Three Very Different Philosophers: Necessity of Epistemic Circularity

“But don’t the doctrines of the imago dei (the image of God), and the purpose of human creation already presuppose that we can have substantive knowledge of God? They seem clearly to do this, and if so, then they cannot be appealed to in a noncircular argument for this theological optimism as a conclusion.

First, it must be pointed out that the possibility of any kind of basic knowledge cannot be demonstrated by means of noncircular, nonquestion-begging arguments, by arguments that do not in any way already presume to some extent that to which they intend to lend some support. The unavailability of any such noncircular argument for the possibility of theological knowledge would thus not render theology a suspect cognitive enterprise. And, indeed, it is true that the appeal to biblical doctrines such as those I have mentioned cannot constitute a noncircular argument.”

Thomas V. Morris, Our Idea of God, 25.


“Suppose the fallibilist succeeds in showing that fallibilism withstands serious criticism or withstands it better than rival theories, and concludes that we are justified in adopting it. This is to show that fallibilism is reasonably believed by fallibilist standards. It is to argue in a circle.

I know of no convincing answer to this objection. At this level of abstraction circular reasoning is difficult to avoid. Nor are the alternatives to it any more palatable…there will come a point when we either argue in a circle (show that belief in S is reasonable by standards S* and that belief in S* is reasonable by standard S) or invoke some standard which is not reasonable by any standard. The only real alternatives in the matter are circular reasonings or irrationalism about your theory of rationality. I prefer the former – just.”

Alan Musgrave, Common Sense, Science, and Scepticism, 294-295.


“This brings up the point of circular reasoning. The charge is constantly made that if matters stand thus with Christianity, it has written its own death warrant as far as intelligent men are concerned. Who wishes to make such a simple blunder in elementary logic, as to say that we believe something to be true because it is in the Bible? Our answer to this is briefly that we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all. We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man…Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about him any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of opposition to Christianity.”

Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 12.

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