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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: February 2013

5 - Michael Dummett: Truth and Other Enigmas

Summary

Truth and Other Enigmas is a collection of some of Michael Dummett's writings on truth and other enigmas. The other enigmas include: meaning and understanding, time and causation, the past, realism, logic, proof, vagueness and philosophy itself. The writings span a considerable portion of Dummett's career – the years 1959 to 1975 – and reflect his diverse concerns in that period. So it would be a mistake to look for and wrong to impose a single theme that unifies the essays. However, two issues stand out as central, recurring as they do in many of the essays. One issue is the set of debates about realism, that is, those debates that ask whether or not one or another aspect of the world is independent of the way we represent that aspect to ourselves. For example, is there a realm of mathematical entities that exists fully formed independently of our mathematical activity? Are there facts about the past that our use of the past tense aims to capture? The other issue is the view – which Dummett learns primarily from the later Wittgenstein – that the meaning of an expression is fully determined by its use, by the way it is employed by speakers. Much of his work consists in attempts to argue for this thesis, to clarify its content and to work out its consequences. For Dummett one of the most important consequences of the thesis concerns the realism debate and for many other philosophers the prime importance of his work precisely consists in this perception of a link between these two issues.