Volume 53, 2008
Theory of Knowledge
Harmless Epistemic Circularity?
Epistemic circularity is a problem of arguments purporting to establish the reliability of our different sources of belief‐acquisition. For example:
At t1, S formed the perceptual belief that p, and p.
At t2, S formed the perceptual belief that q, and q.
At t3, …
Therefore, sense perception is reliable source of beliefs.
The problem is that any arguer putting forth this argument is ompelled to rely on the thing to be proven in establishing the second conjuncts of each premise. But relying on the thing to be proven is begging the question; therefore, the argument is fallacious. This has been argued to have serious skeptical implications: if there is no other way to establish the conclusion, we have no way of showing the reliability of, e.g., sense perception. Different authors have tried to resist this result. Frederick F. Schmitt (2004) argues that sense perception skepticism only follows from epistemic circularity if certain questionable assumptions are granted. He also argues that epistemic circularity is a specific type of circularity that is not vicious in the way logically circular arguments are. I argue that
Schmitt’s dismissal of the discussed assumptions is questionable and that the argument (TRA) is viciously circular under very minimal assumptions about inferential justification. Therefore, Schmitt fails to dissolve the problematic nature of (TRA).