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Frank Plumpton Ramsey
(1973 - living) Canada

Frank Plumpton Ramsey

Mathematician

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Frank P. Ramsey was born in Cambridge where his father, also a mathematician, was President of Magdalene College. He was the eldest of one brother and two sisters, and his brother Michael Ramsey later became Archbishop of Canterbury. Frank entered Winchester College in 1915 and later returned to Cambridge to study mathematics at Trinity College. Easy-going, simple and modest, Ramsey had many interests besides his scientific work. Even as a teenager Ramsey showed both his profound abilities and the heterogeneity of the issues that concerned him.

In September 1925 he married Lettice Baker, the wedding taking place in a Registry Office since Ramsey was, as his wife described him, a 'militant atheist'. The couple had two daughters. Despite his atheism, Ramsey showed great tolerance towards his brother when the latter decided to become a priest in the Church of England.

He returned to England in 1924, and with Keynes's support he became a fellow of King's College, Cambridge, being the second person ever to be elected without having previously studied at King's College.

In 1926 he became a university lecturer in mathematics and later a Director of Studies in Mathematics at King's College. When Wittgenstein submitted the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as his doctoral thesis at Cambridge, Ramsey was Wittgenstein's supervisor and G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell were the examiners. Later on the three of them arranged financial aid for Wittgenstein to help him continue his research work.

In 1929 Ramsey and Wittgenstein regularly discussed issues in mathematics and philosophy with Piero Sraffa, an Italian economist who had been brought to Cambridge by Keynes after Sraffa had aroused Mussolini's ire by publishing an article critical of the Fascist regime in the Manchester Guardian. The contributions of Ramsey to these conversations were acknowledged by both Sraffa and Wittgenstein in their later work.

The manner in which Ramsey familiarized himself with German demonstrates his great intellectual facility. When I.A. Richards and C. K. Ogden, both Fellows of Magdalene, first met Ramsey, he expressed his interest in learning German. And, according to Richards, he mastered the language "in almost hardly over a week". Ramsey was then able, at the age of 19, to make the first draft of the translation of the German text of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico Philosophicus.

Ramsey was impressed by Wittgenstein's work and after graduating as a Wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos of 1923 he made a journey to Austria to visit Wittgenstein, at that time teaching in a primary school in the small community of Puchberg am Schneeberg. For two weeks Ramsey discussed the difficulties he was facing in understanding the extremely difficult Tractatus. Wittgenstein made some corrections to the English translation in Ramsey's copy and some annotations and changes to the German text that subsequently appeared in the second edition in 1933.

Suffering from chronic liver problems, Ramsey contracted jaundice after an abdominal operation and died at Guy's Hospital in London at the age of 26. He is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge.

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Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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