Coherentism, reliability and bayesian networks

Mind 109 (436):685-719 (2000)
The coherentist theory of justification provides a response to the sceptical challenge: even though the independent processes by which we gather information about the world may be of dubious quality, the internal coherence of the information provides the justification for our empirical beliefs. This central canon of the coherence theory of justification is tested within the framework of Bayesian networks, which is a theory of probabilistic reasoning in artificial intelligence. We interpret the independence of the information gathering processes (IGPs) in terms of conditional independences, construct a minimal sufficient condition for a coherence ranking of information sets and assess whether the confidence boost that results from receiving information through independent IGPs is indeed a positive function of the coherence of the information set. There are multiple interpretations of what constitute IGPs of dubious quality. Do we know our IGPs to be no better than randomization processes? Or, do we know them to be better than randomization processes but not quite fully reliable, and if so, what is the nature of this lack of full reliability? Or, do we not know whether they are fully reliable or not? Within the latter interpretation, does learning something about the quality of some IGPs teach us anything about the quality of the other IGPs? The Bayesian-network models demonstrate that the success of the coherentist canon is contingent on what interpretation one endorses of the claim that our IGPs are of dubious quality.
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DOI 10.1093/mind/109.436.685
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