New Coherentism Essay

Available here, and comments always appreciated, since changes are still possible.

Mostly boilerplate stuff, though some new stuff on the truth connection in the last section, connecting with the impossibility results from Bovens/Hartmann as well as a brief preview of my own response to the problem of justified inconsistent beliefs.


New Coherentism Essay — 7 Comments

  1. I have a question about the “primary alternative to foundationalism” in the intro and the “current lack of popularity” in the conclusion. Does this mean that foundationalism is currently popular?

    The alternative, judging especially from the way you set up the regress problem in the first section, might be that the most popular view today is skepticism. In a sense, there has always been a kind of presumption in favour of skepticism in epistemology. Although most philosophers set out to refute it, it is often presented as a kind of “received view”. Since I find it hard to believe that we are currently living under a foundationalist orthodoxy, and with the “primary alternative” also unpopular, the skeptics still seem to hold the fort.

    Or what?

    PS (first-second line, section I, should read “reason to believe” not “reason to belief”, shouldn’t it?)

  2. Yes, Thomas, foundationalism is currently considerably more popular than coherentism, though it was the other way around a half century ago. It was said in the 60’s and 70’s that Chisholm was the only foundationalist left. That was hyperbole of course, but contained a grain of truth. It is a mark of his influence, as well as Alston’s careful analysis of the distinction between classical and moderate foundationalism that is responsible for the current shift. And, no, skepticism is not more popular in the literature than either of these viewpoints. Versions of reliabilism (including virtue reliabilism) still predominate (and some folk think of reliabilism as a kind of foundationalism, though resist such a classification).

  3. That’s interesting. Would you agree that the rest of the humanities and the social sciences are still in a more coherentist (even skeptical mood)? It is certainly easier to defend the somewhat unruly body of contemporary knowledge and debate (about what to believe), even in hard sciences like biology and physics, but certainly in everyday life, in terms of its coherence. Foundations seem to be nowhere in sight.

  4. To the degree that one sees standard practice in other disciplines reflects coherentist rather than foundationalist assumption, my expectation would be that the only conclusion that could be licensed by the practice is something about the way in which coherence is central to any decent theory of justification. Once one distinguishes classical foundationalism from modest and minimal foundationalism, it is much harder to see any practice of defending viewpoints as committing oneself to one side of the foundationalist/coherentist dispute.

  5. I.e., if modest foundationalism is right then knowledge of, say, history or poetry will, willy-nilly, have foundations (as understood by epistemologists? Which, of course, means that this issue in epistemology (foundationalism vs. coherentism) has no normative consequences for historiography or poetics. In the old days (of classical foundationalism?), however, weren’t epistemological positions normally taken to have methodological implications?

  6. Thomas, there are lots of confusions and pretensions in the history of philosophy. What you describe is a particular variant on one of these, and the best place for seeing it discussed is in the literature on theories of truth. It’s not a good criticism of disquotationalism to point out that it doesn’t help me figure out if snow is white.

  7. I’m not sure that analogy is fair. My question could, perhaps, be compared to saying that disquotationalism doesn’t help me figure what a sentence in Plutarch or a line Propertius mean. As it happens, I wouldn’t say that about disquotationalism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *