July 12, 2007

Library of Living Philosophers book debuts July 27

by Andrea Hahn


CARBONDALE, Ill. — Volume 31 in the prestigious Library of Living Philosophers series produced by Southern Illinois University Carbondale will appear on July 27, and Randall E. Auxier, editor and professor, expects some sections of the book to make waves in the philosophy world.

The subject of the new volume is Professor Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett, whom Auxier refers to as "Sir Michael." Dummett is well known among scholars in many disciplines for his classic work on German philosopher Gottleb Frege, and for his contributions to logic, realism, anti-realism, the philosophy of history, mathematics and language, and the nature of truth.

The nature of the volume, though, also sheds light on some of Dummett's less well-known activities. Dummett's intellectual autobiography recounts in some detail his conversion to Roman Catholicism, his experiences breaking codes in World War II, and his activism in social justice movements in Great Britain. Auxier noted that many of Dummett's peers may be unaware of his Christian faith, though he has written defenses of Catholic teachings.

Dummett is modest about his work in social justice and his political activism, Auxier said, though he worked toward electoral reform, campaigned against racism and wrote about immigration, justice and the responsibility of the state. Finally, readers will be surprised to learn of Dummett's scholarly writings on the history of the tarot, a specialized set of cards, which, Dummett contends, originated as playing cards without the occult significance they have today.

Dummett is a former fellow of All Souls College and New College at Oxford. He served as Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford from 1979 until his retirement in 1992. In 1995, he won the Rolf Schock prize, an elite biennial award presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He was knighted in 1999.

An editorial board of prominent scholars chose Dummett for inclusion in the 67-year-old book series, joining the ranks of such previous subjects as John Dewey, Albert Einstein, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell. Selection for the series is an honor, Auxier said, because the selection serves as acknowledgement of the philosophers' permanent contributions. Inclusion in the series entails a "tremendous amount of work" for the subject of the volume.

"This is the most prestigious published series in the discipline, perhaps in the humanities," Auxier said. "There is no Nobel Prize in philosophy, but being selected for inclusion in the Library of Living Philosophers is, along with the Gifford Lectures, perhaps the highest honor a philosopher can receive."

What makes the series so invaluable is the interaction between the philosopher and other experts in the field. In this volume, 27 prominent scholars comment on specific aspects of Dummett's work, criticizing, challenging and questioning it thoroughly. Dummett's replies and answers to the questions follow the essays. This format promotes discussion of the philosophers' works, while helping answer some of the basic questions and problems of interpretation. As the late Paul A. Schlipp, SIUC philosophy professor and the originator of the series, said, addressing these questions of interpretation to the philosopher while still alive serves to stop "certain of the grosser and more general kinds of misinterpretations."

Auxier is the third editor of the series. After Schlipp came the late Professor Lewis E. Hahn, listed as co-editor of the Dummett volume since it was launched during his tenure as editor in 1999. Each volume requires several years to reach publication, particularly if it entails language translation.

The series is a labor of love at SIUC. "One of the things I love about editing the series is that every volume I edit is like having an opportunity to study with the subject of the volume," Auxier said. "It's like being perpetually in graduate school with the very best scholars."

In Dummett's case, Auxier said, he has found a new intellectual hero. "I really do hold him in that kind of esteem," he said. He noted in his preface that Dummett "could learn anything that he decided to learn." A case in point is Dummett's historical writings, including those on the tarot, which demonstrate that "he has the mind and temper of an historian," Auxier said.

Graduate students at SIUC also have a hand in editing the volumes, providing them with invaluable experience with top names in the field. Auxier said the Library of Living Philsophers is one cornerstone of SIUC's philosophy department – a program he said is "the best philosophy program in the world for the study of classical American philosophy."

"The Philosophy of Michael Dummett" in the Living Library of Philosophers series is available July 27 from Open Court Publishing, which offers a discount on the list price. The 960-page volume is available from the publisher in cloth hardback for $55.97. The paperback version is available from the publisher for $41.97. For more information or to order a copy of the book, log onto www.opencourtbooks.com and follow the links to "forthcoming" volumes, or call 800/815-2280.