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Elgin, Catherine, , James Van Cleve. Can Belief be Justified through Coherence Alone?
2013, In: Steup, Matthias, Turri, John and Sosa, Ernest (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. 244-273.
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Summary: Elgin and Van Cleve both answer the question in the title negatively. But whereas Van Cleve advocates a moderate version of foundationalism, Elgin defends a broadly coherentist view. According to her, justification is primarily a matter of explanatory coherence. The justification an individual belief enjoys is derived from the coherence of the overall system. In his essay, Van Cleve argues that, although coherence is indeed a source of justification, it cannot by itself render a belief completely justified. According to Van Cleve, no belief could be justified unless it were possible for some beliefs to acquire complete justification without receiving support from any other beliefs. In their respective responses, Elgin and Van Cleve continue the dispute, focusing on issues such as conjunction closure, corroboration by independent witnesses, empirical generalization, revisability, and the skeptical threat of being deluded.

Comment: The exchange of debate between Elgin and Van Cleve provides an instructive and accessible reading on coherentism and foundationalism of epistemic justification. It can be used either as a core text or further reading for teachings on epistemic justification in an epistemology course.

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Elgin, Catherine Z., , . Considered Judgment
1996, Princeton University Press.
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Added by: Giada Fratantonio, Contributed by: Wayne Riggs

Publisher’s Note: Philosophy long sought to set knowledge on a firm foundation, through derivation of indubitable truths by infallible rules. For want of such truths and rules, the enterprise foundered. Nevertheless, foundationalism’s heirs continue their forbears’ quest, seeking security against epistemic misfortune, while their detractors typically espouse unbridled coherentism or facile relativism. Maintaining that neither stance is tenable, Catherine Elgin devises a via media between the absolute and the arbitrary, reconceiving the nature, goals, and methods of epistemology. In Considered Judgment, she argues for a reconception that takes reflective equilibrium as the standard of rational acceptability. A system of thought is in reflective equilibrium when its components are reasonable in light of one another, and the account they comprise is reasonable in light of our antecedent convictions about the subject it concerns.

Many epistemologists now concede that certainty is a chimerical goal. But they continue to accept the traditional conception of epistemology’s problematic. Elgin suggests that in abandoning the quest for certainty we gain opportunities for a broader epistemological purview – one that comprehends the arts and does justice to the sciences. She contends that metaphor, fiction, emotion, and exemplification often advance understanding in science as well as in art. The range of epistemology is broader and more variegated than is usually recognized. Tenable systems of thought are neither absolute nor arbitrary. Although they afford no guarantees, they are good in the way of belief.

Comment: In this book, the author puts forward an original epistemological approach, one which does not focus on seeking certainty, yet it takes reflective equilibrium as the standard for rationality. It could work as specilised reading or secondary reading for a postgraduate course in epistemology. It requires knowledge of the main topics in epistemology (e.g., on the debate between foundationalists vs coherentists).

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Haack, Susan, , . Evidence and Inquiry: Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology
1995, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
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Publisher’s Note: In this important work, Haack develops an original theory of empirical evidence or justification, and argues its appropriateness to the goals of inquiry. In so doing, Haack provides detailed critical case studies of Lewis’s foundationalism; Davidson’s and Bonjour’s coherentism; Popper’s ‘epistemology without a knowing subject’; Quine’s naturalism; Goldman’s reliabilism; and Rorty’s, Stich’s, and the Churchlands’ recent obituaries of epistemology.

Comment: This book includes excellent critique of pure coherentist and pure foundationalist theories of knowledge, with defense of Hacck’s integrated doctrine of “foundherentism”. As it is highly recommended by Putnam, this book is a fine introduction and a significant contribution to contemporary epistemology. It includes powerful and highly detailed criticism to a range of contemporary philosophers – Sir Karl Popper, W. V. O. Quine, Richard Rorty, Alvin Goldman, and Paul and Patricia Churchland among others – that can be used when views of those philosophers are examined in teaching.

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