Naming of the Sir Michael Dummett Lecture Theatre

A ceremony was held at Christ Church on Sunday 7 May to commemorate the naming of the Sir Michael Dummett Lecture Theatre, formerly known as the Blue Boar Lecture Theatre. Often used for conferences and events, as well as talks and lectures given in college, the theatre forms part of Blue Boar Quad, which was built between 1965 and 1968 and substantially renovated from 2007-8. The name ‘Blue Boar’ comes from the quad’s location to the south of the historic Blue Boar Street. The lecture theatre is named after Christ Church alumnus Sir Michael Dummett, one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century, as well as a determined anti-racism campaigner.

The ceremony took place on Sunday afternoon, and was conducted outside in Blue Boar Quad to make the most of the beautiful weather. The Dean introduced the event, after which there were speeches from Peter Oppenheimer, who spoke about Sir Michael’s time as a tutor and academic at Oxford, as well as his fight against racism, and Daniel Isaacson, whose speech included more details about Sir Michael’s early life at school and in the army, and mentioned the beginnings of his academic career at Christ Church. Suzie Dummett, one of Sir Michael’s children and part of the wider Dummett family who was in attendance at the event, gave an illuminating speech on Sir Michael as a father, and the varied ways in which the people of Oxford came to know him over his time here. The Chaplain, Clare Hayns, gave a Bible reading, after which the Dean officially renamed the lecture theatre. Guests then proceeded to the Deanery garden for afternoon tea accompanied by a jazz band.

Born in London in 1925, Sir Michael Dummett postponed starting at Christ Church to join the Royal Artillery in 1943, joining the college as an undergraduate in 1947 after being demobilised. Although he was originally intending to study History, he decided instead to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). He graduated with a First, before taking up a one-year assistant lectureship at the University of Birmingham and also being elected as a Fellow at All Souls College after sitting the Fellowship examination. In 1959 he published his seminal work, ‘Truth’, and in 1962 was appointed to the Oxford University Readership in Philosophy of Mathematics. After a visiting appointment at Stanford, he returned to Oxford in 1964, whereupon he and his wife decided that ‘the time had come for organised resistance to the swelling racism in England’.

Sir Michael spent the next four years fighting against racism whilst also carrying on with his teaching obligations. He was instrumental in the foundation, in 1967, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, but during this time was also at the forefront of establishing mathematical logic at Oxford, which led to the introduction of a Lectureship and a Professorship in Mathematical Logic, and an undergraduate course in Mathematics and Philosophy. In 1979 he was elected as Wykeham Professor of Logic and Fellow of New College, and was by this time in high demand for graduate supervision. After retiring from Oxford in 1992 he was knighted in 1999 for ‘Services to Philosophy and Racial Justice’, and died in December 2011.