This doesn't really explain coherence theory, but I like its critiques of social epistemology that leans too heavy on analytic philosophy. I think exploring the concept of coherence is fruitful, given that ideas and knowledge exist in various states of coherence in their distribution across people, institutions, and across time.
Real Knowing: New Versions of Coherence Theory.(Review)
Publication Date: 22-JUN-00
Author: Wong, James
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COPYRIGHT 2000 Indiana University Press
Real Knowing: New Versions of Coherence Theory. By LINDA MARTIN ALCOFF. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.
Linda Alcoff's Real Knowing: New Versions of Coherence Theory is a timely contribution to a fast-growing body of research in "social epistemology," a field drawing the attention of philosophers, sociologists of knowledge, social constructionists, and others. Her book begins with an introductory chapter, laying out her project for a new paradigm of epistemology and the consequent metaphysical position that she calls "immanent realism." Alcoff follows with chapters on Gadamer, Davidson, Foucault, and Putnam, devoting two chapters each to Gadamer and Foucault. In these chapters, she shows how their works--Gadamer's hermeneutics, Davidson's account of truth, Foucault's analyses of discursive formations and his idea of power/knowledge, and Putnam's internal realism--contribute to her project. In the concluding chapter, Alcoff summarizes her coherentist theory of knowledge and distinguishes it from Michael Williams's contextualist epistemology in his Unnatural Doubts (Williams, 1996).
A NEW PARADIGM FOR EPISTEMOLOGY
Analytic epistemologists have until recently been largely silent on the topic of social influences on knowledge. Their apparent lack of interest in this area is not because they deny that knowledge is socially mediated; rather, their concern is with determining the conditions of knowledge under which a person has knowledge. That project has had a decidedly individualist focus. But more recently, philosophers working in that tradition, like Alvin Goldman (1999) and Frederick Schmitt (1994), have extended traditional analytic analyses to take into account social processes as well. To accommodate social factors, Philip Kitcher has proposed that the standard S-knows-p formula be amended as "for any S and any p, such that S correctly believes that p, whether S knows that p depends not simply on the psychological processes undergone by S but on the activities of a chain of others, extending from those who have taught S into both the contemporary and ancestral communities" (Kitcher 1993, 160). The proposed analysis does not tell the whole story about the social dimensions of knowledge. Philosophers with wider concerns, like Alcoff, could rightly say: Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose.
Alcoff is dissatisfied with the narrow focus of the traditional epistemological project. There is hardly anything social in "social epistemology" as practiced by analytic philosophers. In her view, standard analyses, focusing as they do on examples such as "Jones owns a Ford" and "I see a computer screen in front of me," are detached from "real" processes by which people come to know. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, it is an analysis fed on a slender diet of examples. In real life, individuals have to deal with knowledge claims about how children develop, about parenting, about social issues (teen parenting and workfare, for instance), and much else. Epistemologists, Alcoff urges, must address questions arising from these more complicated examples. Rather than just concentrating on the criteria of knowledge, they should examine other salient...
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