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abstract

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.