Restoring F. P. Ramsey


David Papineau reviews Margaret Paul's Frank Ramsey (1903-1930): A Sister’s Memoir, in the TLS:

F. P. Ramsey has some claim to be the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. In Cambridge in the 1920s, he singlehandedly forged a range of ideas that have since come to define the philosophical landscape. Contemporary debates about truth, meaning, knowledge, logic and the structure of scientific theories all take off from positions first defined by Ramsey. Equally importantly, he figured out the principles governing subjective probability, and so opened the way to decision theory, game theory and much work in the foundations of economics. His fertile mind could not help bubbling over into other subjects. An incidental theorem he proved in a logic paper initiated the branch of mathematics known as Ramsey theory, while two articles in the Economic Journalpioneered the mathematical analysis of taxation and saving.

Ramsey died from hepatitis at the age of twenty-six in 1930. For some geniuses, an early death accelerates the route to canonization. But for Ramsey it had the opposite effect. Ramsey’s death coincided with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s return to Cambridge after his reclusive years in the Austrian Alps. The cult surrounding Wittgenstein quickly caught fire, and for the next fifty years dominated philosophy throughout the English-speaking world. By the time it subsided, Ramsey had somehow been relegated to a minor role in history, a footnote to an archaic Cambridge of Russell, Keynes and the Bloomsbury set.

More here.