It’s Circular Because It’s Consistent
I just wrote a piece arguing that presuppositionalism is not circular. For the sake of clarity, I will now argue that it is.
There is, of course, a sense in which presuppositionalism is circular. But upon hearing the term “circular” most opponents of the Christian faith, and even many of those who are counted among its friends, immediately start off into lengthy diatribes describing their disgust with Christians and methodologies that rely upon logically fallacious argumentation.
The Logic of Logic
Now the charge of logically fallacious argumentation, it seems to me, rests in some way upon logic. The whole worry with circular argumentation is that it violates some sort of rule of logical inference. And that’s bad. But why? Why are we so worried about these rules of logical inference anyway? Why should we accept them? How might we go about establishing them?
One way is to argue for logic by using logic. So one would be assuming the very thing one is attempting to prove. And that, no doubt, is circular.
Another way is to argue for logic by using illogic. But that just seems illogical. And I’m not going to waste any more time considering it.
Yet another way is to argue for logic upon the basis of some a-logical discipline. What would that look like? I don’t know. And apart from that, to posit something a-logical as the basis of logic seems every bit as illogical as the option immediately preceding this one.
By the way, I’m inclined to say that even in denying logic, we affirm it, and hence in that sense establish it. Well, if you’re okay with transcendental arguments, that is. That is beside the point though. Sort of.
Circularity Is Epistemological
The point is that there is simply no way to posit basic knowledge apart from a broad sort of epistemological circularity. This is not the sort of objectionable logical circularity we are used to seeing thrown into the air whenever presuppositional apologetics are being discussed. When it comes to presuppositional apologetics, we rest content with the knowledge that since we are finite, we will always ultimately come back to the same places we have been before. And such is a mark of consistency. If we were to end up in a completely different place from where we began in our quest for knowledge, or if we had to start over again somewhere else, then we would have forsaken our initial presuppositions, whether we wanted to then jettison those presuppositions or not. We are locked in a circle. More like a spiral, since no one is claiming that we make no advances in our knowledge on a personal level.
Circularity Is Consistent
At such an abstract level of accounting for ultimate intellectual commitments there is bound to be circularity. There comes a point where one can go no further. At that point we may recognize that there are going to be arguments for our presuppositions that do not work unless they already presume some of that which they are set forth to show, or we will have to be inconsistent with our presuppositions. The choice between an ultimate circularity – evidencing consistency – or complete irrationalism is a simple one to make for those of us who still hold on to some shred of intellectual honesty. A transcendental argument is the means whereby we might indirectly, and hence unobjectionably argue for even our most basic presuppositions.
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