Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Richard Fumerton


The dissertation examines the nature and epistemic implications of epistemic source circularity. An argument exhibits this type of circularity when at least one of the premises is produced by a belief source the conclusion says is legitimate, e.g. a track record argument for the legitimacy of sense perception that uses premises produced by sense perception. In chapter one I examine this and several other types of circularity, identifying relevant similarities and differences between them.

In chapter two I discuss the differences between internalist and externalist analyses of justification. I examine in detail foundationalist and non-foundationalist versions of internalism, and go on to consider how one might characterize externalism: either negatively, by denying particular internalist theses, or positively, in terms of a theory offering different conditions for justification. I discuss the views of reliabilist foundationalists at length.

In chapter three I present the internalist objection to externalism that the latter mistakenly permit one to be justified in believing the conclusion of an epistemic source circular inference. I explain the externalists' response that it is not in virtue of their externalism that they permit epistemic source circularity but rather their foundationalism; thus, internalist foundationalists must permit epistemic source circularity as well. I evaluate the positions of several internalists, most of them explicitly foundationalists, and argue that they too cannot avoid permitting epistemic source circularity.

In the final chapter I consider whether such circularity is vicious, even though both internalist and externalist foundationalists permit it. I argue that one can sustain an objection to epistemic source circularity by imposing a non-question-begging requirement on justification and explain how respecting this requirement leads one to a non-foundationalist view. I conclude by considering the objection that question-begging leads to a certain arbitrariness in belief formation that should give the foundationalist pause when it comes to determining, at the beginning of inquiry, which beliefs are justified and which are not.

The dissertation is primarily concerned with making clear the possible skeptical and non-skeptical positions one can take towards epistemic source circularity. I do not argue for the truth of a particular metaepistemology.


vi, 182 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 171-182).


Copyright 2012 Ian MacMillan

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