Misak on Ramsey – the Best Consequences of a Life Lived

Having finished “Frank Ramsey – A Sheer Excess of Powers” by Cheryl Misak (2020) this is a round-up review. I have a particular interest in the topic, in my Ramseyian take on Wittgenstein, which made it an especially satisfying read for me, but as a read I cannot rate it highly enough.

The evocation of the times and the players living in the 1920’s Cambridge-Bloomsbury-Vienna triangle is a joy throughout. Apart from the chapters on his childhood and earlier schooldays prior to Winchester, and the final chapter on the expressions of grief and the consequences of his sudden and early death, the book is packed with discussion of Ramsey’s ideas in mathematics, economics and philosophy and their interplay with the other intellectual giants of his all too short days.

I’ve already blogged several posts in the course of reading, and already indicated that, even as a biography, it really serves as a reference work / textbook to be read and referenced many more times. Previously:

Ramseyian Pragmatism“.
A Vienna Interlude“.
The Hypocrisy of Debate“.
Ramsey, Wittgenstein, Gödel and the rest“.

I don’t intend to add a lot more here …

Ramsey’s worldview serves as an excellent obituary from my perspective. Misak provides her own obituary for Ramsey, concluding the final chapter of the biography with a selection of his own words, but on the preceding page we find her own summary:

“His own approach [to the meaning of life] was in line with the rest of his philosophy. We can evaluate the best of the various outlooks on life and see which have the best consequences. In his assessment, the key to meaning in life is to be optimistic, thrilled, and actively try to improve conditions for people now and in the future. Live as fully and ethically as you can, was his conclusion. Ramsey understood that [for most people] inequalities get in the way of being thrilled by life. He put much effort into making the world a fairer place.”

I’m still left with wondering what represents the best collected Ramsey works for the 21st C. Clearly Braithwaite did the most in 1930 & 31 but as Misak points out he frequently made his own interpretations that missed Ramsey’s true trajectory in a world distracted by Wittgenstein and The Vienna Circle. Mellor published more in the 1978 & 1990. Equally clearly Misak has done the most to elucidate Ramsey’s legacy since her 2016 “Cambridge Pragmatism – from Peirce & James to Ramsey & Wittgenstein“. As a careful academic work Misak (2020) has an excellent bibliography, but I wonder if there is a Ramsey Reader in the pipeline?

Such an excellent read I’m left wanting more.


Next up – another fix of 1920’s/30’s philosophical intrigue:

David Edmonds (2020)
“The Murder of Professor Schlick
– The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle”


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