• Stefan Schubert is a Researcher in Theoretical Philosophy at Lund University, Sweden. He recently defended his doctoral dissertation, which primarily concerns the relationship between coherence and reliability. His publications include “Reliability Conducive Measures of Coherence” (with Erik J. Olsson; Synthese, 2007); “Coherence and Reliability: The Case of Overlapping Testimonies” (Erkenntnis, 2011); “Coherence Reasoning and Reliability: A Defense of the Shogenji Measure” (Synthese, 2011); “Is Coherence Reliability Conducive?” (Synthese, forthcoming).

  • Erik J. Olsson is Chair of the Theoretical Philosophy Department at Lund University, Sweden. His areas of research include epistemology, philosophical logic, philosophy of science, and pragmatism. Recent publications include Knowledge and Inquiry: Essays on the Pragmatism of Isaac Levi (Cambridge University Press, 2006); Against Coherence: Truth, Probability, and Justification (Oxford University Press, 2005); The Epistemology of Keith Lehrer (Kluwer, 2003); “Coherentism” in The Routledge Companion to Epistemology (2010); “Reliabilism and the Value of Knowledge” (with Alvin Goldman; in Epistemic Value, Oxford University Press, 2009); “In Defense of the Conditional Probability Solution to the Swamping Problem” (Grazer Philosophische Studien, 2009); “Klein on the Unity of Cartesian and Contemporary Skepticism” (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2008); “Knowledge, Truth, and Bullshit: Reflections on Frankfurt” (Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 2008); and “Reliabilism, Stability, and the Value of Knowledge” (American Philosophical Quarterly, 2007).


Let us by ‘first-order beliefs’ mean beliefs about the world, such as the belief that it will rain tomorrow, and by ‘second-order beliefs’ let us mean beliefs about the reliability of first-order, belief-forming processes. In formal epistemology, coherence has been studied, with much ingenuity and precision, for sets of first-order beliefs. However, to the best of our knowledge, sets including second-order beliefs have not yet received serious attention in that literature. In informal epistemology, by contrast, sets of the latter kind play an important role in some respectable coherence theories of knowledge and justification. In this paper, we extend the formal treatment of coherence to second-order beliefs. Our main conclusion is that while extending the framework to second-order beliefs sheds doubt on the generality of the notorious impossibility results for coherentism, another problem crops up that might be no less damaging to the coherentist project: facts of coherence turn out to be epistemically accessible only to agents who have a good deal of insight into matters external to their own belief states.