Coherence in Thought and Action (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology)
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This book is an essay on how people make sense of each other and the world they live in. Making sense is the activity of fitting something puzzling into a coherent pattern of mental representations that include concepts, beliefs, goals, and actions. Paul Thagard proposes a general theory of coherence as the satisfaction of multiple interacting constraints, and discusses the theory's numerous psychological and philosophical applications. Much of human cognition can be understood in terms of coherence as constraint satisfaction, and many of the central problems of philosophy can be given coherence-based solutions. Thagard shows how coherence can help to unify psychology and philosophy, particularly when addressing questions of epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. He also shows how coherence can integrate cognition and emotion.
between concepts, for example, between pilot and male and daring. There is abundant experimental and computational evidence that concepts are a psychologically realistic kind of mental 65 KNOWLEDGE representation not reducible to propositions (Thagard 1996, chap. 4). Moreover, the associative relations between concepts are much looser than the explanatory and deductive relations required for those kinds of coherence, so the constraints between elements in conceptual coherence deserve to be
evidence to be explained (observed behavior) and hypotheses about them that would explain the behavior. Suppose, for example, that a normally mild-mannered friend screams at you. Various hypotheses would explain that behavior: perhaps the friend had a stressful day at work, or stopped taking some needed medication, or learned some secret ugly fact about you. What inference you make to explain your friend’s behavior will depend on what best ﬁts with your other beliefs: maximizing coherence will
depends on it in very useful ways that allow for the possibility of revising views about what is good for people and thereby revising decisions about what to do. For example, the families of Paul Bernardo’s victims may naturally want to see him killed, but whether execution would bring some relief from their grief is an empirical question. Without psychological evidence about the effects of executions in similar cases, we do not have grounds for saying whether execution is really in the objective
health, and education. As for fairness, the liberal democracies make voting generally available, and their distribution of wealth is generally no worse than that of other kinds of state. Hence liberal democracy is clearly superior to all other current forms of government with respect to the F-constraints. Choice gets more difﬁcult if we try to select among different variants of liberal democracy. We can distinguish at least the following variants, distinguished by the increasing extent to which
more methodological: to show that in principle we can assess different kinds of states with respect to the extent to which they satisfy the F-constraints. Although the assessment is obviously a very challenging project in social science, and although the tough issue of how to weight the 159 ETHICS AND POLITICS constraints of freedom, ﬂourishing, and fairness remains unsolved, we can at least begin to see how the problem of justifying particular forms of states can be seen as a coherence