As it relates to closure-based radical skeptical paradox, Pritchard argues that it is not the generally accepted epistemic principles, nor the closure principle, that are problematic, rather, it is an underlying entailment embedded in the paradox that is to be rejected: namely, the universality of rational evaluation. According to this thesis, there are no in-principle constraints on the scope of rational evaluation; the move from local (E) to global (BIV) rational evaluation is permissible.
In order to resolve the paradox, Pritchard simply denies the universality of rational evaluation. The problem with this thesis, according to Pritchard, is that the move from local to global rational evaluation is incoherent. Following Wittgenstein, Pritchard argues that the structure of rational evaluation is groundless: all rational evaluation follows relative to arational, visceral, propositional attitudes termed hinge commitments, which are “never the result of a rational process and are in their nature unresponsive to rational considerations, they are not plausible candidates to be beliefs.”Footnote 6 (Pritchard, 2016: 90.)
Examples of hinge commitments are the famous Moorean certainty “I have two hands” or “I’m not on the moon” or “I’m writing this essay in English.” These optimally certain claims cannot be rationally doubted because, the reasons for doubting them are going to be less certain than the claims in question. On the other hand, these commonsense claims can neither receive rational support because, once again, the claims used to support them will be less certain than the claims themselves. The primary idea being, rationally grounded knowledge requires support from claims that are more certain than the claims in question. In contrast, to doubt claims considered to be rationally ground knowledge would also require an appeal to claims that are more certain than the claims in question. Either endeavor is, by definition, impossible when considering claims that are optimally certain.
Thus, “the very idea of rational evaluation, whether positive or negative, presupposes a backdrop of Moorean certainties that are themselves exempt from rational evaluation. To attempt to rationally evaluate a Moorean certainty is thus an attempt to do something impossible…[or] incoherent.” (Pritchard: 65–66) Wittgenstein uses the analogy of the hinges of a door to highlight this idea. In order for a door to open the hinges must stay in place. (Wittgenstein, 1969)
While it is clearly possible for hinge commitments to change (it is possible, say, that some future human civilization may inhabit the moon), they “all in effect codify…the entirely general hinge commitment that one is not radically and fundamentally mistaken in one’s beliefs.” (Pritchard, 2016, 95) This idea is known as the über hinge commitment: one’s hinge commitments can change to beliefs, however, the underlying general commitment, regardless of context, is that one is not radically deceived. This über hinge then, helps form and stabilizes the hinge commitment in question.
As such, again it is worth repeating, hinge commitments (the über hinge commitment included) are exempt from rational evaluation. Hinge commitments, according to Pritchard, are “never the result of a rational process and are in their nature unresponsive to rational considerations, they are not plausible candidates for beliefs.”Footnote 7 (Ibid: 90) Pritchard summarizes his arguments as follows:
Since all rational evaluation presupposes arational hinge commitments that are by their nature exempt from rational evaluation, this puts an in-principle constraint on the extent of rational evaluations. In particular, it excludes the kind of wholesale rational evaluations that call into question our hinge commitments, and that are the stock in trade of the radical skeptic. (Ibid: 175)
With the use of hinge commitments, Pritchard is able to limit the scope of rational evaluation to local and, in turn, deny the universality of rational evaluation. By denying this entailment, Pritchard has a response for the closure-based radical skeptical paradox.
We take the following as necessary conditions for a proposition to be considered a hinge commitment:
The proposition in question is more certain than any claim that can be appealed to for support of the proposition (positive rational evaluation).
The proposition in question is more certain than any claim that can be appealed to in order to doubt the proposition (negative rational evaluation).
The Uber Hinge: To doubt the proposition in question would result in radical skepticism.
We now turn to show how Pritchard’s hinge epistemology serves equally well as a solution to Plantinga’s EAAN.