Topic neutrality and the parity thesis: A surrejoinder to Williams

Religious Studies 37 (1):93-101 (2001)
Abstract
In an important paper, Clifford Williams advanced a Lockean-style argument to justify the parity thesis, viz., that there is no intellectual advantage to Christian physicalism or Christian dualism. In an article in Religious Studies I offered a critique of Williams's parity thesis and he has published a rejoinder to me in the same journal centring on my rejection of topic neutrality as an appropriate way to set up the mind–body debate. In this surrejoinder to Williams, I present his three main arguments and respond to each: (1) The dualist rejection of topic neutrality is flawed because it expresses a conceptual approach to the mind–body problem instead of the preferable empirical approach. The latter favours physicalism and, in any case, clearly supports topic neutrality. (2) If the dualist rejects the first argument, then a second parity thesis can be advanced in which an essentialist view of soul and the brain are presented in which each is essentially a thinking and feeling entity. Thus, an essentialist parity thesis is preserved. (3) If the dualist rejects the second argument, a new topic neutrality emerges in the dialectic, so topic neutrality is unavoidable. Against the first argument, I claim that Williams makes two central confusions that undermine his case and that he fails to show how the mind–body debate can be settled empirically. Against the second argument, I claim that it leaves Williams vulnerable to a topic-neutral approach to God and it merely proffers a verbal shift with a new dualism between normal and ‘special’ matter. Against the third argument, I point out that it misrepresents the dualist viewpoint and leads to two counterintuitive features that follow from topic neutrality.
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