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Principia Mathematica, by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell, c. 1913

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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.

Source/Citation: 

Cover of Principia Mathematica, Cambridge University Press, c. 1913, via Wikimedia Commons.

Type: 
Contemporaneous Resource
Access Level: 
Licensed for Public Use