Principia Mathematica, by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell, c. 1913
Principia Mathematica, by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell, c. 1913.
Mr. Ramsay's vision of his own genius is presented as a progression through the alphabet:
"He had not genius; he laid no claim to that: but he had, or might have had, the power to repeat every letter of the alphabet from A to Z accurately in order. Meanwhile, he stuck at Q. On, then, on to R." (To the Lighthouse, I, p.34-35)
Yet his self-estimation stalls at "R" and "Q," precisely the letters most often used in symbolic logic, a system which became the basis for early twentieth-century analytic philosophy, producing offshoots in works such as Bertrand Russell and A.N. Whitehead's monumental Principia Mathematica (1913). Woolf's representation of an alphabet-obsessed Mr. Ramsay may suggest his adherence to an austere, Platonic philosophy ("think of a kitchen table when you're not there"; reminiscent of the 18th c. theories of George Berkeley) -- rather than empiricism or experience.
Cover of Principia Mathematica, Cambridge University Press, c. 1913, via Wikimedia Commons.