The role of coherence in epistemic justification

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79 (1):90 – 106 (2001)
Among many reasons for which contemporary philosophers take coherentism in epistemology seriously, the most important is probably the perceived inadequacy of alternative accounts, most notably misgivings about foundationalism. But coherentism also receives straightforward support from cases in which beliefs are apparently justified by their coherence. From the perspective of those against coherentism, this means that an explanation is needed as to why in these cases coherence apparently justifies beliefs. Curiously, this task has not been carried out in a serious way in the anti-coherentist literature although there is no scarcity of objections to coherentism. The traditional charge has been that justification by coherence is circular. More recently the isolation problem allegedly reveals that coherentism justifies beliefs that should not be justified. Questions have also been raised with respect to the basing relation and feasibility.1 However, these objections do not explain why some beliefs appear to be justified by their coherence. This paper fills this gap in the anti-coherentist literature by offering a noncoherentist account of justification by coherence. The paper proceeds as follows. Section I delineates the framework of discussion and develops some conceptual tools needed in later analyses. Section II argues that there are genuine cases of an increase in existing empirical justification by coherence, but that it does not require coherence to generate additional justification—coherence serves as a channel of justification among beliefs, which is no more problematic than channeling of justification from basic to derived beliefs in foundationalism. Section III makes a stronger case for justification by coherence, where each of the coherent beliefs has no independent empirical justification; but Section IV argues that even in these cases coherence need not generate justification—coherence licenses the channeling of justification from outside sources..
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DOI 10.1080/713659180
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