Once upon a time, coherentism was the dominant response to the regress problem in epistemology, but in recent decades the view has fallen into disrepute: now almost everyone is a foundationalist (with a few infinitists sprinkled here and there). In this paper, I sketch a new way of thinking about coherentism, and show how it avoids many of the problems often thought fatal for the view, including the isolation objection, worries over circularity, and concerns that the concept of (...) coherence is too vague or metaphorical for serious theoretical use. The key to my approach is to take a familiar tool from discussions of the regress problem -- namely, directed graphs depicting the support relations between beliefs -- and to use that tool in a more sophisticated manner than it is standardly employed. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Coherentists on epistemic justification claim that all justification is inferential, and that beliefs, when justified, get their justification together (not in isolation) as members of a coherent belief system. Some recent work in formal epistemology shows that “individual credibility” is needed for “witness agreement” to increase the probability of truth and generate a high probability of truth. It can seem that, from this result in formal epistemology, it follows that coherentist justification is not truth-conducive, that it is not the case (...) that, under the requisite conditions, coherentist justification increases the probability of truth and generates a high probability of truth. I argue that this does not follow. (shrink)
According to metaphysical coherentism, grounding relations form an interconnected system in which things ground each other and nothing is ungrounded. This potentially viable view’s logical territory remains largely unexplored. In this paper, I describe that territory by articulating four varieties of metaphysical coherentism. I do not argue for any variety in particular. Rather, I aim to show that not all issues which might be raised against coherentism will be equally problematic for all the versions of that view, (...) which features far more nuance and diversity than is typically ascribed to it. (shrink)
Approximate coherentism suggests that imperfectly rational agents should hold approximately coherent credences. This norm is intended as a generalization of ordinary coherence. I argue that it may be unable to play this role by considering its application under learning experiences. While it is unclear how imperfect agents should revise their beliefs, I suggest a plausible route is through Bayesian updating. However, Bayesian updating can take an incoherent agent from relatively more coherent credences to relatively less coherent credences, depending on (...) the data observed. Thus, comparative rationality judgments among incoherent agents are unduly sensitive to luck. (shrink)
In ‘A reductio of coherentism’ (Analysis 67, 2007) Tom Stoneham offers a novel argument against epistemological coherentism. ‘On the face of it’, he writes, ‘the argument gives a conclusive reductio ad absurdum of any coherence theory of justification. But that cannot be right, can it?’ (p. 254). It could be right, but it isn’t. I argue that coherentists need not accept the central premises of Stoneham’s argument and that, even if these premises were acceptable and true, Stoneham’s reductio (...) would not follow. (shrink)
Semantic holists view what one's terms mean as function of all of one's usage. Holists will thus be coherentists about semantic justification: showing that one's usage of a term is semantically justified involves showing how it coheres with the rest of one's usage. Semantic atomists, by contrast, understand semantic justification in a foundationalist fashion. Saul Kripke has, on Wittgenstein's behalf, famously argued for a type of skepticism about meaning and semantic justification. However, Kripke's argument has bite only if one understands (...) semantic justification in foundationalist terms. Consequently, Kripke's arguments lead not to a type of skepticism about meaning, but rather to the conclusion that one should be a coherentist about semantic justification, and thus a holist about semantic facts. (shrink)
The most pressing difficulty coherentism faces is, I believe, the problem of justified inconsistent beliefs. In a nutshell, there are cases in which our beliefs appear to be both fully rational and justified, and yet the contents of the beliefs are inconsistent, often knowingly so. This fact contradicts the seemingly obvious idea that a minimal requirement for coherence is logical consistency. Here, I present a solution to one version of this problem.
matter of knowing that -- that injustice is wrong, courage is valuable, and care is As a result, what I'll be doing is primarily defending in general -- and due. Such knowledge is embodied in a range of capacities, abilities, and skills..
A model of coherentist belief contraction is constructed. The outcome of belief contraction is required to be one of the coherent subsets of the original belief set, and a set of plausible properties is proposed for this set of coherent subsets. The contraction operators obtained in this way are shown to coincide with well-known belief base operations. This connection between coherentist and "foundationalist" approaches to belief change has important implications for the philosophical interpretation of models of belief change.
The problem of epistemic circularity involved in justifying fundamental epistemic principles is one of the fundamental problems of epistemology. One important way out of this problem is a Sellarsian social practice theory of justification, according to which we are justified in accepting an epistemic principle if we can answer all objections raised against it in our social practice of demanding justification and responding to such demands. The main goal of this paper is to show that this social practice theory can (...) accomplish better than its rival theories, such as Alston’s doxastic practice approach, Sosa’s reliabilist virtue epistemology, and Wright’s entitlement theory, by making comparisons with these influential theories. (shrink)
Perhaps the most fundamental question of epistemology asks on what grounds our knowledge of the world ultimately rests. The traditional Cartesian answer is that it rests on indubitable facts arrived at through rational insight or introspection. Coherentists reject this answer, claiming instead that knowledge arises from relations of coherence or mutual support: if our beliefs cohere, we can be sure that they are mostly true. The first part of this Element introduces the reader to the main ideas and problems of (...)coherentism. The next part describes the 'probabilistic turn', leading up to recent demonstrations that coherence fails to be conducive to truth. The final part reassesses the current debate about the proper definition of coherence from the standpoint of Rudolf Carnap's methodology of explication. The upshot is a tentative and qualified defence of one of the early coherence measures. (shrink)
If a subject’s belief system is inconsistent, does it follow that the subject’s beliefs (all of them) are unjustified? It seems not. But, coherentist theories of justification (at least some of them) imply otherwise, and so, it seems, are open to counterexample. This is the “Problem of Justified Inconsistent Beliefs”. I examine two main versions of the Problem of Justified Inconsistent Beliefs, and argue that coherentists can give at least a promising line of response to each of them.
Can a perceptual experience justify (epistemically) a belief? More generally, can a nonbelief justify a belief? Coherentists answer in the negative: Only a belief can justify a belief. A perceptual experience can cause a belief but cannot justify a belief. Coherentists eschew all noninferential justification—justification independent of evidential support from beliefs—and, with it, the idea that justification has a foundation. Instead, justification is holistic in structure. Beliefs are justified together, not in isolation, as members of a coherent belief system. The (...) main question of the paper is whether coherentism is consistent. I set out an apparent inconsistency in coherentism and then give a resolution to that apparent inconsistency. (shrink)
The heart of coherentism is found in two aspects, one negative and one positive. On the negative side, coherentism is a contrary of foundationalism, the view that the epistemic status of our beliefs ultimately traces to, or derives from, basic beliefs.
In this paper I prove that holistic coherentism is logically equivalent to the conjunction of symmetry and quasi-transitivity of epistemic support and a condition on justified beliefs. On the way I defend Tom Stoneham from a criticism made by Darrell Rowbottom and prove a premiss of Stoneham’s argument to be an entailment of coherentism.
Coherentism is a theory of epistemic justification. It implies that for a belief to be justified it must belong to a coherent system of beliefs. For a system of beliefs to be coherent, the beliefs that make up that system must “cohere” with one another. Typically, this coherence is taken to involve three components: logical consistency, explanatory relations, and various inductive (non-explanatory) relations. Rival versions of coherentism spell out these relations in different ways. They also differ on the (...) exact role of coherence in justifying beliefs: in some versions, coherence is necessary and sufficient for justification, but in others it is only necessary. (shrink)
This paper considers a problem for Bayesian epistemology and proposes a solution to it. On the traditional Bayesian framework, an agent updates her beliefs by Bayesian conditioning, a rule that tells her how to revise her beliefs whenever she gets evidence that she holds with certainty. In order to extend the framework to a wider range of cases, Jeffrey (1965) proposed a more liberal version of this rule that has Bayesian conditioning as a special case. Jeffrey conditioning is a rule (...) that tells the agent how to revise her beliefs whenever she gets evidence that she holds with any degree of confidence. The problem? While Bayesian conditioning has a foundationalist structure, this foundationalism disappears once we move to Jeffrey conditioning. If Bayesian conditioning is a special case of Jeffrey conditioning, then they should have the same normative structure. The solution? To reinterpret Bayesian updating as a form of diachronic coherentism. (shrink)
What makes an ``ought'''' claim authoritative? What makes aparticular norm genuinely reason-giving for an agent? This paper arguesthat normative authority can best be accounted for in terms of thejustification of norms. The main obstacle to such a theory, however, isa regress problem. The worry is that every attempt to offer ajustification for an ``ought'''' claim must appeal to another ``ought''''claim, ad infinitum. The paper argues that vicious regress canbe avoided in practical reasoning in the same way coherentists avoid theproblem in (...) epistemology. Norms are justified by their coherence withother norms. (shrink)
Liberal societies are characterized by respect for a fundamental value pluralism; i.e., respect for individuals’ rights to live by their own conception of the good. Still, the state must make decisions that privilege some values at the cost of others. When public ethics committees give substantial ethical advice on policy related issues, it is therefore important that this advice is well justified. The use of explicit tools for ethical assessment can contribute to justifying advice. In this article, I will discuss (...) one approach to ethical assessment, the ethical matrix method. This method is a variant of intuitionist balancing. Intuitionism is characterized by stressing the existence of several (at least two) fundamental prima facie moral principles, between which there is no given rank order. For some intuitionist approaches, coherentism has been proposed as a model of justification. This article will discuss justification of ethical advice and evaluate the appropriateness of coherentism as a justificatory approach to intuitionist tools. (shrink)
A model of coherentist belief contraction is constructed. The outcome of belief contraction is required to be one of the coherent subsets of the original belief set, and a set of plausible properties is proposed for this set of coherent subsets. The contraction operators obtained in this way are shown to coincide with well-known belief base operations. This connection between coherentist and foundationalist approaches to belief change has important implications for the philosophical interpretation of models of belief change.
Philosophers of well-being have tended to adopt a foundationalist approach to the question of theory and measurement, according to which theories are conceptually prior to measures. By contrast, social scientists have tended to adopt operationalist commitments, according to which they develop and refine well-being measures independently of any philosophical foundation. Unfortunately, neither approach helps us overcome the problem of coordinating between how we characterize wellbeing and how we measure it. Instead, we should adopt a coherentist approach to well-being science.
Recent results in probability theory have cast doubt on the coherence theory of justification, allegedly showing that coherence cannot produce justification for beliefs in the absence of foundational justification, and that there can be no measure of coherence on which coherence is generally truth-conducive. I argue that the coherentist can reject some of the assumptions on which these theorems depend. Coherence can then be held to produce justification on its own, and truth-conducive measures of coherence can be constructed.
Plantinga argues that cases involving ‘fixed’ beliefs refute the coherentist thesis that a belief’s belonging to a coherent set of beliefs suffices for its having justification (warrant). According to Plantinga, a belief cannot be justified if there is a ‘lack of fit’ between it and its subject’s experiences. I defend coherentism by showing that if Plantinga means to claim that any ‘lack of fit’ destroys justification, his argument is obviously false. If he means to claim that significant ‘lack of (...) fit’ destroys justification, his argument suffers a critical lack of support. Either way, Plantinga’s argument fails and coherentism emerges unscathed. (shrink)
This paper defends a coherentist approach to moral epistemology. In “The Immorality of Eating Meat”, I offer a coherentist consistency argument to show that our own beliefs rationally commit us to the immorality of eating meat. Elsewhere, I use our own beliefs as premises to argue that we have positive duties to assist the poor and to argue that biomedical animal experimentation is wrong. The present paper explores whether this consistency-based coherentist approach of grounding particular moral judgments on beliefs we (...) already hold, with no appeal to moral theory, is a legitimate way of doing practical ethics. I argue that grounding particular moral judgments on our core moral convictions and other core nonmoral beliefs is a legitimate way to justify moral judgments, that these moral judgments possess as much epistemic justification and have as much claim to objectivity as moral judgments grounded on particular ethical theories, and that this internalistic coherentist method of grounding moral judgments is more likely to result in behavioral guidance than traditional theory-based approaches to practical ethics. By way of illustrating the approach, I briefly recapitulate my consistency-based argument for ethical vegetarianism. I then defend the coherentist approach implicit in the argument against a number of potentially fatal metatheoretical attacks. (shrink)
An explanatory coherence theory of justification is sketched and then defended against a number of recent objections: conservatism and relativism; wild and crazy beliefs; reliability; warranted necessary falsehoods; basing; distant, unknown coherences; Sosa's “self- and present-abstracts”; and Bayesian impossibility results.
Over the last twenty years, John Rawls has developed an approach to political philosophy which appeals to the notion of reflective equilibrium. This notion has proven suggestive to those attracted to coherence approaches to justification, in ethics and in other domains as well. In this paper, I explore the question whether Rawls’s approach provides a model for a coherentist account of justification, concluding that although the discussion of reflective equilibrium has provided helpful insights it has not produced a coherentist model (...) of justification. (shrink)
The paper takes off from the suggestion of Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen that Kuhn’s account of science may be understood in coherentist terms. There are coherentist themes in Kuhn’s philosophy of science. But one crucial element is lacking. Kuhn does not deny the existence of basic beliefs which have a non-doxastic source of justification. Nor does he assert that epistemic justification only derives from inferential relationships between non-basic beliefs. Despite this, the coherentist interpretation is promising and I develop it further in this (...) paper. I raise the question of whether Kuhn’s account of science can deal with the input objection to coherentism. I argue that the role played by problems in Kuhn’s theory of science ensures that there is input from the external world into scientists’ belief-systems. I follow Hoyningen-Huene in pointing to the causal role played by the external world in determining perceptual states. I next turn to the question of whether Kuhn’s rejection of foundationalism implies coherentism. I argue that Kuhn’s rejection of the one-to-one relation between object and experience is compatible with a foundationalist account of justification. Nor does Kuhn’s rejection of the given entail the same coherentist implications as Sellars’ critique of the myth of the given. (shrink)
Recent results in probability theory have cast doubt on coherentism, purportedly showing (a) that coherence among a set of beliefs cannot raise their probability unless individual beliefs have some independent credibility, and (b) that no possible measure of coherence makes coherence generally probability-enhancing. I argue that coherentists can reject assumptions on which these theorems depend, and I derive a general condition under which the concurrence of two information sources lacking individual credibility can raise the probability of what they report.
In this paper I offer a coherentist justification of induction along the lines of a Sellarsian coherence theory. On this coherence theory, a proposition is justified if we can answer all objections raised against it in our social practice of demanding justification and responding to such demands. On the basis of this theory of justification, I argue that we are justified in accepting the uniformity of nature partly because we have no alternative but to accept it for rationally pursuing our (...) epistemic goal. In addition, my coherentist view explains which inductive inferences it is rational to accept. Furthermore, my coherentist view also explains why we can hardly determine a particular numerical value x such that we can draw the conclusion ‘it is rational to accept that p’ from the premise ‘the numerical probability of p is greater than or equal to x’. (shrink)
In this paper, we are mainly concerned with coherentism as an approach to ethical dialog in school. We have two different but connected aims with the paper. The first aim is to say something about general philosophical questions relating to coherentism as a theory in metaethics, and especially in relation to value education; the second aim is to explore some possible implications of coherentism as a method in studying the enterprise of discussing ethical issues and questions with (...) children as well as the study of the actual ethical discussion in school. Furthermore, we evaluate the connection between a coherentistic approach to justification and the methodological parts of a Philosophy with Children, or Community of Inquiry, approach to ethics in school. Related to this, we scrutinize what implications this has for evaluating ethical learning within Philosophy with Children, or Community of Inquiry, as well as implications for evaluation of the Philosophy with Children, or Community of Inquiry, approaches as methods for dealing with ethical matters in school. (shrink)
We prove that four theses commonly associated with coherentism are incompatible with the representation of a belief state as a logically closed set of sentences. The result is applied to the conventional coherence interpretation of the AGM theory of belief revision, which appears not to be tenable. Our argument also counts against the coherentistic acceptability of a certain form of propositional holism. We argue that the problems arise as an effect of ignoring the distinction between derived and non-derived beliefs, (...) and we suggest that the kind of coherence relevant to epistemic justification is the coherence of non-derived beliefs. (shrink)
It is standard practice, when distinguishing between the foundationalist and the coherentist, to construe the coherentist as an internalist. The coherentist, the construal goes, says that justification is solely a matter of coherence, and that coherence, in turn, is solely a matter of internal relations between beliefs. The coherentist, so construed, is an internalist (in the sense I have in mind) in that the coherentist, so construed, says that whether a belief is justified hinges solely on what the subject is (...) like mentally. I argue that this practice is fundamentally misguided, by arguing that the foundationalism / coherentism debate and the internalism / externalism debate are about two very different things, so that there is nothing, qua coherentist, precluding the coherentist from siding with the externalist. I then argue that this spells trouble for two of the three most pressing and widely known objections to coherentism: the Alternative-Systems Objection and the Isolation Objection. (shrink)
A common objection to coherence theories of justification comes from belief revision processes: in a system of knowledge, perceptual beliefs seem to bear more importance than other members of the coherent set do. They are more stable in the face of confronting evidence, and may be preserved despite their degrading effect on the coherence properties of the system. This appears to be inconsistent with coherentism, according to which beliefs cannot possess independent credibility. In order to abide by the coherence (...) theory, one must explain the stability of perceptual beliefs in belief revision in a manner that does not rely on foundationalist premises. A suggestion about the personal justification of perceptual beliefs in terms of coherence is presented in the paper to explain their stability in belief revision processes. The coherence of perceptual beliefs and a network account of knowledge are advocated in order to avoid weak foundationalism and to provide a new perspective to the normative problems of epistemic justification. (shrink)
Some critics of coherentism have depicted it so that it founders on the distinction between warrant for the content of a belief and warrant for the believing itself. This distinction has to do with the basing relation: one might have warrant for the content of what one believes without basing one's belief properly, without holding the belief because of what warrants it. When the first kind of warrant obtains, I will say that a belief is propositionally warranted.
The metaphilosophical tendency of philosophical idealism inclines towards a view of philosophy itself that locates the goal of this enterprise in the construction of a cogent and comprehensive account of the nature and grounding human mind's experience of its world. And the coherentism to which idealism in general inclines is operative here as well. However, such a view of philosophizing's mission soon constrains the project to confront the implications of the complexity of human experience-its immense diversity and variability. Conflicting (...) tendencies and tensions are present throughout. Any attempt at the rational systematization of experience is bound to come up against its inner stresses and strains that brings an aporetic complexity to the fore. Against the background of this general line of thought, I have argued in earlier publications for three interconnected theses regarding philosophical methodology. (shrink)
It is argued that a pure coherence theory of epistemic empirical justification fails to avoid an isolation objection according to which empirical justification has been divorced from one's total empirical evidence. Also, it is shown that several recent efforts to meet this objection either are outright failures or are irrelevant inasmuch as they diverge from epistemic coherentism. The overall moral is that we should look beyond coherentism for an adequate theory of epistemic empirical justification.
A central problem in epistemology concerns the justification of beliefs about epistemic principles, i.e., principles stating which kinds of beliefs are justified and which not. It is generally regarded as circular to justify such beliefs empirically. However, some recent defenders of foundationalism have argued that, within a foundationalist framework, one can justify beliefs about epistemic principles empirically without incurring the charge of vicious circularity. The key to this position is a sharp distinction between first- and second-level justifiedness.In this paper I (...) first argue that such versions of foundationalism end up giving their approval to circular chains and are therefore unmotivated; if circular chains are acceptable, the classic regress argument for foundationalism does not go through. I then consider and reject two other ways in which the foundationalist might motivate his position. At the end of the paper I draw from this discussion a moral concerning the airns of epistemological theorizing. (shrink)