One of the criticisms that’s been leveled at the new philosophy is that it is incoherent. I am neither qualified nor motivated to investigate whether this is true in a rigorous conceptual sense — Frames/Sing has taken some good cracks at it. But without getting into that I wanted to trouble or at least expand what we might mean by coherence. I’m going to be reinventing some wheels here, bear with me.
As Kvond says in the linked post, ideas can be coherent in the very narrow way of making sense or matching up theoretical parts without having “applicable coherence.”
There is a thin line between “incoherent” and “the supposed coherence between concepts does not do the explanatory job”. “The hand of Zeus makes it rain” is both coherent (at least I understand what the sentence means), and also incoherent as an explanation. All the explanatory connectives are missing.
Kvond does a lot of heavy lifting here by distinguishing what we might call ‘internal’ coherence from ‘external’ coherence. Internal coherence self-referentially satisfies the requirement of a wittgensteinian language game, that is, it makes sense once one knows the rules. In this way “the hand of Zeus makes it rain” would have been fully coherent to an ancient Greek as both a sentence and an explanation. External coherence looks outward to see if the game makes sense in relation to anything but its own internal logic — by predicting the coming of rains, for example, rather than accounting for them post hoc. In the same way we might ask whether there’s anything (or perhaps enough) to learn about how business and finance actually work from playing Monopoly or reading The Wealth of Nations.
The externalization of coherence has barely begun here, however. Once the standard is not just logical consistency of concepts to themselves but their correspondence to some outside benchmark (which of course has to be pulled inside somehow to serve this function, but that’s another discussion), the barn door is open and all kinds of relations become available as possible moments of coherence.
Applied or applicable coherences, those relations that are actually established between concept things and other things (alliances and assemblages, for Latour), include the ways that ideas cohere with environments, resources, modes of production and so on. We may say here that ideas are coherent with or ‘fit’ their times, and become effectual insofar as this is so. Saying that Graham Harman’s philosophy is homologous to speculative capitalism is this sort of claim.
Ideas may also be affectually coherent by assembling with feelings, providing conceptual referents for them or enabling relationships based on them. In some feminist and anti-colonialist work this is asserted as a higher quality of coherence than aridly rationalist rigor. And ideas may be aesthetically or hedonically coherent by assembling with habits, dispositions, tastes and preferences, which if we follow Bourdieu may be fields within larger political-economic assemblages. These modes of external coherence are not mutually exclusive.
So from these perspectives the orienting premise is that any idea that achieves publicity is likely to be coherent according to both some internal coherence (its language game, perhaps incipient) and to a network of external coherences. The questions then are, coherent how, with what/whom, and for what purpose(s)?
In the good old days we called this sort of questioning ‘ideology critique’, naively confident that we could find one master coherence from which to judge all the others.