Thursday, December 29, 2011

Michael Dummett (1925-2011)

Michael Dummett died recently. I never had much philosophical connection with him, because he was wrong about most things that he spent most of the time discussing, but he had some excellent moments: his attacks on British racism were excellent, and would, in fact, be worth the time of Americans or anyone else; and his modern-style revival of Berkeley's argument for the existence of God in his Gifford Lectures, Thought and Reality, is worth reading, and a splendid joke on everyone who dismisses that argument facilely. The IEP has an article on his philosophical thought.

He also had some facets that deserved more recognition than they got. He was, for instance, an expert on the history of card games, and a wrote a fairly hefty number of works on it. One of his major arguments was that Tarot's association with fortune-telling is actually fairly late, and an offshoot of the game's extraordinary popularity in the early modern period.

He was one of the great Catholics in analytic philosophy in the third quarter of the twentieth century; now that he's gone, Peter Geach is about the last. He argued both for and against the Catholic position on contraception; his arguments against are, I think, the arguments that should most be taken seriously. He wrote a short piece a number of years back that was very critical of the English translation of the Mass that came about after the Second Vatican Council, arguing for the complete replacement of ICEL. That's a pretty strong view. But Dummett was never afraid to put forward a strong view if he thought he had an argument for it.

ADDED LATER: Skholiast has a nice post on the subject.

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