Truth and the Past: Preface
Dummett (Michael)
Source: Dummett (Michael) - Truth and the Past, 2004
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  1. Chapters 1 to 5 of this book are based on the Dewey Lectures I gave at Columbia University in 2001. The original text of the lectures was published in the Journal of Philosophy vol. C, no. 1, January 2003.I have revised and expanded it, in the process making five chapters out of three lectures. Chapter 6 is separate. It was suggested to me that I add another essay to the text of the lectures, to make the book a more reasonable size. As I had already started writing "Dummett (Michael) - Truth: Deniers and Defenders", I used that for the purpose.
  2. As a philosophical topic, truth has been a preoccupation of mine since my earliest days in the subject: I wanted to set out my views, as they now stand, in a comprehensive form. The interpretation of statements about the past, on the other hand, and, more generally, of statements about the temporal, is a topic that has troubled me for several years past. What I have written here is an experiment, much as was my essay of long ago, "Dummett (Michael) - The Reality of the Past". I wanted to see if a plausible case could be made, on a justificationist basis, for repudiating antirealism about the past — the view that statements about the past, if true at all, must be true in virtue of the traces past events have left in the present. That view is repugnant, and, as I think I showed in that earlier article, it leads to consequences very hard to swallow. The position I have adopted in this book is greatly at variance with those I expressed in my not yet published Gifford Lectures of a few years ago. In those, I did not embrace antirealism about the past: but I did maintain that the body of true statements is cumulative. I have not published those lectures, which it is the normal practice to do, because I was troubled that this view was in error. Now that I am publishing a book expressing a different view, I think I will probably publish the Gifford Lectures as I gave them. I do not think anyone should interpret everything that a philosopher writes as if it was just one chapter in a book he is writing throughout his life. On the contrary, for me every article and essay is a separate attempt to arrive at the truth, to be judged on its own.
  3. I finished the essay which forms chapter 6 a considerable time before Bernard Williams died. His death greatly saddened me; he had been a friend of mine since we were both undergraduates. The essay is not intended to be an appraisal of his book "Williams (Bernard) - Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy" as a whole; it treats of his views on truth, but alludes to truthfulness only glancingly.
  4. I am grateful to Columbia University for having invited me to give the Dewey Lectures. I am especially grateful to Professor Akeel Bilgrami for so kindly looking after me and entertaining me while I was in New York. And I am grateful to my daughter Susanna for accompanying me and taking much trouble also to look after me.

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