T. L. e-mails,
Here’s fodder for a follow-up MP post, if you care to pursue it. I do not endorse the following objection, but I wonder how you’d reply.
In “David Lewis on Religion” you say: "To be a good philosopher of X one ought to know both philosophy and X from the inside, by practice." But there is some prima facie tension between this claim and your insistence that arguments don’t have testicles (or skin color).
Objector: “You, Maverick Philosopher, can never know *from the inside* the relevant experiences of women (or racial minorities), so your arguments are not to be taken seriously.” Why not let Lewis’s arguments stand or fall on their merits? And if his arguments *are* defective in some way Lewis cannot see due to his irreligiousity, then mustn't you allow the same charge against your political/cultural arguments mutatis mutandis?
"Arguments don't have testicles" is my preferred response to women (and men) who claim that men have no right to an opinion about the morality of abortion due to their inability to become pregnant. An argument for or against abortion is good or bad regardless of the sex of the person giving the argument. And similarly for race. One doesn't have to be black to have a well-founded opinion about the causes and effects of black-on-black crime. The point holds in general in all objective subject areas. For purposes of logical appraisal, arguments can and must be detached from their producers.
It is also clear that one can be a competent gynecologist without being a woman, and a competent specialist in male urology without being a man. Only a fool would discount the advice of a female urologist on the treatment of erectile dysfunction on the ground that the good doctor is incapable of having an erection. "You don't know what it's like, doc, you don't have a penis!" In objective matters like these, the 'what it's like' is not relevant. One needn't know what it's like to have morning sickness to be able to prescribe an effective palliative. I know what it is like to be a man 'from the inside,' but my literal (spatial) insides can be better known by certain women.
But in other subject areas, the 'what it is like' is relevant indeed. Consider Mary, a character in a rather well known piece of philosophy-of-mind boilerplate.
Mary is a brilliant neuroscientist who has spent her entire life in a visually impoverished state. Pent up in a room from birth and sheltered from colors, her visual experience is restricted to black and white and shades of gray. You are to imagine that she has come to know everything there is to know about the brain and its visual system. Her access to the outer world is via black-and-white TV. The neuroscience texts over which she so assiduously pores have beeen expurgated by the dreaded Color Censor.
Mary knows every third-person, objective fact about the physics of colors and the neurophysiology of color perception. But there is plenty she dos not know: what it is like to see a red rose or a blue sky. That sort of thing. In Chisholm-speak, she does not know what it is like to be appeared-to redly.
So let's say Mary knows everything there is to know about colors from the outside, but nothing about them from the inside. She has no first-person, experiential, knowledge of colors. Do you think she would be in a position to write about the phenomenology of color? Obviously not.
Analogously, a philosopher of religion who has never had a religious experience, and indeed lacks a religious sensibility or disposition such as would incline one to have such experiences, is in no position to write about religion. And this, even if he knows every objective fact about every religion. Thus our imagined philosopher of religion knows the history of religions and their sociology, and can rattle off every doctrine of every religion. He knows all about the Christological heresies and the filioque clause and the anatta doctrine, etc. He is like Mary who knows all about colors from the outside but nothing about them from the inside. He knows the externals and trappings, but not the living essence.
He literally does not know, from the inside, what he is talking about just as Mary literally does not know, from the inside, what she is talking about.
Now no analogy is perfect (else it wouldn't be an analogy) but the foregoing analogy supports the following response to the above objection. The objection is that one cannot consistently maintain both that
(i) some claims and arguments are such that their logical appraisal (their evaluation in terms of truth, validity, soundness, relevance etc.) can and must be conducted independently of inquiries into the natures and capacities and environments of the persons who advance the claims and arguments
(ii) some claims and arguments are such that their logical appraisal can legitimately involve inquiry into the nature, capacities, and environments of the persons who advance the claims and arguments.
My response is that one can, with no breach of logical propriety, maintain both (i) and (ii). It depends on whether the subject matter is wholly objective or also necessarily involves elements of subjectivity. If we are talking about the morality of abortion, then the arguments are good or bad independently of who is making them. They are neither male nor female. But if we are talking about the phenomenology of colors, then a person such as Mary is disqualified by her lack of experience should she advance the claim that there are no phenomenal colors or color qualia or that the whole reality of color perception is exhausted by the neurophysiology of such perception.
Can a man know what it is like to be a woman, or more specifically, what it is like to be a woman in philosophy? (There is an entire website devoted to this variation on Nagel's question.) Some women complain bitterly about their experiences as women in the male-dominated field of philosophy. (And some of these women have legitimate grievances.) Can a man know what it is like to be mocked or ridiculed or made to feel stupid? Of course. Who has never been mocked or ridiculed or made to feel stupid? The point here is that men and women have the same types of experiences. I can't feel your pain, only Bill Cinton with his special powers can do that. But I feel pain and so I know what it is like for you to feel pain, whether you are male of female, human or feline. Since I know what it is like to be ridiculed, I know what it is like for a woman to be ridiculed. But an irreligious person does not know what it is like to have a religious experience for the simple reasons that he does not have them.
I know fear and so does my cat. But he has never experienced Heideggerian Angst. So if he were, per impossibile, to say something about it, having read, per impossibile, the relevant sections of Sein und Zeit, we would be justified in ignoring his opinions. Go take a car nap! The irreligious person is like my cat: he lacks a certain range of experiences.
I am not saying that if one has religious experiences, then one will necessarily reject the view that religion is buncombe. For it is possible to have a certain range of experiences and yet decide that they are non-veridical. What I am saying is that religious experiences are a sine qua non for anyone who expects to be taken with full seriousness when he talks or writes about religion. So given that David Lewis did not have a religious bone in his body, as his wife stated, that gives me an excellent reason not to take with full seriousness his asseverations on religion. He literally does not know what he is talking about.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, by contrast, was clearly a religious man. So I take his writings on religion with utmost seriousness, which is not to say that I endorse his philosophy of religion.