Probabilistic measures of coherence and the problem of belief individuation

Synthese 154 (1):73 - 95 (2007)
Abstract
Coherentism in epistemology has long suffered from lack of formal and quantitative explication of the notion of coherence. One might hope that probabilistic accounts of coherence such as those proposed by Lewis, Shogenji, Olsson, Fitelson, and Bovens and Hartmann will finally help solve this problem. This paper shows, however, that those accounts have a serious common problem: the problem of belief individuation. The coherence degree that each of the accounts assigns to an information set (or the verdict it gives as to whether the set is coherent tout court) depends on how beliefs (or propositions) that represent the set are individuated. Indeed, logically equivalent belief sets that represent the same information set can be given drastically different degrees of coherence. This feature clashes with our natural and reasonable expectation that the coherence degree of a belief set does not change unless the believer adds essentially new information to the set or drops old information from it; or, to put it simply, that the believer cannot raise or lower the degree of coherence by purely logical reasoning. None of the accounts in question can adequately deal with coherence once logical inferences get into the picture. Toward the end of the paper, another notion of coherence that takes into account not only the contents but also the origins (or sources) of the relevant beliefs is considered. It is argued that this notion of coherence is of dubious significance, and that it does not help solve the problem of belief individuation.
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