concept designed to give us room to interpret the facts on a case by case basis. We have no empirical measurement. We're supposed to agree and disagree about it, but the goal is to understand that it's based on what is ordinary and normal.

It's certainly philosophical in nature, but it's quite useful. It should not be considered a qualifier about a person, but rather the act and the interpretation of that act.

A Reasonable Person would agree.


No, you are not a reasonable person.

A "reasonable person" is a legal fiction useful in deciding certain things, and you don't look very fictitious to me.

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