Frank Ramsey

Frank Ramsey : A Sheer Excess of Powers

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When he died in 1930 aged 26, Frank Ramsey had already invented one branch of mathematics and two branches of economics, laying the foundations for decision theory and game theory. Keynes deferred to him; he was the only philosopher whom Wittgenstein treated as an equal. Had he lived he might have been recognized as the most brilliant thinker of the century. This amiable shambling bear of a man was an ardent socialist, a believer in free love, and an intimate of the
Bloomsbury set. For the first time Cheryl Misak tells the full story of his extraordinary life.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 544 pages
  • 159 x 237 x 46mm | 790g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 30 illustrations
  • 019875535X
  • 9780198755357
  • 94,627

Table of contents

Foreword: 'Mind and Heart'
Part I: Boyhood
1: The Ramseys
2: Winchester Nearly Unmade Him
3: 'We really live in a great time for thinking'
Part II: The Cambridge Man
4: Undergraduate Life
5: 'To my generation, he was rather frightening'
6: Ramsey and the Early Wittgenstein
7: Vienna Interlude
8: 'The fundamentals are so philosophical'
9: The New Don
10: Passion Found
Part III: An Astonishing Half Decade
11: Settling Down in Work and Life
12: Revolution in Philosophy
13: Two Crises
14: Cambridge Economics
15: Ramseyan Economics: The Feasible First Best
16: 1928 Return to Mathematics
17: Wittgenstein Comes Home
18: 'The problem of philosophy must be divided if I am to solve it'
19: The End and Meaning of a Life
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Review quote

an engaging account of the lamentably short life of Ramsey... exemplary piece(s) of intellectual history... * New Statesman, Books of the Year * Frank Ramsey [...] makes noble reading. Ms Misak is a born teacher who explains tricky intellectual abstractions with a clarity that is exceptional. More than that, she writes with love. Her tenderness toward Ramsey, his parents and siblings, his wife and friends gives spirit and delicacy to the whole. There is astounding emotional intelligence in every chapter. One feels on each page Ms. Misak's fine mind concentrating hard on doing the best she can. This is an
enthralling and glorious book. * Richard Davenport-Hines, The Wall Street Journal * Philosophers sometimes play the game of imagining how twentieth-century thought might have been different if Ramsey had survived and his ideas had caught on earlier. That exercise has become more entertaining with the publication of the first full biography ... Misak tells a more colorful story than one might have thought possible so long after such a short life ended. * Anthony Gottleib, The New Yorker * Her book is unlikely to be bettered... Misak provides by far the most complete picture we have of Ramsey's personality and personal life. * London Review of Books * As a whole, the book is a precious piece for the history of analytic philosophy, nicely written and supported by terrific archival research and a love for the author. It is worth reading it for the pleasure of good writing, for a picture of Cambridge at that time, and to learn more about one of the greatest intellects of the last century. * Caterina Sisti, Metascience * It is thanks to Misak that we can now see Ramsey's mathematical economics from a new and thought-provoking perspective, and this is only one among many reasons why this book deserves to be read. * Carlo Cristiano, History of Economic Ideas * There is a lot of talk about Bloomsbury, and therefore about sexual freedom and the many instances that made up that freedom. There is unhappiness (Ramsey struggled coming into his own, as a sexual person). There is much talk of psychoanalysis, and of extended stays in Vienna to imbibe the same. There is, as anyone who has read Pigou's biography might guess, a great deal of walking in the mountains. There is Arthur's (Ramsey's father) tragic inattentiveness while
driving his car. And there is Ramsey living openly with a woman while (mostly) maintaining his happy marriage. So, it isn't all just philosophy. But the philosophy does make for compelling reading ... one must read this excellent book. * David C.Coker, George Mason University , Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics * A full intellectual biography of Frank Ramsey, examining both his complex personal life and his work in philosophy, mathematics, and economics. * Journal of Economic Literature * Cheryl Misak has done valuable work in producing the first biography of Frank Ramsey which is both comprehensive and detailed. Through meticulous documentary research (very well described in the preface), the biographer is able to lift the veil on some of the little-known aspects of Ramsey's intellectual journey and remedy some of the erroneous or magnified perceptions of his life and work. Various excerpts from his correspondences allow us, for example, to put in
context Ramsey's depressive episode resulting from an impossible love...Cheryl Misak has successfully met the challenge of inspiring her readers to take the next step - following Ramsey - toward the high peaks of abstract thought in analytical philosophy, mathematical logic, economics, and pure
mathematics. * Frederic Morneau-Guerin, Universite TELUQ, Mathematical Association of America * Fascinating ... combining insight, wit and affection with erudition, [Misak] conveys how lovable as well as how brilliant Ramsey was ... She has given Ramsey the biography that he richly deserves. * Jane O'Grady, Literary Review * In her important new work, Cheryl Misak [...] finally gives Ramsey the consideration he deserves ... it is an impressive work. She has a devotion to the archive and her book is thoroughly researched and well put together ... We should feel lucky that we have the work we do, and that Misak has done such a good job of drawing our attention to one of the most important and intriguing figures in 20th-century philosophy. * Alex Dean, Prospect * A monument to good scholarship while still conveying the human being at the centre ... A landmark book if you dwell among the modernists. * Richard Lofthouse, QUOD * Writing a biography of a man with such an amazing capacity and range of interests is itself extraordinarily demanding but the author succeeds admirably... hugely informative as well as entertaining and a vivid picture of the contemporary Cambridge intellectual landscape. * Paradigm Explorer * truly comprehensive 'life and works'. * William H Janeway, Project Syndicate * Thought-provoking, wide-ranging, and highly readable. * Matthew McKeever, The Philosopher's Magazine * Cheryl Misak's Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers is terrific... This biography is my book of the year so far. * enlightenmenteconomics * This is a gripping read about the twentieth century's forgotten genius. It provides a fascinating and meticulously detailed portrait of Frank Ramsey's life and times. Finally, Ramsey has the biography he deserves. * David Edmonds, co-author of Wittgenstein's Poker * In this brilliantly written biography of Frank Ramsey, the philosophical and mathematical genius, Cheryl Misak helps us to understand how this innovative thinker could transform so much of the intellectual world of the twentieth century in a short life that ended before he turned 27. The story of Ramsey - his life, his ideas and his engaging arguments with others - as told by Misak is both deeply insightful and much fun to read. * Amartya Sen, Harvard University *
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About Cheryl Misak

Cheryl Misak is University Professor and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. She works on American pragmatism, the history of analytic philosophy, ethics and political philosophy, and the philosophy of medicine.

Her most recent books include Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers (forthcoming 2020), Cambridge Pragmatism: From Peirce and James to Ramsey and Wittgenstein, The American Pragmatists, Truth and the End of Inquiry: A Peircean Account of Truth, Truth, Politics, Morality: Pragmatism and Deliberation.

She has had visiting fellowships or positions at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, the Free University in Berlin, Trinity College Cambridge, St. Johns College Cambridge, and New York University.

In 2013, she completed a long run in academic administration at the University of Toronto, culminating as Vice-President and Provost.
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Rating details

116 ratings
4.24 out of 5 stars
5 51% (59)
4 27% (31)
3 18% (21)
2 4% (5)
1 0% (0)
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