[Unfinished] Defending and Revising the Jacko-Schulzian Theory of the Private


The theory of the private as put forward by Erik and I is the foundation for our philosophy and it not only needs to be defended in its intuitionist formation that has been forward for the entirety of its theoretical existence, but it also needs to be revised in order to become timeless, that is, resistant to not only all critiques of our theory while we are alive, but also once Erik and I are gone, for if our theory really does what we want it to then it will be the foundation for all philosophy that comes after us.

First, let us give its intuitionist formulation a defense. While debating our friend Danny, Erik and I came into an objection from him. He argued that self-knowledge and not intuition could act as the foundation for logic. He argued that it could be known, for example, in virtue of being an actor. So, to further explain what he is saying is that we can understand that as actors we have “priors” such as a belief in logic.[1] But, where is the metajustification? It is said that because self-knowledge is non-inferential and non-propositional (or at least some understandings of self-knowledge hold it is the latter), that it qualifies for epistemic privacy. But, where would the metajustification for self-knowledge come from? How do we come to self-knowledge? Let us first say that if we understand an intuition simply as something that is immediate or direct, non-discursive, and non-inferential that results in some apprending, understanding, seeing, etc. then self-knowledge certainly comes to us by way of some “introspective intuition.” I want to argue that whereas external perception would be a process of continually intuiting the external world, introspection would be internal perception, i.e., a process of continually intuiting “our internal world” which would just be the collection of our mental states within our mind. I want to argue that introspection would be the only way to self-knowledge other than just sheer intuition. Thus, if self-knowledge is knowledge about our mental states and we have introspective access to our mental states, then the way to self-knowledge is by way of introspection, and thus intuition. Therefore, we have demonstrated that any self-knowledge will have to come by way of intuition or at least reasoning that involves a particular intuition of one’s mental state. Thus, the intuitionist account of the private still has no alternative. Furthermore, it couldn’t have an alternative because non-inferential knowledge will always have intuition at its foundation.

Now, there could be an argument that because we know we are an agent, we know other things, e.g., certain rational norms like logic. First, I would say, that we know we are a subject, an agent, etc. will be by way of some intuition, i.e., some non-inferential, non-discursive, immediate seeing, knowing, apprehension, understanding, etc. Thus, any knowledge that is inferred from us knowing we are an agent will still have a non-inferential foundation in one’s intuition. Second, I would say that even if we just knew we were an agent without intuition somehow, and let us say, we know that logic is entailed in our thinking, so think maybe Rand’s logocentric theory of perception, or Hanna’s logical faculty thesis, that still does not provide justification for logic.

Since I have defended against the self-knowledge objection, let me move on to another. Now, this is less of an argument and more of a loose end: why the ban on epistemic circularity? I would argue that the epistemic ban on epistemic circularity is definitely intuitive, but is there any argument for epistemic circularity? Certainly. Now, first, the argument for circularity providing metajustification would be circular or, if it wasn’t, then it would show that one doesn’t need circularity (as our theory demonstrates). But, if there is no issue with circularity in the first place, then what would the issue be with saying that circularity provides metajustification by way of a circle, i.e, what if I argue that circularity provides justification because circularity provides justification?

What is circularity? There are many types of circularity. For example, something is logically circular if the conclusion of, let us say, an argument, is one of its premises. So, for example, if I put forward the argument that p is true because p is true, the justification for p is true is p is true and thus we move in a circle. This can be seen more clearly if we line it out more formally:

P1: p

P2: q

C1: p

In the move from P1 and P2 to C1 we arrive back to P1, we have moved in a circle. Now, while there is logical circularity, there is also epistemic circularity. In Radical Skepticism and Epistemic Intuition, Michael Bergmann explains, “epistemic circularity needn’t involve any logical circularity, so our opposition to the former [to logical circularity] shouldn’t be motivated by our opposition to the latter [to epistemic circularity” (p. 174). But what is epistemic circularity? Bergmann further explains,

Epistemic circularity arises only with beliefs or conclusions concerning something like the reliability or trustworthiness or epistemic goodness of a cognitive faculty or way of forming beliefs. A belief in the trustworthiness of a belief source X is epistemically circular just in case the person holding that belief depends on X in holding that belief. … An argument, for the conclusion that X is trustworthy, is epistemically circular just in case it depends on X, either because belief in at least one of the premises depends on X or because the act of inferring the conclusion from the premises is an instance of depending on X. And if I base my belief in the argument’s conclusion on such an argument, then my brief in that conclusion is an epistemically circular belief. (Radical Skepticism and Epistemic Intuition, p. 174).

Bergmann also holds that “it is possible for there to be noninferential epistemically circular beliefs that aren’t based on arguments of any sort (e.g., a noninferential belief source X that has an output the belief that X is reliable)” (Radical Skepticism and Epistemic Intuition, p. 174).

So, regarding epistemic circularity, what are our thoughts? Well, I argue that while there may not necessarily be logical circularity in the sense that a conclusion acts as an essential premise within epistemic circularity, there is certainly a sort of practical instantiation of logical circularity. If I do not yet know that let us say some particular method of forming a belief is truth conducive and/or reliable and then I use such a method, then I am practically assuming that it is truth conducive. In other words, I am presupposing that this specific belief-forming method is truth conducive when I use that method to form the belief that the method being used is truth conducive. How can I provide a warrant? How can I prove that I’m not just making an arbitrary presupposition? If I do it by repeating the presupposition, then it doesn’t really seem that I’ve provided a warrant. If the warrant is going to come inferentially, then it seems that conclusion-as-premise circularity is devastating. If my warrant for my warrant is my latter warrant, then I haven’t really provided anything in the sense that nothing new, nothing “interesting” (as many epistemologists would say) has “entered the equation,” so to speak.

Bergmann is here to take the defense when it comes to epistemic circularity, so let us look towards his defense. He first looks at the example of one using one’s color vision “to confirm the reliability of [their] color vision” (Bergmann, Radical Skepticism and Epistemic Intuition, p. 174). Here is his example,

[M]y daughter questions my belief that the table is red by suggesting that it might be white with red lights shining on it. As I’m thinking of the case, my daughter’s worry concerns the way in which I’ve formed the belief about the table being red. And when I respond by noting that it’s red and that this implies that it’s not white with red lights shining on it, the problem is that I’m relying on the worrisome belief type to show that the very belief type isn’t worrisome. In short, I’m using a belief source to rule out a skeptical scenario according to which that very belief source is problematic. We can reconstruct what’s going on in my response as follows (keeping in mind that the belief, the credentials of which are being challenged by my daughter, is my perceptual belief that the table is red):
1. The table is red.
2. Therefore, the table is not white.
3. Therefore, the table is not white with red lights shining on it.
4. Therefore, my way of forming the belief that the table is red doesn’t have the epistemic defect it would have if it involved me looking at a white table with red lights shining on it and mistakenly thinking it’s red. (Bergmann, Radical Skepticism and Epistemic Intuition, pp. 174–175)

This case doesn’t seem intuitively permissible. He is just assuming that it is red and thus that his way of forming such belief (his color vision isn’t problematic). So, we can really represent what is going on as such:

P1: My color vision is reliable.
P2: My color vision is delivering the percept of red regarding a table in front of me to my mind.

C1: I can reliably conclude that the table is red
C2: Thus, the table is not white.

C3: Thus, the table is not white with red lights shining on it.

C4: Therefore, my color vision, my way of forming my belief that the table is red, doesn’t have any epistemic defect that it would have “if it involved me looking at a white table with red lights shining on it and mistakenly thinking it’s red.” In other words, my color vision is reliable. (Bergmann, Radical Skepticism and Epistemic Intuition, p. 175)

This is clearly, logical and epistemic circularity. In no way does Bergmann provide a non-circular warrant for his first premise which also acts as his fourth and final conclusion. So, thus far, we aren’t really seeing any case for epistemic circularity.

Bergmann does put forth the idea that what radical skeptics are essentially arguing against us is this: “if we insisted that we couldn’t use a belief source to form justified beliefs until we first justifiably believed that the source was trustworthy, then we would be mired in radical skepticism of the most extreme kind. We couldn’t get started on forming any justified beliefs until we first justifiably believed that at least one belief source was reliable” (Radical Skepticism and Epistemic Intuition, pp. 175–176). “In other words, we couldn’t form our first justified belief unless we had already formed a previous justified belief, which would mean that justified belief is impossible” (Bergmann, Radical Skepticism and Epistemic Intuition, p. 176). But, I don’t know if this is necessarily the case. For example, Jacko-Schulzian epistemology never assumed from the start that we had meta-justification. However, we realized that certain beliefs were true, such as our belief in modus ponens. We came upon its truth by way of a genuine insight into it being the case. This insight was obviously intuitive and, in this case, a priori. Let us understand, however, that we never assumed beforehand that intuition could deliver genuine insights. It was only once “phenomenal reflection” occurred that we intuited modus ponens being necessarily the case. How do we know that the intuition delivered the insight? Well, because, as we conceptually understand intuition, we understand that it is the insight itself, in that, the insight was immediate, direct, non-discursive, and an apprehension of the inference rule modus ponens. As BonJour says, “There is (obviously) no non-circular way to establish that such insights are genuine, but there is equally no cogent way to argue that they are not or that we could not have such a capacity which does not tacitly appeal to such insights” (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 200). Now, while I agree with BonJour when it comes to the latter half of his sentence, I disagree with him when we realize that there is a cogent way to argue that we know such insights are genuine in a non-circular manner. The genuineness of the insight is delivered to our minds not necessary by the intuition, i.e., by the insight itself, but rather it is delivered to our minds possibly with the intuition. Then again, there is also the self-evidence account which could be saying the same thing. BonJour characterizes self-evidency in this way:

Since this justification [justification by way of rational insight or rational intuition] or evidence apparently depends on nothing beyond an understanding of the propositional content itself, a proposition whose necessity is apprehended in this way (or, sometimes, whose necessity is capable of being apprehended in this way) may be correlatively characterized as rationally self-evident: its very content provides, for one who grasps it properly, an immediately accessible reason for thinking that it is true. (BonJour, In Defense of Pure Reason, p. 102)

This understanding of self-evidence doesn’t necessarily entail epistemic circularity because, like I said earlier, the genuineness isn’t necessarily know by way of the intuition, but could instead just be delivered to the mind with the intuition, in the sense, that once the intuition takes place, “an immediately accessible reason for thinking that it is true” accompanies it (BonJour, In Defense of Pure Reason, p. 102). Thus, this already highly intuitive account of self-evidency as it regards intuitions, doesn’t necessarily need to lapse intuition into epistemic circularity. Furthermore, it is less about intuitions in general but rather particular intuitions. So, particular intuitions, in the end (after reflection, etc.), provide justification, not all intuitions. Obviously, we are not committed to the position that all intuitions are infallible.

Now, Bergmann holds that anyone who sees epistemic circularity as problematic is making the following claim: “C1: If a belief is infected with epistemic circularity, then it is not epistemically justified. (I.e. you can’t use a belief source to get justification for a belief in the reliability of the very belief source)” (Bergmann, Radical Skepticism and Epistemic Intuition, p. 176). So, let us first reiterate that we are not using intuition, our belief source, to get justification for the reliability of the very belief source, rather the justification is delivered with the intuition, not by the intuition.

Now, Erik and I plan to address the rest of Bergmann in another essay just about his work on epistemic circularity in particular. But, even if we assume that some cases of epistemic circularity are not problematic, let us understand that this comes only by way of epistemic intuition. In this sense, our intuitionist foundationalism is not at all really threatened.

Now, let us understand that if epistemic circularity is problematic and/or the only way to provide the justification for epistemic circularity is by way of intuition, then a retreat to the Private is the only possible way to solve the logocentric predicament and thus is the only possible foundation for philosophy, assuming the Private itself, as a category, can resist questioning (as I have argued in other papers). It seems that even if the former, that epistemic circularity is problematic in its entirety, is unintuitive, the latter, that the only way to provide the justification for epistemic circularity (i.e., the only way to differentiate between good and bad circularity, or virtuous and vicious circularity) is by way of intuition, seems very intuitive, in that, if it is not by way of some non-inferential means that regresses to intuition (see my argument below about how non-inferential reasons have intuition at their basis below), then the justification will have to come about by way of some epistemically circular means which then means we have circular justification for circular justification, which is obviously a case of logical circularity. This is problematic because the epistemic ban on logical circularity is obviously quite conclusive because we can easily intuit that x is true because x is true to be problematic, and then once we understand that x is just a placeholder, we can understand that all cases of logical circularity are problematic. Now, to clarify, there are obviously bad cases of epistemic circularity, and there, assuming Bergmann is right, are good cases of epistemic circularity, so how we differentiate between the two, i.e., have some level of justification for the epistemic circularity will be by way of epistemic intuition, or instead by way of an infinite regress involving more and more epistemic circularity.


[1]: By priors, I mean beliefs which are prior to others or states of affairs, properties, attitudes, etc. entailed in a present state or claim; so, for example, a belief in cognitivism is prior to believing the moral proposition “killing people is bad” has assertive content.



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Evan Jack

How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille