Michael Dummett

Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett (né en 1925) est l’un des principaux philosophes britanniques du XXe siècle et l’un des principaux auteurs de la philosophie analytique. Ses contributions portent principalement sur la philosophie des mathématiques, la philosophie de la logique, la philosophie du langage et la métaphysique, ainsi que sur l’histoire de la philosophie analytique. Un de ses articles célèbres, publié en 1954, envisageait la possibilité de la causalité inversée [1].

Il a contribué à la théorie du vote et publié des ouvrages politiques contre le racisme.

Il a également écrit sur le jeu de tarot. Il s’est converti au catholicisme en 1944 et demeure un catholique pratiquant.

Il a été Wykeham Professor of Logic à Oxford de 1979 à 1992.


Dummett was educated at two independent schools: at Sandroyd School near Tollard Royal in Wiltshire and Winchester College in Winchester in Hampshire, before going up to Christ Church, Oxford. Upon graduation he was awarded a fellowship to All Souls College, Oxford.

Carrière académique

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, and was knighted in 1999. He was the 2010 winner of the Lauener Prize for an Outstanding Oeuvre in Analytical Philosophy.

Travail en philosophie

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[1] 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.


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 and fascist opinions in the diaries of Frege, to whose work he had devoted such a high proportion of his professional career.

Election et vote

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.[2] The Dummett-Farquharson conjecture was proved by Allan Gibbard, a philosopher and former student of Kenneth J. Arrow and John Rawls, and by Mark A. Satterthwaite, an economist.[3]

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.

Dummett has also written a shorter overview of the theory of voting for the educated public.

Jeux de cartes et tarrot

Sir Michael Dummett is 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 publishes 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…”[4] – 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.

Dummett’s 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….”[5]


In 1944 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, and remains a practising Catholic. 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 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 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.


* Sur la logique et la philosophie analytique:
o The Interpretation of Frege’s Philosophy, Harvard University Press
o Frege: Philosophy of Language (Harvard University Press, 1973/1981)
o Elements of Intuitionism (Oxford, 1977, 2000)
o Truth and Other Enigmas (Harvard University Press, 1978)
o Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics (Harvard University Press, 1991)
o The Logical Basis of Metaphysics (Harvard University Press, 1991)
o Origins of Analytical Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 1993)
o The Seas of Language (Oxford, 1993)
o Truth and the Past (Oxford, 2005)
o Thought and Reality (Oxford, 2006)
* Œuvres politiques :
o Voting Procedures (Oxford, 1984)
o Principles of Electoral Reform (New York, 1997) ISBN 0-19-829246-5
o On Immigration and Refugees (London, 2001)
* Publications sur le tarot :
o The Game of Tarot: from Ferrara to Salt Lake City (Duckworth, 1980);
o Twelve Tarot Games (Duckworth, 1980);
o The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards (G. Braziller, 1986);
o Il mondo e l’angelo: i tarocchi e la loro storia (Bibliopolis, 1993);
o I tarocchi siciliani (La Zisa, 1995);
o A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot (avec Ronald Decker et Thierry Depaulis, Duckworth / St. Martin’s Press, 1996);
o A History of the Occult Tarot, 1870-1970 (avec Ronald Decker, Duckworth, 2002);
o A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack (avec John McLeod, E. Mellen Press, 2004).

2 Responses to “Michael Dummett”
  1. Merci pour l’information quant au tarot,
    et la causalité inversée

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] du langage naturel.Dans le cadre de ce débat, il a notamment critiqué la position défendue par Michael Dummett et Crispin Wright, et il a quant à lui défendu une perspective selon laquelle le comportement […]

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