First off, I would like to make it clear that I'm not implying I discovered some secret knowledge about the problems mentioned in the title that has alluded other philosophers for the past 2000+ years. I'm merely asking if a problem that I see is recognized as a genuine problem if I'm misguided. Because it seems the more research I do, no one even raises the concern.

Anyway, here's my question: From the philosophical pondering I've done, it seems that fascinating, epistemological, and related issues like the Problem of the Criterion and the Munchausen Trilemma concerning theories or justification are really hard to answer, at least in a satisfactory manner. Why? Because to even begun answering the issues, you have to assume you have a solution.

For the Problem of the Criterion, you have to assume you have knowledge that logical principals work in order to argue for a certain view, when whether or not we have knowledge of logical principals is under question. How else would you even begin offering an argument against skepticism? A similar paradoxical issues can be raised when trying to answer the Munchausen Trilemma.

Please note careful what I'm asking here. I'm not asking whether a particular answer to the issues mention above is correct. I don't mind researching answers myself, that I can do. My problem arises when in the process of doing this research, it strikes me as pretty weird that it seems no one in the literature acknowledges how were suppose to even begin debating solutions, without assuming we have an answer.

Of course, my problem could simply be my ignorance. Maybe someone has raised this concern and at least has acknowledged it or tried to address it. Maybe my concern is misplaced and I don't understand something. Either way, I would be grateful if someone could answer my question.

  • Yes, the problem has been known for millenia, and was traditionally resolved by adopting some form of foundationalism. With the decline of foundationalism in the late 19th century other approaches emerged that weaken demands of justification. But the problem itself was only named quite recently by Alston, see IEP, Epistemic Circularity.
    – Conifold
    Apr 20, 2020 at 8:13
  • The problem is the problem of induction. It is possible to guess, and to refine guesses as they approach an answer -- science in general works, it just can never get finished. It is not possible to avoid guessing and determine truth from the data. You fall prey to Hume's and Pyrrho's arguments -- the idealized scientific process of observation in general fails. However long you observe, the first real thought is a guess. Apr 27, 2020 at 20:27

1 Answer 1


I think you're puzzled, because you're specifically applying the Munchaussen trilemma to justifying the laws of logic. I don't think that's usually the target of philosophers when talking about "justification".

I think most philosophers are foundationalist about logic, because as you said, to even state the trilemma, you need to make use of logic.

There are philosophers questioning the laws of logic, but I'm not sure it's being done in the context of the Munchaussen trilemma. Regardless, the same problem appears... how do you make any argument without reinforcing the laws of logic?

I'm certain philosophers know about the seemingly self-refuting nature of these kinds of arguments, but just seem to carry on. It's very common in philosophhy of language and mind. I see the same type of issue with regards to eliminative materialism or meaning-skepticism. Philosophers ask "what is the meaning of meaning?"... doesn't the very act of asking the question show that you already know what it is?

I'm not sure how you get around it. You want to question your conceptual apparatus... but to question it you have no choice but to employ that very same conceptual apparatus. We're stuck.

  • 1
    Thank you, I appreciate your answer. I think I've started to assume something similar to what you state. The truth of the general logic used by philosophers is held to be true, even when they investigate skepticism. How else would they move forward? Logic, it seems to me, is the primary tool they have when arguing about matters concerning skeptics, so they have to accept its truth. I suppose until I can get more clarity on this matter, I'll bracket it for now lol. Again, thanks for the answer.
    – Chris
    Apr 20, 2020 at 5:16

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