Is epistemic circularity a fallacy?

Philosophical Studies 177 (8):2277-2298 (2020)
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The author uses a series of potential counterexamples to argue against attempts by Bergmann and Plantinga to articulate a distinction between malignant and benign epistemic circularity and, more radically, to argue that epistemic circularity per se is no fallacy, and the concept of epistemic circularity plays no role in the explanation of why some instances of epistemic circularity are irrational. The author contrasts an inferential framework, in which circularity is a problem, with an equilibrium framework, in which the concept of circularity plays no useful role and argues that defeasible reasoning can only be understood in an equilibrium, not an inferential, framework. The author uses an example of reasoning about the reliability of one’s own memory to explain how seemingly malignant epistemic circularity can be rational in an equilibrium framework. The author discusses the relevance of this conclusion to two contemporary issues: the cogency of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism and the evolutionary naturalists’ challenges to non-naturalist moral realism—and, indeed, to all forms of non-naturalist normative realism.



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William J. Talbott
University of Washington