[lit-ideas] Re: Michael Dummett

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 8 Jan 2012 20:45:50 -0500 (EST)

From The Daily Telegraph:
"Professor Sir Michael Dummett, who has died aged 86, was among the most  
significant British philosophers of the last century and a leading campaigner 
 for racial tolerance and equality."

"Logic, language and mathematics were his chief philosophical  
"He was particularly interested in the work of Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), a 
 German mathematician who tried, but ultimately failed, to demonstrate that 
 formal logic could govern all mathematical truths."

"In his book, Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics (1991), Dummett  attempted 
to pinpoint precisely where the German had gone wrong, and in the  course of 
his analysis he argued that Frege’s work had two significant  by-products 
for philosophy."
"First, Frege had invented a new formal language for logic in which, for  
example, it is possible to describe the difference between the phrase “
everybody  loves somebody”, and the phrase “there is somebody whom everybody 
”, and to  demonstrate clearly how different conclusions can be derived 
from each of these  propositions."
"Second, Dummett suggested, Frege’s theses about the nature of logic opened 
 up a whole new field – the philosophy of language, through which 
philosophers  might account for thought through an analysis of grammar and 

"As well as his work on Frege, Dummett was known for his struggle to  
resolve the argument between what he termed “realist” philosophers and  “
anti-realists” (idealists, nominalists etc), who disagree about the logical  
principles they apply to propositions that are under dispute."
"For Dummett, the championing of anti-realism meant a rejection of the  
realist principle of bivalence — the idea that any sentence which attempts to  
make an assertion must be either true or false."
"Dummett held that this was not the case for sentences that discuss certain 
 subjects — for example, mathematics."

"In particular, Dummett argued that metaphysical debates – such as  whether 
unicorns are real – are properly understood as debates about logical  laws 
and the nature of truth."
"He delivered his most complete statement of the nature of such  
metaphysical debates, and the means by which they can be resolved, in The  
Basis of Metaphysics (1991)."
"Thought and Reality (2006) was a further disquisition on  anti-realism."

"Though he influenced a whole generation of analytic philosophers,  
including such figures as John McDowell, Christopher Peacocke, and Crispin  
Dummett’s work was not easy reading."
"His stature amongst colleagues was immense, but inevitable difficulties in 
 communicating his theories concisely prevented him from achieving the 
wider  attention he deserved."
"When asked by his publisher to supply a new introduction to a work on  
Frege, for example, Dummett supplied 500 pages of material."

"But his commitment to truth had very practical applications, and ones  
which he pursued with vigour and personal courage."
"In particular, throughout his career he maintained a deep interest in the  
ethical and political issues concerning refugees and immigration, informed 
by  what he described as “an especial loathing of racial prejudice and its 
social  manifestations”."

"In the post-war period, Dummett and his wife Ann were among the  earliest 
and most dogged campaigners on race relations."
"In 1958 they co-founded the Institute of Race Relations think tank and in  
the 1960s, as the trickle of immigration became a flood, they drove a 
battered  van to Heathrow Airport day after day to take up the cases of Asian 
West  Indian immigrants threatened with deportation."
"On one occasion they were arrested and prosecuted after staging a protest  
against a market stallholder who refused to serve black customers."
"Police dropped charges and the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins,  

"Dummett saw the root of the problem as lying in the political  system."
"In his book On Immigration and Refugees (2001), he argued that lurking  
behind the egalitarian veneer of democracy is the more manipulative principle 
of  playing on people’s prejudices to gain votes."
"This, when applied to issues of immigration, has invariably led to a  
jingoistic policy – a policy founded, essentially, on racism."
"In Britain, according to Dummett, much of the blame rested with the Home  
Office, a department which he accused of “decades of hopeless indoctrination 
in  hostility”, first against Commonwealth immigrants, and later against 
asylum  seekers and refugees."
"“For the Home Office,” he once wrote, “the adjective 'bogus’ goes as  
automatically with 'asylum seeker’ as 'green’ does with 'grass’.”"

"Dummett’s political concerns made him increasingly convinced that  
political parties were essentially undemocratic institutions which, through a  
distorted voting system and the use of whipping procedures in Parliament, had  
become little more than “devices for frustrating the will of the  majority”."
"In Voting Procedures (1984) and Principles of Electoral Reform (1997) he  
proposed a proportional representation system known as the Quota Borda or 
Quota  Preference Score system, a highly complex arrangement designed to 
encourage  consensus by giving candidates the incentive to appeal to as wide as 
possible a  cross-section of voters."

"But Dummett was perfectly capable of turning his mind to lighter  matters."
"He was an avid reader of science fiction and an enthusiastic player and  
historian of card games – the Journal of the Playing Card Society was one of  
many to which he contributed articles."
"In The Game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake City (1980) one of several 
 publications in this field, he argued that in the Middle Ages the Tarot 
was used  as a set of playing cards and that it only acquired its association 
with the  occult in the 18th century."

"Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett was born on June 27 1925."
"He attended Winchester College, where he was a Scholar, and served in the  
Armed Forces from 1943 to 1947, first in the Royal Artillery, and then in 
the  Intelligence Corps in India and Malaya."
"After his military service, he went on a scholarship to Christ Church  
College, Oxford, graduating with First Class Honours in PPE in 1950, whereupon  
he was immediately given a fellowship at All Souls."

"He remained based in Oxford all his life and in 1979 was appointed  
Wykeham Professor of Logic, a chair which he held until his retirement in  
"Concurrently with these appointments, however, he frequently lectured  
abroad, particularly in America, where he was variously a visiting professor at 
 Stanford, Minnesota and Princeton."
"In 1976 he was William James Lecturer in Philosophy at Harvard."

"Although Dummett was brought up an Anglican, by the age of 13 he  regarded 
himself as an atheist."
"In 1944, however, he converted to Roman Catholicism."
"In the early part of his career he regarded himself as a “Wittgensteinian”
  but he did not accept the view, expressed by some admirers of 
Wittgenstein, that  philosophy has no practical relevance to people’s lives or 
metaphysics is  an ultimately futile pursuit."
"Further, Dummett never saw faith and logic as in any way mutually  

"Dummett’s first philosophical article was a book review, published in  
Mind in 1953."
"He went on to publish many more, his articles later being compiled into  
three volumes."
"His first book, Frege: Philosophy of Language (1973), was a long time in  
coming partly because he had put his academic career on hold to campaign 
against  racism."
"A second, enlarged, edition of the book was published in 1981, the same  
year that saw the publication of The Interpretation of Frege’s  Philosophy."

"In the 1970s Dummett also published Elements of Intuitionism (1977)  and 
his first collection of papers, Truth and Other Enigmas (1978)."
"Later works included Frege and Other Philosophers (1991) and The Seas of  
Language (1993)."
"Also in 1993 he published Grammar and Style, a book prompted by his  
infuriation with declining standards of literacy."
"Last year he summed up the intellectual pursuit to which he had dedicated  
his life in The Nature and Future of Philosophy."

"Dummett was a Fellow of the British Academy and was knighted in 1999  for “
services to philosophy and to racial justice”."
"He celebrated the award with a demand that the Home Office’s entire  
immigration staff be replaced."

"Michael Dummett married, in 1951, Ann Chesney."
"She survives him with three sons and two daughters."
"A son and a daughter predeceased him."

"Professor Sir Michael Dummett, born June 27 1925, died December 27  2011." 

In a message dated 1/8/2012 4:43:48 P.M., wokshevs@xxxxxx  writes:
Thanks for sharing. I am deeply saddened to hear this news.  Prof. Dummett 
was a
true philosopher. We will miss his further contributions  ...
Walter Okshevsky

Quoting Donal McEvoy  <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>:
>  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Dummett
>  Donal
> Plymouth

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