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Sir Michael Dummett

Sir Michael Dummett
Sir Michael Dummett in 2004
Born (1925-06-27)27 June 1925
London, England, UK
Died 27 December 2011(2011-12-27) (aged 86)
Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, UK
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic
Main interests Philosophy of mathematics
Philosophy of logic
Philosophy of language
Metaphysics

Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett, FBA, D.Litt (27 June 1925 – 27 December 2011) was a British philosopher.[1] He was, until 1992, Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford. He wrote on the history of analytic philosophy, most notably as an interpreter of Frege, and has made original contributions to the subject, particularly in the philosophies of mathematics, logic, language and metaphysics. He was known for his work on truth and meaning and their implications for the debates between realism and anti-realism, a term he helped popularize. He devised the Quota Borda system of proportional voting, based on the Borda count.

Education and army service

Dummett was the son of a merchant of silks. He studied at Sandroyd School and was a First Scholar at Winchester College, later winning a Major Scholarship to study History at Christ Church, Oxford in 1943. He was called up that year and served, initially as a private in the Royal Artillery before joining the Intelligence Corps in India and Malaya. He was also awarded a fellowship to All Souls College, Oxford.

Academic career

In 1979, Dummett became Lauener Prize for an Outstanding Oeuvre in Analytical Philosophy.

During his career at Oxford, he supervised many philosophers who have gone on to distinguished careers, including Peter Carruthers, Adrian Moore, Ian Rumfitt, and Crispin Wright.

Work in philosophy

His work on the German philosopher Frege has been acclaimed. His first book Frege: Philosophy of Language (1973), written over many years, is now regarded as a classic. The book was instrumental in the rediscovery of Frege's work, and influenced a generation of British philosophers.

In his 1963 paper Realism[2] he popularised a controversial approach to understanding the historical dispute between realist and other non-realist schools of philosophy such as idealism, nominalism, Irrealism etc. He characterized all of these latter positions as anti-realist and argued that the fundamental disagreement between realist and anti-realist was over the nature of truth. For Dummett, realism is best understood as accepting the classical characterisation of truth as bivalent and evidence-transcendent, while anti-realism rejects this in favor of a concept of knowable truth. Historically, these debates had been understood as disagreements about whether a certain type of entity objectively exists or not. Thus, we may speak of (anti-)realism with respect to other minds, the past, the future, universals, mathematical entities (such as natural numbers), moral categories, the material world, or even thought. The novelty of Dummett's approach consisted in seeing these disputes as, at base, analogous to the dispute between intuitionism and platonism in the philosophy of mathematics.

It is now common, thanks to Dummett's influence, to speak of a post-Dummettian generation of English philosophers, including such figures as John McDowell, Christopher Peacocke, and Crispin Wright—though only Wright has been fairly close to Dummett on substantive philosophical questions.

Activism

Dummett was politically active, through his work as a campaigner against racism. He let his philosophical career stall in order to influence civil rights for minorities during what he saw as a crucial period of reform in the late 1960s. He also has worked on the theory of voting, which led to his introduction of the Quota Borda system.

Dummett drew heavily on his work in this area in writing his book On Immigration and Refugees, an account of what justice demands of states in relationship to movement between states. Dummett in that book argues that the vast majority of opposition to immigration has been founded in racism and says that this has especially been so in the UK.

He has written of his shock on finding anti-Semitic and fascist opinions in the diaries of Frege, to whose work he had devoted such a high proportion of his professional career.

Elections and voting

Dummett and Robin Farquharson published influential articles on the theory of voting, in particular conjecturing that deterministic voting rules with more than three issues faced endemic strategic voting.[3] The Dummett–Farquharson conjecture was proved by Allan Gibbard,[4] a philosopher and former student of Kenneth J. Arrow and John Rawls, and by Mark A. Satterthwaite,[5] an economist.

After the establishment of the Farquarson–Dummett conjecture by Gibbard and Sattherthwaite, Dummett contributed three proofs of the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem in his monograph on voting. He also wrote a shorter overview of the theory of voting for the educated public.

Card games and tarot

Dummett was also an established scholar in the field of card games history, with numerous books and articles to his credit. He is a founding member of the International Playing-Card Society, in whose journal The Playing-Card he regularly published opinions, research and reviews of current literature on the subject; he is also a founding member of the Accademia del Tarocchino Bolognese in Bologna. His historical work on the use of the tarot pack in card games - he has said "(t)he fortune telling and occult part of it has never been my principal interest..."[6] - The Game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake City, attempted to establish that the invention of Tarot could be set in 15th-century Italy. He laid the foundation for most of the subsequent research on the game of tarot, including exhaustive accounts of the rules of all hitherto known forms of the game.

His analysis of the historical evidence suggested that fortune-telling and occult interpretations were unknown prior to the 18th century. During most of their recorded history, he wrote, Tarot cards were used to play an extremely popular trick-taking game which is still enjoyed in much of Europe. Dummett showed that the middle of the 18th century saw a great development in the game of Tarot, including a modernized deck with French suit-signs, and without the medieval allegories that interest occultists, along with a growth in Tarot's popularity. "The hundred years between about 1730 and 1830 were the heyday of the game of Tarot; it was played not only in northern Italy, eastern France, Switzerland, Germany and Austro-Hungary, but also in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and even Russia. Not only was it, in these areas, a famous game with many devotees: it was also, during that period, more truly an international game than it had ever been before or than it has ever been since...."[7]

Conversion to Roman Catholicism

In 1944 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, and remained a practising Catholic. Throughout his career, Dummett published a number of articles on various issues facing the contemporary Catholic Church, mainly in the English Dominican journal, New Blackfriars. Dummett published an essay in the bulletin of the Adoremus Society on the subject of liturgy, and a philosophical essay defending the intelligibility of the Catholic Church's teaching on the eucharist ("The Intelligibility of Eucharistic Doctrine" in William J. Abraham and Steven W. Holzer, eds., The Rationality of Religious Belief: Essays in Honour of Basil Mitchell, Clarendon Press, 1987.)

In October 1987, one of his contributions to New Blackfriars sparked considerable controversy, when he seemingly attacked currents of Catholic theology which appeared to him to diverge from orthodox Catholicism and argued that "the divergence which now obtains between what the Catholic Church purports to believe and what large or important sections of it in fact believe ought, in my view, to be tolerated no longer." A debate in the journal over these remarks continued for months, attracting contributions from the theologian Nicholas Lash and the historian Eamon Duffy, among others.

Later years and family

Dummett retired in 1992 and was knighted in 1999 for “services to philosophy and to racial justice”. He received the Lakatos Award in the philosophy of science in 1994.

Dummett died in 2011, aged 86. He was survived by his wife Ann, whom he married in 1951 (and who died in 2012), and by three sons and two daughters. A son and daughter predeceased their parents.[8]

Works

  • On analytical philosophy and logic:
    • Harvard University Press
    • Harvard University Press, 1973/1981)
    • Elements of Intuitionism (Oxford, 1977, 2000)
    • Harvard University Press, 1978)
    • Harvard University Press, 1991)
    • Harvard University Press, 1991)
    • Harvard University Press, 1993)
    • The Seas of Language (Oxford, 1993)
    • Frege and Other Philosophers (Oxford, 1996)
    • Truth and the Past (Oxford, 2005)
    • Thought and Reality (Oxford, 2006)
  • On voting theory and election systems:
    • Voting Procedures (Oxford, 1984)
    • Principles of Electoral Reform (New York, 1997) ISBN 0-19-829246-5
  • On politics:
    • On Immigration and Refugees (London, 2001)
  • Tarot works:
    • The Game of Tarot: from Ferrara to Salt Lake City (Duckworth, 1980);
    • Twelve Tarot Games (Duckworth, 1980);
    • The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards (G. Braziller, 1986);
    • Il mondo e l'angelo: i tarocchi e la loro storia (Bibliopolis, 1993)
    • I tarocchi siciliani (La Zisa, 1995);
    • A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot (with Ronald Decker and Thierry Depaulis, St. Martin's Press, 1996);
    • A History of the Occult Tarot, 1870-1970 (with Ronald Decker, Duckworth, 2002);
    • A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack (with John McLeod, E. Mellen Press, 2004).

Notable articles and exhibition catalogs include "Tarot Triumphant: Tracing the Tarot" in FMR, (Franco Maria Ricci International), January/February 1985; Pattern Sheets published by the International Playing Card Society; with Giordano Berti and Andrea Vitali, the catalogue Tarocchi: Gioco e magia alla Corte degli Estensi (Bologna, Nuova Alfa Editorale, 1987).

  • On the written word:
    • Grammar and Style (Duckworth, 1993)

See also

Further reading

  • Johannes L Brandl, Peter Sullivan (eds.) New Essays on the Philosophy of Michael Dummett. Rodopi, 1999. ISBN 90-420-0466-5
  • Richard Kirkham. Theories of Truth. MIT Press, 1992. Chapter 8 is a discussion of Dummett's views on meaning.
  • Karen Green. Dummett: Philosophy of Language. Polity, 2001. ISBN 0-7456-2295-X
  • Richard G. Heck (ed.) Language, Thought, and Logic: Essays in Honour of Michael Dummett. Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-823920-3
  • Bernhard Weiss. Michael Dummett. Princeton University Press, 2002.ISBN 0-691-11330-0
  • Anat Matar. From Dummett's Philosophical Perspective, Walter de Gruyter, 1997.ISBN 3110149869
  • R. E. Auxier and L. E. Hahn (eds.) The Philosophy of Michael Dummett, The Library of Living Philosophers, vol XXXI Open Court, Chicago, 2007.

References

External links

  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Biographical notes at Trionfi
  • Video interview with Dummett on philosophy of logic
  • Philosophy Bites interview with Dummett on Frege
  • Obituary of Professor Sir Michael Dummett in The Telegraph
  • "Remembering Michael Dummett", at The Stone, New York Times blogs, 4 January 2012.

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