Michael Dummett
Dummett in 2004
Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett

(1925-06-27)27 June 1925
London, England
Died27 December 2011(2011-12-27) (aged 86)
Oxford, England
Burial placeWolvercote Cemetery, Oxford
EducationChrist Church, Oxford
(1947–50;[2] B.A., 1950)
(m. 1951)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Doctoral studentsEva Picardi
Timothy Williamson
Main interests
Notable ideas

Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett FBA (/ˈdʌmɪt/; 27 June 1925 – 27 December 2011) was an English academic described as "among the most significant British philosophers of the last century and a leading campaigner for racial tolerance and equality."[3] He was, until 1992, Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford. He wrote on the history of analytic philosophy, notably as an interpreter of Frege, and made original contributions particularly in the philosophies of mathematics, logic, language and metaphysics.

He was known for his work on truth and meaning and their implications to debates between realism and anti-realism, a term he helped to popularize. In mathematical logic, he developed an intermediate logic, a logical system intermediate between classical logic and intuitionistic logic that had already been studied by Kurt Gödel: the Gödel–Dummett logic. In voting theory, he devised the Quota Borda system of proportional voting, based on the Borda count, and conjectured the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem together with Robin Farquharson; he also devised the condition of proportionality for solid coalitions. Besides his main work in analytic philosophy and akin areas, he also wrote extensively on the history of card games, particularly on tarot card games.

He was married to the political activist Ann Dummett from 1951 until his death in 2011.

Education and army service

Born 27 June 1925 at his parents' house, 56, York Terrace, Marylebone, London, Dummett was the son of George Herbert Dummett (1880 – 12 November 1969), later of Shepherd's Cottage, Curridge, Berkshire, a silk merchant and rayon dealer, and Mabel Iris (1893–1980), daughter of the civil servant and conservationist Sir Sainthill Eardley-Wilmot (himself grandson of the politician Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, 1st Baronet).[4][5][6] He studied at Sandroyd School in Wiltshire, at Winchester College as a scholar, and at Christ Church, Oxford, which awarded him a major scholarship in 1943. He was called up for military service that year and served until 1947, first as a private in the Royal Artillery, then in the Intelligence Corps in India and Malaya. In 1950 he graduated with a first in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford and was elected a Prize Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.[7][8]

Academic career

In 1979, Dummett 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 has also held teaching posts at Birmingham University, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, Princeton University, and Harvard University. He won the Rolf Schock prize in 1995,[9] and was knighted in 1999. He was the 2010 winner of the Lauener Prize for an Outstanding Œuvre in Analytical Philosophy.[10]

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

Philosophical work

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

In his 1963 paper "Realism", he popularised a controversial approach to understanding the historical dispute between realist and other non-realist philosophy such as idealism, nominalism, irrealism.[11] He classed all the latter 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 semantic realism, i.e. the view that every declarative sentence in one's language is bivalent (determinately true or false) and evidence-transcendent (independent of our means of coming to know which),[12][1] while anti-realism rejects this view in favour of a concept of knowable (or assertible) truth.[13] Historically, these debates had been understood as disagreements about whether a certain type of entity objectively exists or not. Thus we may speak of realism or 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.

Dummett espoused semantic anti-realism, a position suggesting that truth cannot serve as the central notion in the theory of meaning and must be replaced by verifiability.[14] Semantic anti-realism is sometimes related to semantic inferentialism.[15]


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 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 on racism, and says that this has especially been so in the UK. In the book, Dummett argued in favour of open borders and mass migration, except when states were "under special threat" and could therefore refuse entry.

He has written of his shock on finding anti-Semitic and "extreme right-wing" opinions in the diaries of Frege, to whose work he had devoted such a high proportion of his professional career.[16]

In 1955–1956, while in Berkeley, California, Dummett and his wife joined the NAACP. In June 1956 he met Martin Luther King Jr. while visiting San Francisco, and heard from him of Alistair Cooke providing the British public with what King defined as "biased and hostile reports" of the Civil Rights Movement and specifically of the Montgomery bus boycott. Dummett travelled to Montgomery and wrote his own account. However, The Guardian refused to publish Dummett's article and his refutation of Cooke's version of the Montgomery events, even in a shortened account as a Letter to the Editor; the BBC, too, also refused to publish it.[17]

Elections and voting

See also: Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem and Robin Farquharson

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.[18] The Dummett–Farquharson conjecture was proved by Allan Gibbard,[19] a philosopher and former student of Kenneth J. Arrow and John Rawls, and by the economist Mark A. Satterthwaite.[20]

After the establishment of the Farquharson–Dummett conjecture by Gibbard and Satterthwaite, Dummett contributed three proofs of the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem in a monograph on voting. He also wrote a shorter overview of the theory of voting, for the educated public.[citation needed]

Card games and tarot

Dummett was a scholar in the field of card-game history, with numerous books and articles to his credit. He was 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 was also a founder of the Accademia del Tarocchino Bolognese in Bologna. His historical work on the use of the tarot pack in card games, 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 subsequent research on the game of tarot, including exhaustive accounts of the rules of all hitherto known forms of the game. Sylvia Mann goes as far as to say that The Game of Tarot "is the most important book on cards ever written."[21]

Dummett's analysis of the historical evidence suggested that fortune-telling and occult interpretations were unknown before the 18th century. During most of their recorded history, he wrote, Tarot cards were used to play a 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. This coincided 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...."[22]

In 1987, Dummett collaborated with Giordano Berti and Andrea Vitali on the project of a great Tarot exhibition at Castello Estense in Ferrara. On that occasion he wrote some texts for the catalogue of the exhibition.[23]

Roman Catholicism

In 1944, Dummett was received into the Roman Catholic Church and remained a practising Catholic. Throughout his career, Dummett published articles on various issues then facing the 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,[24] and a philosophical essay defending the intelligibility of the Catholic Church's teaching on the Eucharist.[25]

In October 1987, one of his contributions to New Blackfriars sparked controversy by seemingly attacking currents of Catholic theology that appeared to him to diverge from orthodox Catholicism and "imply that, from the very earliest times, the Catholic Church, claiming to have a mission from God to safeguard divinely revealed truth, has taught and insisted on the acceptance of falsehoods."[26] Dummett 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: not if there is to be a rationale for belonging to that Church; not if there is to be any hope of reunion with the other half of Christendom; not if the Catholic Church is not to be a laughing-stock in the eyes of the world."[26] A debate on these remarks continued for months, with the theologian Nicholas Lash[27] and the historian Eamon Duffy among the contributors.[28]

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 and the Rolf Schock Prize for logic and philosophy in 1995. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1968, resigned in 1984, and was re-elected in 1995.[6]

Dummett died on 27 December 2011 aged 86, leaving his wife Ann (married in 1951, died in 2012) and three sons and two daughters. A son and a daughter predeceased them.[29] He is buried at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford.[6]


Notable articles and exhibition catalogues 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).

For more complete publication details see the "Bibliography of the Writings of Michael Dummett" in R. E. Auxier and L. E. Hahn (eds.) The Philosophy of Michael Dummett (2007).

See also


  1. ^ a b c Dummett, Michael – Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. ^ Brown, Stuart, ed. (2005). Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Philosophers. Vol. 1. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 237.
  3. ^ "Obituary for Professor Sir Michael Dummett". Telegraph. London. 28 December 2011. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  4. ^ Isaacson, Daniel (2004). "Dummett, Sir Michael Anthony Eardley (1925–2011)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/104464. ISBN 978-0-19-861411-1. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 107th edition, vol. 1, ed. Charles Mosley, Burke's Peerage Ltd, 2003, pp. 1260-1
  6. ^ a b c Isaacson, Daniel; Rumfitt, Ian (21 November 2018). "Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett: 27 June 1925 – 27 December 2011" (PDF). Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the British Academy. XVII. UK: British Academy: 191–228.
  7. ^ Isaacson, Daniel "In Memoriam: Michael Dummett (1925–2011)". *Originally published at Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford News Archived 18 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Isaacson, Daniel (2004). "Dummett, Sir Michael Anthony Eardley (1925–2011), philosopher and campaigner against racial injustice". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/104464. ISBN 9780198614111. Retrieved 24 March 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ "Rolf Schock Prize - Department of Philosophy". www.philosophy.su.se. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  10. ^ Lauener Prize for an Outstanding Oeuvre in Analytical Philosophy.
  11. ^ Originally a lecture to the Philosophical Society at Oxford in 1963, first published in 1978 in his book Truth and Other Enigmas. See Truth and Other Enigmas, p. ix.
  12. ^ Tennant, Neil (2017), "Logicism and Neologicism", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 30 April 2021
  13. ^ Glanzberg, Michael (2021), "Truth", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2021 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 30 April 2021
  14. ^ Panu Raatikainen, "The Semantic Realism/Anti-Realism Dispute and Knowledge of Meanings", The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 5(1): 1–13. 2010.
  15. ^ R. Ramanujam and Sundar Sarukkai, eds, Logic and Its Applications, Springer, 2009, p. 260.
  16. ^ Michael Dummett, "Preface to the first edition", in Frege: Philosophy of Language, First Edition (Harper & Row, 1973)/Second Edition (Harvard University Press, 1981), p. xii.
  17. ^ Michael Dummett, "Montgomery (and A. Cooke)". With an Introduction by Robert Bernasconi. Critical Philosophy of Race, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2015, pp. 1–19.
  18. ^ Dummett, Michael (2005). "The work and life of Robin Farquharson". Social Choice and Welfare. 25 (2): 475–483. doi:10.1007/s00355-005-0014-x. S2CID 27639067.
  19. ^ Gibbard, Allan (1973). "Manipulation of Voting Schemes: A General Result". Econometrica. 41 (4): 587–601. doi:10.2307/1914083. JSTOR 1914083. S2CID 17069971.
  20. ^ Satterthwaite, Mark A. (1975). "Strategy-proofness and Arrow's Conditions: Existence and Correspondence Theorems for Voting Procedures and Social Welfare Functions". Journal of Economic Theory. 10 (2): 187–217. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/0022-0531(75)90050-2.
  21. ^ Mann, Sylvia (2012). "Playing Cards". In Taylor, B. M. (ed.). Michael Dummett: Contributions to Philosophy. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 195. ISBN 978-94-009-3541-9.
  22. ^ Dummett, Michael (2004). A History of Games Played With the Tarot Pack: The Game of Triumphs, Vol. 1.
  23. ^ Dummett, Michael (1987). "Sulle origini dei Tarocchi popolari" and "Tarocchi popolari e Tarocchi fantastici", in Le carte di Corte. I Tarocchi. Gioco e magia alla Corte degli Estensi, Nuova Alfa editoriale, Bologna 1987, pp. 78–88.
  24. ^ Dummett, Michael (March 1997). "The Revision of the Roman Liturgy: A Review". Adoremus. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  25. ^ Dummett M. (1987) "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.
  26. ^ a b Dummett, Michael (1987). "A Remarkable Consensus". New Blackfriars. 68 (809): 430, 431. doi:10.1111/j.1741-2005.1987.tb01277.x. ISSN 0028-4289. JSTOR 43248116.
  27. ^ Lash, Nicholas (1987). "A Leaky Sort of Thing? The divisiveness of Michael Dummett". New Blackfriars. 68 (811): 552–557. doi:10.1111/j.1741-2005.1987.tb01294.x. ISSN 1741-2005. JSTOR 43248143.
  28. ^ Kerr, Fergus (2012). "Comment: Michael Dummett in memoriam". New Blackfriars. 93 (1045): 261–262. doi:10.1111/j.1741-2005.2012.01487.x. ISSN 0028-4289. JSTOR 43251621.
  29. ^ Sir Michael Dummett obituary in The Scotsman Online.
  30. ^ Burge, Tyler (July 1984). "Review: The Interpretation of Frege's Philosophy by Michael Dummett". The Philosophical Review. 93 (3): 454–458. doi:10.2307/2184550. JSTOR 2184550.
  31. ^ Eggenberger, Peter (September 1980). "Review: Elements of Intuitionism by Michael Dummett". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 31 (3): 299–301. doi:10.1093/bjps/31.3.299. JSTOR 686924.
  32. ^ Schirn, Matthias (December 1981). "Review: Truth and Other Enigmas by Michael Dummett". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 32 (4): 419–425. doi:10.1093/bjps/32.4.419. JSTOR 687314.
  33. ^ Shieh, Sanford (May 2008). "Review: Truth and the Past by Michael Dummett". History and Theory. 47 (2): 270–278. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2303.2008.00451.x. JSTOR 25478749.

Further reading