Mind and body, form and content: how not to do petitio principii analysis

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Cummings, L (2000)
  • Publisher: Routledge (Taylor & Francis) for Department of Philosophy, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1080/05568640009485067

Few theoretical insights have emerged from the extensive literature discussions of petitio principii argument. In particular, the pattern of petitio analysis has largely been one of movement between the two sides of a dichotomy, that of form and content. In this paper, I trace the basis of this dichotomy to a dualist conception of mind and world. I argue for the rejection of the form/content dichotomy on the ground that its dualist presuppositions generate a reductionist analysis of certain concepts which are central to the analysis of petitio argument. I contend, for example, that no syntactic relation can assimilate within its analysis the essentially holistic nature of a notion like justification. In this regard, I expound a form of dialectical criticism which has been frequently employed in the philosophical arguments of Hilary Putnam. Here the focus of analysis is upon the way in which the proponent of a position proceeds to explain or argue for his/her own particular theses. My conclusion points to the use of such dialectic within future analyses of petitio principii.
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