my recent adventure (see the comments) in the atheosphere--
Let's say I read some biologist affirming that there's such a thing as group selection--a tricky, subtle concept I don't understand really well. Group selection may not make much sense to me, but in Socratic fashion, I know what I don't know. I know there's a big debate in biology about group selection, with well regarded people on both sides, but I don't know all the arguments and positions. I haven't read the literature on this. It's all rather technical. I might not even be able to digest it if I tried. So a hunch about it, OK, I might even have a tentative view. A definitive view, no. Dismiss other people's views out of hand? Certainly not. I definitely wouldn't dismiss the biologist as a clown.
Now let's transpose. Andrew Pessin started his recent HuffPo post by recognizing the paradox of the preface (more here). To some people, the paradox seems preposterous. Some say with total confidence that there's no paradox at all. To argue for this, in effect they try to solve the paradox. But wait, there are dozens of solutions in the literature, and objections to extant solutions! Without reading them, they nevertheless confidently espouse their own solutions. They also confidently trounce other solutions. Why read the literature? they say. There's no paradox! Or: why should I listen to philosophers if I don't listen to theologians? (To be clear--this is a composite of things said by several people in that comment thread.)
What I have learned: philosophers don't have the stature of biologists (gulp!). The assumption is that you can weigh in on philosophical issues without first studying what philosophers have said about them, in a way you obviously can't weigh in on biological controversies without first studying what biologists have said about them.
That perception really surprises me. I do regard philosophers (the good ones) as experts--not so much on "the truth" but on the contours of problems. It's not immediately obvious there's any problem of free will (for example), but the fact that philosophers see it as a problem is evidence that there's a problem. If you don't get it, listen up! Read more! If you quickly think you've got the solution, the fact that philosophers debate this endlessly, and there are lots of competing views, is evidence that it's not as simple as you think. Ditto: the paradox of the preface.
Why should you give the views of philosophers that sort of weight? Good question. I have an insider's reasons for doing so. How does an outsider recognize which groups should be credited with expertise and what they're experts about? I shall not have more than a few hunches before I spend some time reading the literature on social epistemology.