There are numerous online sources giving biographical sketches of Ramsey's life; E.g., Wikipedia, Cambridge respository, St. Andrews MacTutor.

We learn that Ramsey died just before his 27th birthday in January of 1930, almost seven years after receiving his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Trinity, Cambridge. No other degrees are cited as being conferred by Ramsey. However, Ramsey seems to have been employed by King's College, Cambridge in various academic capacities - fellow and lecturer in mathematics.

Summarising :

  • 1923 confers bachelor's degree in maths at Cambridge.
  • 1924 becomes a fellow of Kings College with the support of Keynes.
  • 1926 becomes a lecturer in maths at Kings College.
  • 1929 becomes Wittgenstein's "nominal" supervisor at Cambridge.

He could not have done his graduate studies in 1924 since he was in Vienna undergoing psychoanalysis and getting chummy with Wittgenstein. None of the online sources I have consulted mention any graduate degree. Certainly from a modern perspective it is hard to imagine someone becoming a university lecturer at Cambridge on the back of an undergraduate degree, even in the case of a senior Wrangler graduating with high honours. In the years between his bachelor's degree and his death he produced a number of papers on a wide variety of subjects - maths, philosophy, psychology, and economics - so he appears to have been busy.

Q: Did Ramsey confer a graduate degree, and if so in what subject and what was the subject matter of his thesis?

  • $\begingroup$ I couldn't find about Ramsey specifically but when Keynes wanted to help out Wittgenstein in 1929, "Wittgenstein was hurriedly awarded a Ph.D. for his ‘thesis’, the Tractatus with Moore and Russell as his examiners. The [examination] was set for 18 June 1929, and was conducted with an air of farcical ritual. As Russell walked into the examination room with Moore, he smiled and said: ‘I have never known anything so absurd in my life’". citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/… In 1924 Keynes wanted to help Ramsey. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Oct 3 '16 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Conifold That's a great quote. I hadn't come across it before. There are some well known and rather boastful quotes attributed to Wittgenstein concerning his thesis defence and examination. I thought Ramsey fleeing to Vienna to seek psychoanalysis following an awkward attempt at a sexual encounter to be rather humorous - it shows how strong Victorian attitudes carried over into Edwardian England. $\endgroup$ – Nick Oct 3 '16 at 23:19

See :

taking a degree in mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, in the summer of 1923. He got firstclass honours and became the most outstanding mathematics graduate at Cambridge. Ramsey never went on to write a Ph.D. thesis and I do not know whether the idea had even occurred to him.

In 1921 Ramsey became acquainted with J. M. Keynes through his friend Richard Braithwaite and thanks to Keynes's influence Ramsey became a Fellow of King's in 1924 at the age of only 21. Two years later he was made a lecturer in mathematics at Cambridge.

  • $\begingroup$ With such scant biographical details available, I think this is a much as we can hope for. Do you think that the idea of a Ph.D thesis never occurring to Ramsey was typical of those times for exceptional students, or was it an idiosyncrasy particular to Ramsey? For example, do you know of other important figures whose formal qualifications were limited to an undergraduate degree? $\endgroup$ – Nick Oct 4 '16 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @NickR - frankly speaking, I do not know. $\endgroup$ – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Oct 4 '16 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @NickR: Stefan Banach is an example of a prominent mathematician who never completed his undergraduate degree (in engineering, interrupted by WWI). There are legends about the circumstances of his PhD as well, see e.g. mathoverflow.net/questions/111724/who-wrote-up-banachs-thesis/… $\endgroup$ – Margaret Friedland Oct 5 '16 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ @MargaretFriedland Amazing for such an influential figure. I love the link to your answer on overflow : "Someone wrote down Banach's remarks on some problems, and this was accepted as an excellent Ph.D thesis". According to wiki, during the Nazi occupation of Poland he was forced to earn a living as a "feeder of lice".!! $\endgroup$ – Nick Oct 5 '16 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ A similar story is told about the PhD exam of Otto Nikodym (of Radon-Nikodym theorem, among other things) with Waclaw Sierpinski in Warsaw in 1924, wydawnictwa.ptm.org.pl/index.php/wiadomosci-matematyczne/… (in Polish). Apparently, Nikodym was reluctant to submit a thesis, claiming that getting a PhD will not make him smarter, so Sierpinski had to arrange for a rather unusual way for him to take his exams. Coincidentally, Nikodym used to discuss mathematics with Banach and Witold Wilkosz in Krakow soon after WWI, when he taught school there. $\endgroup$ – Margaret Friedland Oct 5 '16 at 19:32

In Cambridge and Oxford a BA degree can be automatically upgraded to an MA after a short interval. There is a long tradition at these two "ancient" universities of appointing holders of no higher degree to senior teaching positions.

  • $\begingroup$ That's interesting, yet there is no mention of the degree being upgraded. Regarding Ramsey's teaching positions, I guess it makes sense for exceptional students to receive exceptional treatment. $\endgroup$ – Nick Oct 3 '16 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ I am sure there is an advantage in appointing brilliant people with only a first degree instead of appointing mediocre people with a string of higher degrees. The latter is the norm at universities today. $\endgroup$ – fdb Oct 3 '16 at 20:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Did that upgrade policy already exist in 1923? $\endgroup$ – Gerald Edgar Oct 4 '16 at 13:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @GeraldEdgar. Yes, since mediaeval times. $\endgroup$ – fdb Oct 4 '16 at 13:48

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