Frank Plumpton Ramsey

The Cambridge philosopher Frank Ramsey, A wunderkind of first order, wrote three important contributions to economics.

The first, “Truth and Probability” (written in 1926, published 1931), was the first paper to lay out the theory of subjective probability and begin to axiomatize choice under (subjective) uncertainty, a task completed decades later by Bruno de Finetti and Leonard Savage. This was written in opposition to John Maynard Keynes’s own information-theoretic Treatise on Probability. Ramsey’s second contribution was his theory of taxation (1927), generating the famous “Boiteux-Ramsey” pricing rule. Ramsey’s third contribution was his exercise in determining optimal savings (1928), the famous “optimal growth” model – what has since become known as the “Ramsey model” – one of the earliest applications of the calculus of variations to economics.

The young Frank Ramsey helped in the translation of Ludwig Wittgenstein‘s notoriously difficult Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) – Ramsey was also among the first to review it and even served as the great philosopher’s thesis supervisor at Cambridge. The gracious (if anachronistic) acknowledgement to Ramsey by Piero Sraffa in the preface to his 1960 Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities is a testament to the impact of the youthful scholar on those about him. Perhaps John Maynard Keynes put it right when he said: “When he (Ramsey) descended from his accustomed stony heights, he still lived without effort in a rarer atmosphere than most economists care to breathe” (Keynes, 1933: p.239)

Frank Ramsey died on January 27, 1930, just before his 27th birthday. In his tragically short life he produced an extraordinary amount of profound and original work in economics, mathematics and logic as well as in philosophy: work which in all these fields is still extremely influential.

Major Works of Frank P. Ramsey

– Mr Keynes and Probability, 1922, Cambridge Magazine
– The Douglas Proposals, 1922, Cambridge Magazine
– Review of W.E. Johnson’s Logic, Part 1, 1922, New Statesman
– Critical Notice of L.Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, 1923, Mind
– Review of Ogden and Richards’ Meaning of Meaning, 1924, Mind
– The New Principia, 1925, Nature
– Universals, 1925, Mind
– The Foundations of Mathematics, 1925, Proc. of London Mathem. Soc.
– Mathematical Logic, 1926, Encyclopaedia Britannica
– Universals and the Method of Analysis, 1926, Aristotelian Society
– Mathematical Logic, 1926, Mathematical Gazette
– Truth and Probability, 1926
– A Contribution to the Theory of Taxation, 1927, EJ
– Facts and Propositions, 1927, Arisotelian Society
– A Mathematical Theory of Saving, 1928, EJ
– Further Considerations, 1928
– On a Problem of Formal Logic, 1928, Proc. of London Mathem. Soc.
– Foundations of Mathematics, Encyclopedia Britannica
– The Foundations of Mathematics: and other logical essays, 1931

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