Is “Cambridge Philosophy” dead, in Cambridge? Can it be resurrected, there? Case Study: Renford Bambrough (& Subroto Roy) preceded by decades Cheryl Misak’s thesis on Wittgenstein being linked with Peirce via Ramsey…
“What is the use of studying philosophy if all that does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?” Wittgenstein, letter to Malcolm, 1944
1. In my current excursions into “Physics and Reasoning”, I stumbled some days ago upon Professor Cheryl Misak’s 2012 lecture at the Cambridge philosophy department about Ramsey having linked Peirce with Wittgenstein https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQuNWNjYcVY also her 2014 lecture at London’s Royal Institute of Philosophy
Part I Cambridge, Massachusetts
3: Bridges across the Atlantic
Part II Cambridge, England
4: The Anti-Pragmatism of Pre-War Cambridge
5: The Pull of Pragmatism on Russell
7: Wittgenstein: Post-Tractatus
I have not seen the book, I enjoyed her talks published at YouTube, and I look forward to seeing results of her original archival work with Ramsey’s papers.
Whether Wittgenstein’s later work was affected by Peirce more than a dozen years after Peirce’s death in 1914, and how it may have done so through Ramsey in particular, has been studied extensively if sporadically over years by Jaime Nubiola of the University of Navarre “Scholarship on the Relations Between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Charles S. Peirce” in I. Angelelli & M. Cerezo, eds., Proceedings of the III Symposium on History of Logic, Gruyter, Berlin, 1996; Mathieu Marion of Quebec University, “Wittgenstein, Ramsey and British Pragmatism” in European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy[Online], IV-2 | 2012, 24 December 2012; Albert Atkin of Sheffield University http://www.iep.utm.edu/peircebi/ and doubtless others. Professor Misak’s findings in Ramsey’s papers will add to existing scholarship that is already large.
2.What I found disconcerting even shocking, however, has to do with her audience at the Cambridge philosophy department in 2012. That audience, with its noted Professors in attendance and participating, was evidently clueless that two Cambridge people, namely Renford Bambrough, philosophy, and myself, economics, decades ago in the 1980s had described the link between Peirce and Wittgenstein via Ramsey. If someone asserts at Cambridge today a claim of linking Peirce with Wittgenstein through Ramsey, one expects a Cambridge philosophy audience to be sufficiently informed to know Bambrough, in an extremely difficult achievement, had already done so in 1979.
Bambrough sent me, then in Blacksburg, the proof of his article reproduced below; a clearer copy of the published article may be found at
My Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry published in 1989 in Routledge’s International Library of Philosophy was the first work by an economist in that series, known earlier as the International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method and even before that as the International Scientific Series. It sold out quickly and was in paperback two years later. Chapter 5 and Chapter 9 had long passages placing Peirce and Wittgenstein together in regard to doubt and certainty, and the use of mathematics. Keeping with my purpose of addressing extant problems in economic theory while using philosophy as discreetly as possibly, I noted Bambrough had established the link between Wittgenstein and Peirce via Ramsey:
3. Now before its publication my book manuscript had been mostly under contract with University of Chicago Press, not Routledge. About 1984 one of Chicago’s half a dozen reviewers hit me with a large surprise: my argument had been anticipated decades earlier in America by MIT’s Sidney Stuart Alexander! I had no idea of this though I knew Alexander’s publications on other subjects the balance of payments.
Alexander, who was Paul Samuelson’s contemporary and Robert Solow’s teacher, was extremely gracious; he read my manuscript and immediately declared with great generosity it was clear to him my arguments had been developed independently of his own. Alexander had come at the problem from an American tradition of John Dewey, Peirce’s pupil, I had done so from Wittgenstein through John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough. Alexander and I had arrived at similar conclusions but had done so completely independently!
Before we had met, Alexander wrote in support of my work:
“(This) is a very ambitious work directed at the foundations of normative judgments in economics. The author arrives at some conclusions very closely matching those I arrived at some years ago. It is clear, however, that Dr. Roy arrived at his conclusions completely independently. That is all the more piquant to me in that the philosophical underpinning of his work is the development of philosophy in England from the later Wittgenstein, while mine derives principally from earlier work in the United States by the pragmatists and those who may loosely be called neo-pragmatists. A prominent Cambridge ethical philosopher of the early thirties referred to the United States as the place where moribund English philosophies were to be hailed as the latest thing. Now the most characteristically American philosophy seems to have arrived first by a wide margin at a position gaining wider acceptance in England as well as America.
Dr. Roy reveals a clear understanding of the methodological positivism that invaded economic policy analysis in the thirties and still dominates the literature of economics…. Following Renford Bambrough (Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge) he arrives at a position equivalent to that of the American pragmatists, especially Dewey, who insist that the problematic situation provides the starting point for the analysis of a problem even though there are no ultimate starting points. The methodological implication is the support of inquiry as fundamental, avoiding both scepticism and dogmatism. Roy develops his position with a great deal of attention to the ramifications of the problem both in philosophy and in economics….”
When we did meet, as he drove me around MIT in his car, Alexander joked how it used to be bad form in his time to make comparisons about a trio of pairs: Cambridge vs Cambridge, baseball vs cricket, and “American English” vs (what is now called) “British English”!
I asked whom he had referred to as the “prominent Cambridge ethical philosopher”, he said C D Broad and decades later I found Broad’s condescending passage
“… all good fallacies go to America when they die, and rise again as the latest discoveries of the local professors…” Five Types of Ethical Theory1930, p. 55.
Within economics, Alexander and I were pirate ships blowing holes and permanently sinking the positivist Armada of “social choice theory” etc. Amartya Sen arrived at Cambridge in 1953, the year Philosophical Investigations was published, two years after Wittgenstein’s death the year after Wittgenstein died. Professor Sen told me, in 2006, John Wisdom and C D Broad both knew him at the time, all at Trinity College; if anyone, Amartya Sen should have conveyed to Kenneth Arrow in America in the 1960s and 1970s the implications for economic theory of Wittgenstein’s later work. Instead I had to do so in 1989, Arrow graciously admitting when he read my book:
My 1989 book Philosophy of Economics applied both, and Sidney Alexander of MIT recognized it. Of course my book was viciously attacked in America. Your U of T colleague (GBC) was an old friend from Cambridge days and knows all about me. Cordially Suby Roy …”
I expected to hear back something like: “Dear Dr Roy, Thanks for this. Yes I have acknowledged your 1989 book in a footnote, though I was unable to locate the earlier Bambrough piece and will do so now.” Instead Professor Misak replied
“Dear Suby, Some Americans don’t like anyone to have had thoughts similar to those of their heroes! Thanks for these references. Cheryl”
Excuse me? “Some Americans don’t like anyone to have had thoughts similar to those of their heroes”?
I have had to take this to mean
“Subroto Roy (doubtless an American national, surely he isn’t still an Indian? Answer: He is) objects to Cheryl Misak having had ‘similar thoughts’ to his hero Bambrough”.
A puzzling response from an eminent Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. I wrote back: “Hello, I’m afraid your paragraph is too enigmatic for me”. Professor Misak’s second reply was even more curious than the first:
“Apologies. I just meant that some Peirce scholars don’t like to think that Ramsey and Wittgenstein might have been promoting the same ideas. The reasoning behind their aversion is enigmatic to me! Cheers, Cheryl.”
I am afraid I do not accept such a completely irrelevant mention of “some Peirce scholars”. If through negligence or some mishap, Professor Misak, not having received the effort due to her during the peer review process from either her 2012 Cambridge philosophy department audience or her Oxford University Press referees, has failed to acknowledge in her book the prior work of Bambrough and others including myself it is necessary and sufficient a corrigendum be now inserted into the book giving references to these earlier works, that’s all.
5. The case is evidence that while Cambridge obviously has a fine department teaching academic philosophy, that could easily be mistaken for a fine department at an Australian or American university or even Oxford, the distinct product once known as “Cambridge Philosophy” in the line descending from Wittgenstein through John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough is quite dead there. Several lines descended from Wittgenstein through his several disciples, including Max Black whom I visited and talked extensively with at Cornell throughout the Fall of 1983, and whom I was privileged to count as a friend, an experience I have yet to write of.
“But there is one disciple who stands apart from the rest; the work of Professor Wisdom is truly Wittgensteinian, yet at the same time original and independent…Wisdom carries Wittgenstein’s work further than he himself did, and faces its consequences more explicitly… Wisdom’s approach is much less esoteric than Wittgenstein’s, and his conclusions are perhaps easier to come to grips with. We see in Wisdom something like a new application of Wittgenstein’s ideas; we recognize the same forms there, yet cast, as it were, in a new medium…” (David Pole, The later philosophy of Wittgenstein, 1958).
Wisdom in his obituary notice of Wittgenstein said if he was asked to say in one sentence what Wittgenstein had accomplished he would say it was asking the question “Can you play chess without the Queen?” Wisdom’s disciple Bambrough in turn said if he was asked to say in one sentence what Wisdom accomplished he would say it was Wisdom replying to such a question about Wittgenstein as he had done. I said in my 2004 public lecture at the University of Buckingham: “If I was asked to answer in one sentence what has been the combined contribution to human thought of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough, indeed of modern British philosophy as a whole, I would say it has been the proof that there are no unanswerable questions, that there is no question to which there is not a right answer. By “common reasoning” I shall mean merely to refer to the structure of any conversation well-enough described by F R Leavis’s operators in literary criticism: “This is so, isn’t it?, Yes, but….”. My “yes” to your “This is so, isn’t it?” indicates agreement with what you have said while my “but…” tells you I believe there may be something more to the matter, some further logical relation to be found, some further fact to be investigated or experiment carried out, some further reflection necessary and possible upon already known and agreed upon facts. It amounts to a new “This is so, isn’t it?” to which you may respond with your own, “Yes, but…”; and our argument would continue. Another set of operators is: “You might as well say…”; “Exactly so”; “But this is different…” This was how Wisdom encapsulated the “case-by-case” method of argument that he pioneered and practiced. It requires intimate description of particular cases and marking of similarities and differences between them, yielding a powerful indefinitely productive method of objective reasoning, distinct from and logically prior to the usual methods of deduction and induction that exhaust the range of positivism. We are able to see how common reasoning may proceed in practice in subtle fields like law, psychology, politics, ethics, aesthetics and theology, just as objectively as it does in natural science and mathematics. Wittgenstein had spoken of our “craving for generality” and our “contemptuous attitude towards the particular case”. Wisdom formalized the epistemological priority of particular over general saying: “Examples are the final food of thought. Principles and laws may serve us well. They can help us to bring to bear on what is now in question what is not now in question. They help us to connect one thing with another and another and another. But at the bar of reason, always the final appeal is to cases.” And “Argument must be heard”. In all conflicts – whether within a given science, between different sciences, between sciences and religion, within a given religion, between different religions, between sciences and arts, within the arts, between religion and the arts, between quarreling nations, quarreling neighbours or quarreling spouses, whether in real relationships of actual life or hypothetical relationships of literature and drama – an approach of this kind tells us there is something further that may be said, some improvement that can be carried out, some further scope for investigation or experiment allowing discovery of new facts, some further reflection necessary or possible upon known facts. There are no conflicts that are necessarily irresoluble. Where the suicide-bombers and their powerful adversaries invite us to share their hasty and erroneous assumption that religious, political or economic cultures are becoming irreconcilable and doomed to be fights unto death, we may give to them instead John Wisdom’s “Argument must be heard….”
Bambrough, applying Wisdom applying Wittgenstein, and integrating all this with his deep classical scholarship and knowledge of Aristotle and Plato in particular, showed how objectivity and reasoning are possible in politics, in ethics, in theology, in aesthetics, in literature, as much or as little as in science or mathematics.
Bambrough’s path-breaking works of general epistemology and ontology are twothree four humble papers in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society
I, applying all of this from Bambrough to the economic theory of Marshall, Keynes, Hicks, Hayek, Hahn, Friedman, Arrow and others Frank Hahn, Milton Friedman, Kenneth Arrow and others showed in 1989 the same for economic policy and normative economics. I have since then tentatively applied similar methods of reasoning to diplomacy, politics, psychology, religion, literature, and presently explore physics.
What Wisdom did was far more astonishing, showing, among many other things, how the confluence of Freud and Wittgenstein could be found to help us comprehend all that seems so irrational: hopes & fears, dreams & the unconscious, psychoses & neuroses, everything said or done has an explanation, usually when there has been an adequate description. Modes of reasoning are manifold, well beyond the deduction and statistical inference induction known to the positivist. Then besides, there’s reflection about known facts too. Really if you can make reasonable sense of dreams and the unconscious, of the psychotic and the neurotic, as Wisdom did, the differences between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, between the West and Islam, between Einstein and Quantum Mechanics too become amenable…
My praise of Wisdom and Bambrough in my 2004 public lecture was extravagant: “For some 25 years I have been learning of and reflecting upon the work of two great modern British philosophers, John Wisdom (1904-1993) and Renford Bambrough (1926-1999). In the 1980s in America, I came to apply their thinking in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge 1989), a book which got me into a lot of trouble there. Returning to Britain in 2004, I am dismayed to find their work almost forgotten or unknown today, even at the Ancient University that had been their home. “Orientalists” from the West once used to comprehend and highlight the achievements of the East for the peoples of the East who were unaware of them; I am happy to return the favour by becoming an “Occidentalist” in highlighting a little of the work of two of Britain’s finest sons of which she has become unaware. Wisdom and Bambrough played a kind of modern-day Plato and Aristotle to the Socrates played by Wittgenstein (1889-1951); the knowledge they achieved in their lives and have left behind for us to use and apply to our own problems make them, in terms of Eastern philosophy, rather like the “Boddhisatvas” of Mahayana Buddhism. I do not expect anyone to share such an extravagant view, and will be more than satisfied if I am able to suggest that we can have a grasp of the nature and scope of human reasoning thanks to their work which may help resolve the most intractable and seemingly irreconcilable of all current international problems, namely the grave cultural conflicts made apparent since September 11, 2001….”
In 2007 I added:
“I had been attracted to Cambridge partly by its old reputation for philosophy, especially that of Wittgenstein. But I met no worthwhile philosophers there until a few months before I was to leave for the United States in 1980, when I chanced upon the work of Renford Bambrough. Hahn had challenged me with the question, “how are you so sure your value judgments promoting liberty blah-blah are better than those of Chenery and the development economists?” It was a question that led inevitably to ethics and its epistemology — when I chanced upon Bambrough’s work, and that of his philosophical master, John Wisdom, the immense expanse of metaphysics (or ontology) opened up as well. “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes, He star’d at the Pacific…” It has taken me more than a quarter century to traverse some of that expanse; when I returned to Britain in 2004 as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham, I was very kindly allowed to deliver a public lecture, “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, wherein I repaid a few of my debts to the forgotten work of Bambrough and Wisdom — whom I extravagantly compared with the Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism, also saying that the trio of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough were reminiscent of what Socrates, Plato and Aristotle might have been like. I had written to Bambrough from within Cambridge expressing my delight at finding his works and saying these were immensely important to economics; he had invited me to his weekly discussion groups at St John’s College but I could not attend. Between 1979 and 1989 we corresponded while I worked in America on my application of his and Wisdom’s work to problems in economics. We met only once when I returned to Cambridge from Blacksburg for my doctoral viva voce examination in January 1982. Six years later in 1988 he said of my Philosophy of Economics, “The work is altogether well-written and admirably clear”, and on another occasion he said he was “extremely pleased” at the interest I had taken in his work. The original preface of Philosophy of Economics said he was not responsible for the use I had made of his writings, which I reiterated in the 2004 lecture. At our meeting, he offered to introduce me to Wisdom who had returned to Cambridge from Oregon but I was too scared and declined, something I have always regretted since. It is only in the last few years that I have begun to grasp the immensity of Wisdom’s achievement in comprehending, explaining and extending the work of both Wittgenstein and Freud. His famous “Virginia Lectures” of 1957 were finally published by his admirers with his consent as Proof and Explanation just before his death in 1993. As for Bambrough, I believe he may have been or become the single greatest philosopher since Aristotle; he told me in correspondence there was an unfinished manuscript Principia Metaphysica (the prospectus of which appeared in Philosophy 1964), which unfortunately his family and successors knew nothing about; the fact he died almost in obscurity and was soon forgotten by his University speaks more about the contemporary state of academic philosophy than about him.”
Single-handedly I have over a few decades restored the philosophical work of John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough. That there was good reason to do so is now obvious.
Will Cambridge Philosophy wish to revive “Cambridge Philosophy” within Cambridge?
Well if so, here’s a reading list from this Indian economist… yes in India (get over those racist thoughts at once!):
John Wisdom (1904-1993), Main Philosophical Works:
Interpretation and Analysis, 1931
Problems of Mind and Matter 1934
Other Minds, 1952
Philosophy & Psychoanalysis, 1953
Paradox & Discovery, 1965
Logical Constructions (1931-1933),1969
Proof and Explanation (The Virginia Lectures 1957), 1991
Wisdom: Twelve Essays, R. Bambrough (ed) 1974
Philosophy and Life: Essays on John Wisdom, I. Dilman (ed) 1984.
Renford Bambrough (1926-1999), Main Philosophical Works:
“Socratic Paradox”, Philosophical Quarterly, 1960
“Universals and Family Resemblances”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1960-61
“Plato’s Modern Friends and Enemies”, Philosophy 1962
The Philosophy of Aristotle, 1963
“Principia Metaphysica”, Philosophy 1964
New Essays on Plato and Aristotle (edited by R. Bambrough), 1965
“Unanswerable Questions”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplement 1966
Plato, Popper and Politics (edited by R. Bambrough), 1967
Reason, Truth and God 1969
“Foundations”, Analysis, 1970
“Objectivity and Objects”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1971-72
“How to Read Wittgenstein”, in Understanding Wittgenstein, Royal Institute of Philosophy 1972-3
“The Shape of Ignorance”, in Lewis (ed) Contemporary British Philosophy, 1976
Introduction & Notes to Plato’s Republic (Lindsay trans.), 1976
Conflict and the Scope of Reason, 1974; also in Ratio 1978
“Intuition and the Inexpressible” in Katz (ed) Mysticism & Philosophical Analysis, 1978
Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge, 1979
“Thought, Word and Deed”, Proceedings of Aristotelian Society Supplement 1980
“Peirce, Wittgenstein and Systematic Philosophy”, MidWest Studies in Philosophy, 1981
“The Scope of Reason: An Epistle to the Persians”, in Objectivity and Cultural Divergence, Royal Institute of Philosophy, 1984
“Principia Metaphysica: The Scope of Reason” also known as “The Roots of Reason”; a work and manuscript mentioned several times but now unknown.
Of course it’s more likely Cambridge Philosophy fails to move from its inertia, is uninterested in what I have outrageously called “Cambridge Philosophy”, and instead continues to provide the homogeneous, Americanized, philosophical product that is available in Australia, North America, Oxford etc.
If so, People, not to worry…. enjoy all this “Cambridge Philosophy” at your leisure… and come to see me… in India…
[Postscript 1 from Twitter 22 November 2017: I was still not in Kindergarten
when Wisdom delivered his Virginia Lectures:
published decades later in 1991 which I bought at a Bethesda bookshop in 1993…I had been to see Prof SF Barker at Johns Hopkins too. I regret I was too scared to meet Wisdom in 1982 when Bambrough suggested it. But yes for a few decades now I have single-handedly restored the work of Wisdom and Bambrough. My intellectual debt to Britain repaid with interest…
Postscript 2 from Twitter 9 January 2018 What is remarkable is John Wisdom’s Virginia Lectures 1957, published eventually in 1991 as *Proof and Explanation*, remain as fresh as a daisy if you read them now in 2018… It was the pre Elvis Presley age in music! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v8m9jH4uNY…]
Comments Off on Is “Cambridge Philosophy” dead, in Cambridge? Can it be resurrected, there? Case Study: Renford Bambrough (& Subroto Roy) preceded by decades Cheryl Misak’s thesis on Wittgenstein being linked with Peirce via Ramsey…
The search engine above should locate any article by its title; the Index and Archives may be used as well.
Readers are welcome to quote from my work under the normal “fair use” rule, but please try to quote me by name and indicate the place of original publication in case of work being republished here. I am at Twitter @subyroy, see my latest tweets above