Philosophy and Phenomenological Research:
Epistemic Circularity Squared? Skepticism about Common Sense
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Epistemic circularity occurs when a subject forms the belief that a faculty F is reliable through the use of F. Although this is often thought to be vicious, externalist theories generally don't rule it out. For some philosophers, this is a reason to reject externalism. However, Michael Bergmann defends externalism by drawing on the tradition of common sense in two ways. First, he concedes that epistemically circular beliefs cannot answer a subject's doubts about her cognitive faculties. But, he argues, subjects don't have such doubts, so epistemically circular beliefs are rarely called upon to play this role. Second, following Thomas Reid, Bergmann argues that we have noninferential, though epistemically circular, knowledge that our faculties are reliable. I argue, however, that Bergmann's view is undermined by doubts a subject should have and that there is no plausible explanation for how we can have noninferential knowledge that our faculties are reliable.