[lit-ideas] "When you are in Oxford, do you dine in college?"

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 13 Jan 2012 09:55:10 -0500 (EST)

From an online site:
M. Salles: 

Could you tell us a little about the origin of your  interest in philosophy 
general and in analytic philosophy, logic, and  philosophy of mathematics 
in particular?

M. Dummett: 

"Well, my  interest in PHILOSOPHY, and in particular ANALYTIC philosophy,
simply derives  from my study as an undergraduate."

"I had a HISTORY scholarship to  the
Oxford college of Christ Church which I gained in 1943."

"Then I  went into the army and I
was four years in the army."

"Two years  during the war and two years after the war."

I came out I  realised that I’d forgotten a large amount of the history 
that I’d learnt  at

"So I thought it would be a mistake to read  history."

"And I decided to read philosophy,
politics and  economics."

"I’d read a little philosophy and been interested in it,  but
not yet gripped by it, and I thought it would be very useful to know both  
politics and

"I was absolutely gripped by the philosophy  that I studied as an 
and that became my overriding  interest."

"It was analytic philosophy that was absolutely
dominant in  Oxford, and indeed throughout Britain I think at that time, so 
that was  the
Date: August 2005.

(The authors gratefully acknowledge that work  on this paper was partly 
supported by the Leverhulme
Trust (Grant F/07-004M).  We would like to thank Liz Docherty who 
remarkably made the basic  tape
1All footnotes and references have been added by the  interviewers. For 
Dummett’s works in philosophy and logic see Dummett (1978,  1981, 1981a, 1991, 
1991a, 1991b, 1993, 1993a, 2000, 2004,  2005))


kind of philosophy I learnt to do."

"I’ve always  remained an analytic philosopher -- but as
for logic and the philosophy of  mathematics, that’s a separate thing."

"It happened, well
again, quite  accidentally."

"I took, the first time it was set, an optional paper in  philosophy
in my final examination."

"It was one invented by J. L.  Austin and it was called, 
"The Origins of Modern  Epistemology.""

"What it was was a collection (a rather large  collection)
of texts, starting with Plato’s Theaetetus and finishing with  Frege’s 
of Arithmetic."

"These were texts which one would  NOT normally have come across during
the ordinary Philosophy, Politics and  Economics course in Oxford, and I 
worked my way
through these."

"I was  very interested by a lot of them but I was absolutely bowled over
by the  Foundations of Arithmetic, and I thought, I want to read everything 
this man  has

"I thought it was the most brilliant work of its length,  that I had ever 
come across."

"So when I got elected as a prize fellow of  All Souls College I started to 
read everything
that Frege had  written."

"Very little was translated into English at that time, so I had  to
read it in German, and naturally since he was the founder of modern  
mathematical logic
and a lot of his writing was about logic in general,  philosophical logic, 
but also it all was
directed at the philosophy of  mathematics, so I decided I must learn some 
and some mathematical  LOGIC."

"Well, as far as mathematics was concerned, I planned to
do an  undergraduate course in mathematics and to take the final 
examination, but  the
Warden of All Souls—I mean in those days such figures had much more  
authority than
they do now, you did what they said—forbade me to read the  Mathematics 
School, on
the grounds that if I didn’t get a first class degree  in the subject, it 
would shame the

"So I found someone, John  Hammersley, a mathematician, who very kindly gave
me tutorials in the subject  (although I wasn’t going to take the 
examination) and I read
a certain amount  of mathematics for myself."


"As for mathematical  logic, there was no one
in Oxford at that time who could teach it to me, so I  went and spent a 
year at Berkeley,

************** (There  was GRICE!)

"Berkeley was then much the best for mathematical  logic."

"It was done both in
the mathematics and in the philosophy  departments, and Tarski of course 
was there."


R. Fara:  Michael, it would be helpful if perhaps we just had a few dates 
here, so  when
are we talking about?

M. Dummett: 


"I came  up to Oxford in 1947."

"I took my finals in 1950 and sat
the All Souls  examination for prize fellowships in the same year, and was 
lucky enough
to  be elected."

"It was in 1955 that I went to Berkeley."

"When I  came back I retained my
interest in the philosophy of mathematics generally,  not just in Frege."

"I was always very
interested in Frege’s work, and  I’ve written about it a good deal, but, 
studying different
philosophies of  mathematics, I came upon Brouwer and the whole 
intuitionist school and
became  very interested in that."

"In about 1963 the position of Reader in the  Philosophy
of Mathematics became vacant—it had been held by Friedrich  Waismann who 
had been
a member of the Vienna Circle."

"He had come to  England as a refugee from Hitler, and he
had been Reader in the Philosophy of  Mathematics, but he switched to 
become Reader in
the Philosophy of Science so  that the position was open and I was lucky 
enough to get it."

"I held the  post for thirteen years."

"I lectured on that subject and we got the new  Honours
School in Mathematics and Philosophy for undergraduates started. I  took a 
large part in
the foundation of that, and then had to do an enormous  amount of teaching 
for it because
we loaded it with mathematical  logic."

"So I had to do about twice as much lecturing as
the  university required in order to cover it all."

"Then we got Robin  Gandy—he was Reader
in Mathematical Logic—and later we had Dana Scott as  Professor of the 

"So the
burden of teaching was very much  lightened after these people came."

"Also I gave courses
in philosophy  of mathematics."

"So for 13 years that was my principal obligation to  the

"Of course I kept up an interest in philosophy in  general, in philosophy 
of language
and its effect on  metaphysics."

"Those were my interests outside the philosophy  of
mathematics but that wasn’t what I was professionally doing.

M.  Salles: 

The readers of Social Choice and Welfare are mainly economists,  and most
of them ignore that you are one of the most famous philosophers.  Could you 
describe your
work in philosophy, even if this seems quite  impossible in a short time?

M. Dummett: Well I’ll do my best! A very,  very brief answer. 

"I have a kind of side
interest in the philosophy  of time."

"One of the first things I published was an article  arguing
that backwards causation (where the cause comes after the effect) was  not 
logically impossible."

"I suppose that the principal interest I’ve  had, and certainly what I’m 
best known
for, is a critique of realism and the  

truth-conditional theory of meaning that underlies it."

"That  is, the theory that the meaning of a statement consists in the 
condition for it  to be

"Now, what we learn when we learn a language is what  counts as 
establishing a statement
as true."

"Not in general by  observation but more usually by inference from premisses
established by  observation."

"We also learn what you’re committed to by accepting a  statement
as true."
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