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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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)
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 impossibility results of Bovens and Hartmann (2003, Bayesian epistemology. Oxford: Clarendon Press) and Olsson (2005, Against coherence: Truth, probability and justification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.) show that the link between coherence and probability is not as strong as some have supposed. This paper is an attempt to bring out a way in which coherence reasoning nevertheless can be justified, based on the idea that, even if it does not provide an infallible guide to probability, it can give us an (...) indication thereof. It is further shown that this actually is the case, for several of the coherence measures discussed in the literature so far. We also discuss how this affects the possibility to use coherence as a means of epistemic justification. (shrink)
Recent results in the literature appear to show that it is impossible for two independent testimonies to jointly raise the probability of a proposition if neither testimony individually has any impact on that probability. I show that these impossibility results do not apply when testimonies agree on incidental details.
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)
This paper discusses two dogmas attributed to Davidson’s coherentism. The first dogma says that perceptual experience is only a causal link between the world and beliefs. The second one says that only beliefs can justify other beliefs. Against these two statements it is argued that the conception of perceptual experience as a mere causal link between the world and our beliefs makes the world unknowable. Moreover, the article presents some additional reasons against that conception: it misses the phenomenological and (...) perspectival character of perception, and its independence from belief. Finally, Davidsonian externalism is considered. It is shown here that Davidson’s conception of experience makes it impossible to individuate the contents of beliefs. The article concludes rehabilitating the empiricist idea according to which perceptual experience can be used to justify beliefs. (shrink)
While Process Reliabilism has long been regarded by many as a version of Foundationalism, this paper argues that there is a version of Process Reliabilism that can also been seen as at least a partial vindication of Coherentism as well. The significance of this result lies in what it tells us both about the prospects for a plausible Process Reliabilism, but also about the old-school debate between Foundationalists and Coherentists.
The paper challenges a recent attempt by Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen to show that since Thomas Kuhn’s philosophical standpoint can be incorporated into coherentist epistemology, it does not necessarily lead to: an abandonment of rationality and rational interparadigm theory comparison, nor to an abandonment of convergent realism. Leaving aside the interpretation of Kuhn as a coherentist, we will show that Kuukkanen’s first thesis is not sufficiently explicated, while the second one entirely fails. With regard to Thesis 1, we argue that Kuhn’s view (...) on inter-paradigm theory comparison allows only for ‘the weak notion of rationality’, and that Kuukkanen’s argument is thus acceptable only in view of such a notion. With regard to Thesis 2, we show that even if we interpret Kuhn as a coherentist, his philosophical standpoint cannot be seen as compatible with convergent realism since Kuhn’s argument against it is not ‘ultimately empirical’, as Kuukkanen takes it to be.Keywords: Thomas S. Kuhn; Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen; Coherentist epistemology; Rationality; Theory choice; Convergent realism. (shrink)
In this paper we show that the coherence measures of Olsson (J Philos 94:246–272, 2002), Shogenji (Log Anal 59:338–345, 1999), and Fitelson (Log Anal 63:194–199, 2003) satisfy the two most important adequacy requirements for the purpose of assessing theories. Following Hempel (Synthese 12:439–469, 1960), Levi (Gambling with truth, New York, A. A. Knopf, 1967), and recently Huber (Synthese 161:89–118, 2008) we require, as minimal or necessary conditions, that adequate assessment functions favor true theories over false theories and true and informative (...) theories over true but uninformative theories. We then demonstrate that the coherence measures of Olsson, Shogenji, and Fitelson satisfy these minimal conditions if we confront the hypotheses with a separating sequence of observational statements. In the concluding remarks we set out the philosophical relevance, and limitations, of the formal results. Inter alia, we discuss the problematic implications of our precondition that competing hypotheses must be confronted with a separating sequence of observational statements, which also leads us to discuss theory assessment in the context of scientific antirealism. (shrink)
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)
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)
Some recent work in formal epistemology shows that “witness agreement” by itself implies neither an increase in the probability of truth nor a high probability of truth—the witnesses need to have some “individual credibility.” It can seem that, from this formal epistemological result, it follows that coherentist justification (i.e., doxastic coherence) is not truth-conducive. I argue that this does not follow. Central to my argument is the thesis that, though coherentists deny that there can be noninferential justification, coherentists do not (...) deny that there can be individual credibility. (shrink)
After briefly arguing that neither (Kantian or utilitarian) rule-based ethics nor virtue ethics offers promise as a moral theory, I state that argument by analogy (i.e., deliberation within coherence constraints) is a satisfactory form of moral deliberation. I show that what is right must be whatever corresponds to the largest and most coherent set of a society’s moral values. Since we would not know how to interpret the claim that what is right might be repugnant to all our shared moral (...) values, I argue that a definitional naturalist position passes Moore’s open question test. “X is right” just means “performing X satisfies the largest and most coherent set of our altruistic and self-interested desires.” On this view, moral properties are real relational properties. I raise and respond to several objections. (shrink)
The success of Bovens and Hartmann’s recent “impossibility result” against Bayesian Coherentism relies upon the adoption of a specific set of ceteris paribus conditions. In this paper, I argue that these conditions are not clearly appropriate; certain proposed coherence measures motivate different such conditions and also call for the rejection of at least one of Bovens and Hartmann’s conditions. I show that there exist sets of intuitively plausible ceteris paribus conditions that allow one to sidestep the impossibility result. This (...) shifts the debate from the merits of the impossibility result itself to the underlying choice of ceteris paribus conditions. (shrink)