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Sir Michael Dummett in 2004

Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett F.B.A., D. Litt, (born 1925) is a leading British philosopher. He has both written on the history of analytic philosophy, and made original contributions to the subject, particularly in the areas of philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of logic, philosophy of language and metaphysics. He also devised the Quota Borda system of proportional voting, based on the Borda count, and has written scholarly works on tarot. Other interests have been immigration law and English grammar and usage. In 1944 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, and remains a practising Catholic.

He attended Winchester College, before going up to Christ Church, Oxford. Upon graduation he was awarded a fellowship to the elite All Souls College, Oxford. In 1979, he became Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford, a post he held until retiring in 1992. During his term as Wykeham Professor, he held a Fellowship at New College, Oxford. He won the Rolf Schock prize in 1995, and was Knighted in 1999.

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 whole generation of British philosophers, including Gareth Evans.

In his 1963 paper Realism 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. He has claimed that 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.

Academic Genealogy
Notable teachers Notable students
G.E.M. Anscombe Christopher Peacocke
Crispin Wright
Hans Sluga
Timothy Williamson
Gareth Evans


Dummett has been 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 is founded in racism and says that this has especially been so in the UK.

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


Michael Dummett is also a leading historian in the research of the Tarot with various publications to his credit including "The Game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake city", 1980, which left its mark on the field of literature about the venerable deck of cards. Dummett championed the use of the tarot cards for trick taking card games and expressed some disdain for the later occult practices to which the cards were often put. He argues that the medieval use of the Tarot was as a set of playing cards and that it only acquired its association with the occult in the 18th century.


Throughout his career Dummett has published a number of articles on various issues facing the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, mainly in the English Dominican journal New Blackfriars. Dummett has also published an essay in the bulletin of the Adoremus society on the subject of liturgy, and a philsophical 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 of 1987 one of his contributions to New Blackfriars sparked considerable controversy, when he attacked currents of Catholic theology that diverged from traditional 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.


  • On analytical philosophy and logic:
    • Frege: Philosophy of Language (London, 1973/1981)
    • Elements of Intuitionism (Oxford, 1977, 2000)
    • Truth and Other Enigmas (London, 1978)
    • Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics (London, 1991)
    • The Logical Basis of Metaphysics (London, 1991)
    • Origins of Analytical Philosophy (London, 1993)
    • The Seas of Language (Oxford, 1993)
    • Truth and the Past (Oxford, 2005)
    • Thought and Reality (Oxford, 2006)
  • On politics:
    • Voting Procedures (Oxford, 1984)
    • Principles of Electoral Reform (New York, 1997)
    • On Immigration and Refugees (London, 2001)
  • Tarot works:
    • Game of Tarot (1980)
    • Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards (1986)
    • A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot, coauthor with Ronald Decker and Thierry Depaulis (New York, 1996)
    • A History of the Occult Tarot: 1870-1970, coauthor with Ronald Decker (New York, 2002)
    • A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack: The Game of Triumphs , coauthor with John McLeod (2004)

See also


  • Johannes L Brandl, Peter Sullivan (eds.) New Essays on the Philosophy of Michael Dummett. Rodopi, 1999. ISBN 9042004665
  • 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

External links

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