Frank Ramsey, The Man Who Thought Too Fast

Anthony Gottlieb in The New Yorker:

The world will never know what has happened—what a light has gone out,” the belletrist Lytton Strachey, a member of London’s Bloomsbury literary set, wrote to a friend on January 19, 1930. Frank Ramsey, a lecturer in mathematics at Cambridge University, had died that day at the age of twenty-six, probably from a liver infection that he may have picked up during a swim in the River Cam. “There was something of Newton about him,” Strachey continued. “The ease and majesty of the thought—the gentleness of the temperament.”

Dons at Cambridge had known for a while that there was a sort of marvel in their midst: Ramsey made his mark soon after his arrival as an undergraduate at Newton’s old college, Trinity, in 1920. He was picked at the age of eighteen to produce the English translation of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” the most talked-about philosophy book of the time; two years later, he published a critique of it in the leading philosophy journal in English, Mind. G. E. Moore, the journal’s editor, who had been lecturing at Cambridge for a decade before Ramsey turned up, confessed that he was “distinctly nervous” when this first-year student was in the audience, because he was “very much cleverer than I was.” John Maynard Keynes was one of several Cambridge economists who deferred to the undergraduate Ramsey’s judgment and intellectual prowess.

When Ramsey later published a paper about rates of saving, Keynes called it “one of the most remarkable contributions to mathematical economics ever made.”

More here.