Against Coherence: Truth, Probability, and Justification

By Erik J. Olsson | Go to book overview

6 Making the Question Precise

6.1 Degrees of Coherence

Coherence does not by itself imply high likelihood of truth. The anti-sceptical use of coherence is based on a false assumption. But if we cannot show that coherence implies high likelihood of truth, can we at least make it plausible that more coherence implies higher likelihood of truth? 1 This question was posed in a seminal paper by Peter Klein and Ted A. Warfield, which triggered a lively debate in the journal Analysis.2 The question then is this: if a system S is more coherent than another system S′, are we then allowed to conclude that S is more likely than S′ to be true as a whole? If the answer is in the affirmative, we will say, following Klein and Warfield, that coherence is truth conducive.

How important, philosophically, is the comparative question? BonJour, for one, takes it to be central to the anti-sceptical project:

Finally, coherence is obviously, on any reasonable view, a matter of degree (as is stability). Hence the conclusion of the envisaged argument [for BonJour's coherence theory] should be that the likelihood that a system of beliefs corresponds to reality varies in proportion to its degree of coherence (and stability) other things being equal. (BonJour 1985 : 170, my italics)

BonJour is here saying that one urgent project for the coherence theorist is to show that a higher degree of coherence and stability implies a higher likelihood of truth. I will follow Klein and Warfield and most other authors who have addressed the comparative question

-95-

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