Coherence and Truth

Externalists typically hold a strong interpretation of the truth connection. They hold that there must be a logical connection between justification and truth, that somehow or in some way, whatever factors make for justification must also make for objective likelihood of truth.

Internalists could subjectivize this requirement and hold that whatever factors make for justification must also make for subjective likelihood of truth, but they typically don’t go this route. Here the paradigms for internalism I take to be Chisholm and Lehrer, since they don’t endorse a view that they admit entails the strongest version of skepticism as does BonJour. These paradigm internalists don’t endorse the objective truth connection nor do they endorse the subjective version either. Chisholm wrote about the hope that our justified beliefs would be true (and Keith has endorsed a similar idea at least in conversation), and sometimes talked of iterational principles, such as when he claimed that justification doesn’t imply likelihood or probability of truth, but at most the likelihood or probability that our beliefs are likely to be or probably true.

There is now, however, a large body of literature on the connection between coherence and truth, expecting an increase in coherence to be correlated, at least under certain circumstances, with an increase of probability. To the extent that a coherentist takes a cue from Chisholm, as Lehrer clearly does, I don’t see why an internalist coherentist would find this assumption plausible. Instead, I think what one should have expected to see on the formal side is an investigation of the question of the conditions under which coherence is confirmation-inducing. In this respect, one would have expected formal investigations more like the nice paper by Luca Moretti with the fitting title “Ways in which Coherence is Confirmation Conducive”, rather than the truth conducive investigations that I have seen to this point.


Coherence and Truth — 4 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Jon! In fact, I remember saying this at a meeting in Konstanz in 2002 (in a sense, this is what motivated my own choice of coherence measure). It’s great to see that Luca Moretti and Franz Dietrich have done such great work on this. Their recent paper in Philosophy of Science is a groundbreaking piece. See Franz’s website for a e-print of their paper:

  2. Regarding the hypothesis of “an increase in coherence… correlated, at least under certain circumstances, with an increase of probability”. Forgive me, but this sounds like it is taking a page from at least one aspect of Hume’s system, albeit in a weaker form. If so, then this line of argument (or, at least, this particular implication) is both long-standing and famous. Or am I confused?

  3. Yes, the relevant literature is Olsson, Bovens and Hartmann, Fitelson, Warfield and Klein, and others. It’s formal work on some interesting results in certain types of systems.

  4. Thanks, reading now. I’m highly sympathetic to the Klein and Warfield argument in “What Price Coherance?”.

    Nevertheless, the Hume connection seems present, even if it is oblique. Now don’t get me wrong — Hume can’t be best described as a coherantist. But Hume understood inductive probability to be ascertained through custom and habit paired with constant incidences; and if we understand each observable instance as a particular belief, it would seem obvious that the overall belief in probability is gained out of the maximal coherance between each particular case.

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