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The Philosophy of Michael Dummett


Admission requirements

For students from other departments: philosophical maturity and introductory courses in Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Metaphysics and Logic.
Toehoorders / à la carte-studenten hebben alleen toegang tot deze cursus met toestemming van de docent.


During the second half of the 20th century Sir Michael Dummett (1925-2011) was one of the most distinguished philosophers in the world. His monumental book Frege: Philosophy of Languagë (1973) cemented Frege’s reputation in the Anglophone world, but it was in equal measure an independent contribution to the Philosophy of Language. By the side of his expertise on Frege, Dummett is most known for his explorations of the problem of Realism and its relation to logic and the Law of Excluded Middle, which Dummett preferred to call Bivalence. As is well-know, the mathematical Intuitionists in the Dutch school of L.E.J. Brouwer refrain from asserting the Law of Excluded Middle, that is, the principle that every proposition is either true or false, irrespectively of whether we are in position to know whichever is the case. Alfred Tarski’s realist, model-theoretic notion of truth has gained wide acceptance in analytical philosophical cirlces, among others by W.V.O. Quine. Since the 1950’s Michael Dummett was concerned to probe the arguments for realism. He did this using the logico-linguistic paradigm that was adumbrated by Frege in his Grundlagen der Arithmetik (1884). He was also concerned to explore alternative conceptions of meaning, apart from the Tarski inspired truth-theoretical one that was made famous by Donald Davidson with his 1967 Synthese article ‘Truth and Meaning’.

In the course we study Dummett’s most central meaning theoretical piece of writing, to wit ‘What is a Theory of Meaning? II’, which article can fortunately be read independently of part I. It provides a path from Logic and Philosophy of Language to Metaphyiscs. Furthermore, the rival conceptions of Tarski and Davidson will be presented, as well as relevant logical work of Dag Prawitz.

Course objectives

Course objectives will be posted on Blackboard by the start of the course.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2013-2014 , BA Wijsbegeerte (BA Plus-traject of Standaardtraject), 3e jaar.
See Timetables Philosophy 2013-2014 , Timetable Undergraduate Courses in English.

Mode of instruction

Lectures and seminars

Course load

Attending lectures and seminars: 42 hrs.
Reading and preparation of seminars: 198 hrs
Paper (research and writing): 40 hrs
Total course load: 280 hrs.

Assessment method

  • Active participation during lectures and seminars (passed/failed);

  • Assignments (passed/failed);

  • Paper on topic and literature chosen in consultation with the course teacher;

  • An oral examination at the hand of the paper may be part of the examination.


Blackboard will be used as a message board for assigments and the posting of texts and references.

Reading list

Main text:

  • Michael Dummett, ‘What is a theory of meaning? II’, in: Gareth Evans and John McDowell (eds.), Truth and Meaning, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976, pp. 67-137. Also found in: Michael Dummett, The Seas of Language, Oxford: Calrendon Press, 1993, pp. 36-93.

  • During the course assigments will be made to secondary literature and other texts via Blackboard.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens

Exchange students and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply. See also Registration for courses and examinations

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs via secretariaat Wijsbegeerte
See also: Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens

Contact details

Prof.dr. B.G. Sundholm