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Fr. 425

October 29, 2013

The third difficulty that coherentism must face owes to the particular characterization of the notion of worldview therein. This question is of utmost important insofar as the worldview proves to be that which does the justifying on the coherentist picture of justification. In other words, for the coherentist, the worldview in question is that which does the heavy lifting epistemologically.

Concretely, this is manifest in the example above of the pre-Copernican and the post-Copernican individuals making claims about which of the two bodies, Earth and the sun, orbits the other. Recall that, in light of the evidence and information available to those individuals, they were then left to draw conclusions about that information to the best of their abilities. Unsurprisingly, the pre-Copernican sided with the view that the sun orbits the Earth and the post-Copernican with the contrary view that the Earth orbits the sun. Although, in the end, both views were found to be justified in virtue of the worldview relevant to each case, only the post-Copernican’s belief that the Earth orbits the sun was found to be both justified and true and, hence, a case of knowledge to be ascribed to the post-Copernican individual. Yet, in looking more closely at these two worldviews, it becomes clear that one of these worldviews just so happens to be the case, i.e. factual and true.

Accordingly, it is no longer any single, component belief making up this worldview that acts as the relevant criterion for determining whether the belief in question is itself justified. On the contrary, the worldview itself becomes the criterion for justification, and any coherent worldview seems capable of justifying any particular belief appealing to it directly. Yet this introduction further complicates the relationship between justification and knowledge. Insofar as justification seems an important condition for knowledge and a coherent worldview, as explained here, the necessary and sufficient condition of justification, a coherent worldview would then become an important condition for knowledge (so long as transitivity holds). That said, it is unclear whether a coherent worldview in and of itself can entertain a meaningful relation to knowledge. Whereas knowledge aims at the truth in some sense, a coherent worldview aims at telling a story that makes sense of the collection and configuration of states, bodies and things in the world while avoiding the creation of any internal contradictions within that same story. More simply, the foremost concern of knowledge is truth. By contrast, the primary concern of a worldview is mere (internal) consistency.

It might be maintained that this (internal) consistency brings with it a certain amount of explanatory power. Indeed, this would bring it closer into line with knowledge, for which truth often seems linked to explanatory power, i.e. knowledge affords us the means of explaining or accounting for things. After all, the worldview has to make sense of a wide variety of phenomena in drawing on a limited number of compatible principles. Accordingly, at least when presented in this fashion, one would be ready to accord a certain amount of explanatory power to that collection of principles. Indeed, one might even be willing to grant that a worldview brings with it a secondary interest in truth in that it calls for some measure of explanatory power.

Still, one hesitates to do so and with good reason, for it is not the principles that provide this explanatory power. While it seems clear that such principles do the explaining, it could be argued that any power that they bring to the table derives instead from the actual state of the collection and configuration of states, bodies and things in the world rather than from the story presented in the worldview. Put somewhat more simply, the semblance of explanatory power owes instead to the factual state of the world, captured as it is in another worldview. To reprise our running example, the pre-Copernican’s belief that the sun orbits the Earth has a certain measure of power in that it is not far from the post-Copernican worldview according to which the Earth orbits the sun. Explanatory power in this case thus owes to the worldview’s (contingent) proximity to the factual state of the world, rather than in virtue of any internal consistency that the former might offer. Although this proximity is not entirely contingent in that the individuals holding a particular worldview can modify and work on it through further observation of the world, this consideration does not change that internal consistency in and of itself cannot provide the explanatory power that knowledge, via its concern with truth, seems to seek.

In sum, it is unclear if justification qua worldview and knowledge aim at the same thing. Moreover, if worldviews justify beliefs, then might be there be a further something that justifies a given person having this worldview rather than some other? If there is nothing further to provide some impetus for having this worldview rather than some other, it would seem that the worldviews are, by and large, contingent. By extension, this contingent state of the worldview in itself would also seem to concern that of justification itself, given that the latter has been seen to depend on the former. It goes without saying that worldviews are subject to revision and modification in light of new circumstances and emerging information, such that a given worldview might alter considerably over the course of a lifetime. That said, the picture on which justification proceeds through worldviews makes even this effort to modify and correct a given worldview more of a contextual matter, at least more so than one’s intuitions concerning knowledge would seem to allow. In the end, it remains a matter of circumstance and context whether the worldview that the individual holds is a true one.



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