Sir Michael Dummett, a well-known British philosopher, is the foremost scholar in the field of Tarot history, with numerous books and articles to his credit. He is a. Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett, FBA was an English academic described as “among the most significant British. Game of Tarot has 5 ratings and 2 reviews. Philebus said: First of all, contrary to the listing here, this book was not published by US Game Systems but.

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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Dummett and the Game of Tarot Dummett and the Game of Tarot1 Carlo Penco It was suggested that I study his book Frege: Philosophy of Language, which I would later translate into Italian.

Dummett and the Game of Tarot | Carlo Penco –

At my first meeting with Michael, his warmth and open mind en- couraged me in my feeble attempts to study with such a formidable thinker. I spent a year in Oxford having weekly meetings with him, speaking of philo- sophy, experiencing his strong temperament also in personal matters, and dis- cussing aspects of anti-realism and verification, without having any idea of his interest in Tarot, which was never mentioned in our meetings.

I would never have imagined such a strong, almost violent reaction: Unfortunately my research was not successful, and Mi- chael was a bit disappointed; on the other hand, in Ferrara and Bologna, as Eva Picardi told me, he often went to local bars to play Tarot with players who were expert in traditional tarot games.

However I did not touch on the topic of Tarot again, making a resolution to reconsider it later. The first question, however is: Along with his wife Ann, Michael Dummett always maintained a strong commitment to combating social prob- lems, especially to the fight against racism. It was for his combination of social commitment and intellectu- al research that Dummett was awarded dummeht knighthood by Queen Elisabeth in In a moment of particular difficulty for the antiracist struggle in Great Britain Michael Dummett realized that the stress of political commitment made it impossible for him to concentrate on pure philosophy.

It was during this period that he decided to dedicate himself to the study of Tarot, assisted in his research by Sylvia Mann, who introduced him to the world of cards and card games. But why the dummett of Tarot?

Certainly it was somewhat less demanding than pure philosophical research, but the choice of the topic is a case of serendipity, linked also to vivid memories of a young Michael who had a book on cartomancy with a section on Tarot specifying that the game of Tarot was still played in central Europe. The origin of a story that brought one of the greatest philosophers of our age to de- vote his time, through a natural tenacity and perseverance, in order to make a fundamental contribution to the history of the game of Tarot, lies in his child- hood.

But then the question arises: This is the main problem that Dummett wants to solve. A typical an- swer relies on the divinatory origin of card games; the first step is therefore to judge the soundness of this hypothesis. I will present the main lines of his argument, starting with some basic undisputable data, which can be summarized as follows: Card games are introduced into Europe from Islam: Florence, Siena, Paris, Basel.

First French theories of the occult and divinatory origin of Tarot. The theory of an occult and divinatory origin of Tarot consolidates. From these dates we can see that the regular pack of cards came first and the Tarot pack was introduced almost half a century later; the difference from the regular pack is the addition of twenty-two cards of a special kind Triumphs or Major Arcana.

Dummett uses three kinds of arguments against the hypothesis of an oc- cult-divinatory origin of the game of Tarot: It is apparently possible to suppose that those uses were so occult that few could come to know of them, but this argument has no actual historical links; it is therefore not particularly compelling and may easily be considered mere fantasy.

This would help us to study the function of Major Arcana without the prejudices imposed by a divin- atory use of which we have clear evidence only starting from France in It is therefore reasonable to study the origin and the function of Tarot backwards in Renaissance society analysing the role of Major Arcana without any refer- ence to Marseille Tarot, which was used for divination only at a later stage.

A very inter- esting aspect is present in sermons and in many criticisms of the Tarot games that have been handed down since the time of the earliest uses of the game: This argument is not simply an argument from silence, but it also allows us to infer the original use of the Tarot pack. Dummett and the Game of Tarot 5 One of the most vivid examples of such criticism in early times is a very famous sermon Sermo perutilis de ludo cum aliis — end of the XV cen- tury of a Dominican preacher, who inveighs against three kinds of games of chance: It would be unreason- able that in the many religious prohibitions of card games present in numer- ous documents since the XIV century there were no explicit references to the magical and divinatory use, if such use were diffused or at least known.


Therefore a plain game of cards is supposed to be at the origin of the Tarot packs in Italian Courts at the begin- ning of the XV Century.

Here lies the basis for the diffusion of the occult origin of Tarot: It was, however, impossible to find an actual connection between the tradi- tional Tarot, introduced in Southern France after the French conquest of Mil- an and Piedmont inand an Egyptian occult origin.

To connect the tra- ditional Tarot pack with the occult, something new was needed: The evalu- ation is drastically negative, tending to show that they invented a tradition from nothing. Of Eliphas Levi, for instance, he says: Nevertheless…he initiated a boom in occultist writing, and almost all his successors acknowledge their debt to him [Dummettp. Basically Dummett criticizes the superficiality and approximation shown by all the authors that defend the occultist conception of Tarot, and who take the liberty of inventing occultist origins for the game without un- derstanding or attempting to understand the more reasonable links of etymo- logy.

Dummett and the Game of Tarot 7 What is more striking about the writings of the neo-occultists concerning the Tarot pack is their complete indifference to any genuine historical evidence. Al- though tarot cards do not, as they supposed, have a history extending over mil- lennia, they do have one of several centuries; and one might have expected men who revered them as a source of the deepest wisdom, and who spent a great deal of their time in thinking and writing about them, to have made some effort to discover what the history was [Dummettp.

But they appear never to have taken the trouble to acquaint themselves with the ascertainable facts about the history of the Tarot pack, and this is the main accusation that can be made against them. Still, he may con- clude on these grounds that the claim that Tarot has a divinatory origin linked to the occult sciences is highly improbable and without documentary justific- ation.

We are now in the realm of empirical hypothesis: This must not make us forget, as even historians occasionally do, that his- torical research is a pursuit of truth.

Why was the Major Arcana inserted into the Tarot pack, with a great difference with respect to the standard card pack? And what explains the presence of the Major Arcana since the Middle Ages, if the explanation of the origin is not with reference to magic and the occult?

Michael Dummett

Let us start with the criticism of Locke: Frege remarked that in looking for the meaning of a word Locke was analysing words in isol- ation, concluding that meaning is the idea or representation that corresponds to the word.

But there are words to which no idea corresponds, and we can still attribute a meaning to them. This quotation is reminiscent of the context principle applied to cards, and we might translate it with a motto like: The problem is that we have no description of any game played with the Tarot pack before the first half of the XVII century.

In Chapter 7 of The Game of Tarot dummtet ] the analysis of Tarot dummetf a game is worked out as a part dummdtt the great his- tory of playing cards; the analysis is full of interesting details, and here I will give the main lines of the historical argument presented by Dummett.

From their origins card games have been developed in thousands of dif- ferent forms. Use of cards for gambling trot extension of gambling with dice ; 2. Use of different suits in a card deck a total novelty relative to dice ; 3.

Michael Dummett – Wikipedia

Use of cards with different point values for different cards, and turns hands in the game trick-taking games ; 4. Use of trumps, that is a kind of card which wins over all others; 5. The first three innovations took place in China and later developed into card games, first in Persia and later in India and Europe. The fourth and the fifth seem to be original to Europe, the fifth being a well-known Spanish invention with the fourth the problem to be solved.

When was the use of the trumps in- troduced for the first time? How was this innovative turn in the great history of card games invented? A detailed analysis of card games during the early Renaissance period suggests that in the Courts of Italy — while trick-taking games were already well known in Europe — a new invention excited the card players to such a degree that it spread throughout Europe: The following is a simple, but explicative suggestion an inference to the best explanation: Thus we may explain not only the origin, but also the success of the Tarot: But what of the magical doctrine of the Renaissance?


As regards the origin of the kinds of pictures, there is therefore a prob- able connection with the hermetic and astrological cultural environment of Renaissance. But this does not amount to a connection of the card games with the occult. As Dummett recognizes, the first painters of the Triumphs used easily memorisable pictures and therefore something from the imaginary rep- ertoire of the time: But, from the point of view of the game, the images were not important except for memorisation.

Evidence of the fact that the use of Triumphs is not so dummdtt connected with the traditional apparently esoteric figures is that — in contexts different from the Italian Renaissance courts — Triumph cards used totally different figures, such as for instance, an- imals and plants, as occur in the Triumphs of Austrian, Bavarian and Belgian Tarot packs see appendix.

The enlightenment attitude of historical research based on evidence and verification dispels the fog of a supposed esoteric ori- gin of Tarot pack revealing the importance of the role of Triumphs in the his- tory of card games, without any connection with an original divinatory usage.

Dummett and the Game of Tarot tatot IV. Neoplatonic ideas were common in late Middle Age and Renaissance courts and, as Dummett himself recognizes, there was a strict connection between the search for magic and esoteric themes and scientific ones al- chemy and astrology were mixed with yarot beginning of the new scientific en- deavours. It is therefore difficult to deny, as sometimes Dummett seems to do, an taarot origin of the images of the Italian Triumphs.

But here the idea of searching for the meaning of the cards not ddummett their images but in the roles they have in the game has a great advantage for clarifying and distinguishing two different problems: The polemical power Dummett wielded against the deformation of the history of Tarot is grounded on a sound scientific method in historical analys- is, dummert hypothesis must be tested against the evidence and probabilities.

A few of the basic points are sometimes sufficient to discard years and volumes of unsound invented hypothesis, as happens with his suggestion to skip from the analysis of the Marseille Tarot pack of XVIII century to the study of hand- dummmett Tarot packs used in the Italian courts for playing cards in the XV cen- atrot Let me conclude with a con- nection with a Wittgensteinian reminder on which Dummett had mixed feel- ings: Perhaps to a logician, as Dummett also was, the games of Tarot in their variety may seem procedural variants of a complex logical cal- culus whose complexity is given by the need to make hypotheses on the choices of other players.

Cer- tainly playing the original Tarot game in its variants is more difficult than playing with Major Arcana for purpose of divination; to play the actual games requires competence in the rules, which are often difficult to learn and follow.

Game of Tarot

But it is a clear and honest game, where the rules have to be adhered to, as in any other card game. The cartomantic aspect draws a distinction between two kinds of users, those who predict the future and those who are subjected to listening to them: On the contrary, card playing does not make this kind of division: Probably, the carto- mantic aspect provokes rebellion in a rational and philosophical mind, whose aim is to dissolve the haze developing from confused and vague suggestions.

The haze dissolves when we study the Tarot games in their effective function- ing. This can be a difficult enterprise, and requires time and patience, especially in the kinds of games explained and analysed in the books on Tarot written by Sir Michael Dummett. Dummett is an enriched version of Dummetttranslated and edited by Eva Picardi.

Philosophy of Language, London, Duckworth. I tarocchi e la loro storia, Napoli, Bibliopolis. Logic and Meta- physics, Genova: The picture quality is below the usual standard of the IPCS because the reproductions date from before high resolution scanners.

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