Coherence and Ambiguity in History

This article is about the logic of the concept of "coherence" as used by historians to justify an argument. Despite its effectiveness in historical arguments, coherence is problematic for epistemologists and some theorists of history. The main purpose of this article is to present some insights that bear upon the logical status of coherence. As will be demonstrated, this will also shed some light on the allegedly dubious epistemological position of coherence. In general I will argue that, logically seen, coherence is a property of a set of related beliefs that makes it possible to justify a choice out of different factually justifiable interpretations. Coherence disambiguates vague or ambiguous observations. As words lose their vagueness or ambiguity in contexts, so do contexts disambiguate historical facts. My argument will be based on some relatively recent findings about the cognitive processes underlying vision and reading. Research in the field of text linguistics is used to show what kinds of relationships exist between historical representations that might be considered to cohere.


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