Epistemic Circularity, Reliabilism, and Transmission Failure

Episteme 11 (3):335-348 (2014)
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Epistemically circular arguments have been receiving quite a bit of attention in the literature for the past decade or so. Often the goal is to determine whether reliabilists (or other foundationalists) are committed to the legitimacy of epistemically circular arguments. It is often assumed that epistemic circularity is objectionable, though sometimes reliabilists accept that their position entails the legitimacy of some epistemically circular arguments, and then go on to affirm that such arguments really are good ones. My goal in this paper is to argue against the legitimacy of epistemically circular arguments. My strategy is to give a direct argument against the legitimacy of epistemically circular arguments, which rests on a principle of basis-relative safety, and then to argue that reliabilists do not have the resources to resist the argument. I argue that even if the premises of an epistemically circular argument enjoy reliabilist justification, the argument does not transmit that justification to its conclusion. The main goal of my argument is to show that epistemic circularity is always a bad thing, but it also has the positive consequence that reliabilists are freed from an awkward commitment to the legitimacy of some intuitively bad arguments.
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