Internal experience and rationality

There’s this post on Talking Philosophy about religious experience and the fact that it can be or seem to be veridical, and the questions that fact raises.

The religious experience as veridical thing is interesting. If the experience genuinely has that quality – is it rational to take it at face value? Okay, I guess most people reading this will answer ‘no’ (and tell me off for suggesting such a thing). But I wonder…

I would say it isn’t entirely rational to take religious experience at face value as veridical, for reasons that don’t seem to appear in comments on that post; not exactly, anyway. I would say it isn’t rational because we know that experience can be misleading. That’s all. It’s pretty simple. That’s why (isn’t it?) experience on its own (internal, private, unsharable, unduplicatable) experience is not considered scientific evidence (or legal evidence either). We know our minds can play tricks on us; we know human beings can hallucinate; therefore we know, or ought to know if we want to claim the title ‘rational,’ that any purely internal experience may be overwhelmingly convincing to us but that it doesn’t follow that it can or should be convincing to anyone else.

I think the claim is that the experience is so convincing (so powerful, overwhelming, veridical) to the person who has it that that person can’t believe it’s not veridical – is literally unable to believe that.

But…I’m not sure that works – not in the sense of deserving the term ‘rational.’ If one really is rational, one ought to be able to have an intense internal experience and still remain aware that that is what it is and that it cannot of its nature be legitimately convincing to anyone else – and that therefore it is not genuine evidence, and should not be taken to be genuine evidence, even by the person inside whose head it played itself out. Not even if that person is a brilliant philosopher or physicist.

That’s not to say that it’s not understandable that the experiencers would find the experience convincing, just that the label ‘rational’ is – not really earned. I think there are good reasons why it is not rational for people to be convinced by their own purely internal experiences, and that therefore it’s understandable but not rational to be convinced by them.

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