Foundations and Coherence
The issue between foundations and coherence theories is whether empirical knowledge rests on beliefs that do not have to be further justified. The foundationalist thinks it does (and must); these beliefs are the “foundation” of all others. The coherentist holds that beliefs have epistemic authority only if they can be supported by reasons, making justification “ultimately inferential,” as Firth (1964, p. 550) has put it. Traditionally, the coherence theory has seemed less plausible. First, it is committed to a circle of reasons or, perhaps even worse, to an infinite regress, since every belief has to be justified by some other. Second, critics also argue that the theory “cuts off” beliefs from the world and fails to “tie down” knowledge. Third, the notion of coherence has been problematic. Sometimes it seems to mean consistency which is obviously too lenient; at other times it has been clarified using the concept of entailment, making it too restrictive. These problems have made it easy to ridicule the theory, leaving foundations alone in the field. I will argue that coherence can be made more plausible than this; in particular that it can allow for beliefs from experience and that the notion of coherence can be made reasonably clear. Circularity, however, poses a more difficult problem and ultimately, I think, is fatal to the theory. Let us first try to clarify the issue between the theories.1
KeywordsTrue Belief Foundation Theory Perceptual Judgment Perceptual Belief Infinite Regress
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