A Beautiful Mind

by Sylvia Nasar

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In A Beautiful Mind, what philosophical perspectives are present?

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The biography A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar, and the movie based on it tell the story of a brilliant economist and mathematician tortured by debilitating episodes of schizophrenia. John Forbes Nash, Jr. made unparalleled intellectual contributions to academia. However, he was also rather unpleasant and often delusional.

One philosophical question would be, "What determines someone’s moral value?"

In Nash’s case, do his intellect and historical influence on the field of mathematics and social science excuse his unpleasant and sometimes bizarre behavior? In 1994 he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to game theory—the study of mathematical models of strategic interaction between rational decision-makers. However, Nasar writes of a heated debate within the Nobel Prize committee over whether the ultimate honor in science should be awarded to a man thought to be crazy.

A related philosophical question might be, "How much of human behavior can be blamed on mental illness, and how much is simply personality?"

Can Nash’s disrespectful treatment of others be attributed entirely to schizophrenia? His behavior ultimately cost him his marriage and reputation and altered the trajectory of his career. Was he a victim or was he responsible for his actions?

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The original question had to be edited down.  I think that one of the strongest philosophical perspectives that is raised through Nasar's work is the idea that reality can be constructed in different manners.  John Nash's worsening schizophrenia illuminated the idea that reality in the modern setting is seen through different lenses.  There is no totality that defines and governs reality in the absolutist manner.  Even though Nash is a fervent devotee of logic and numbers, he clearly represents the idea that reality can appear different to individuals and this variance is what constitutes consciousness in the modern setting.  Nash's idea of appropriating "mixed strategies" might not merely be an economic approach, but actually one that talks about how reality can be appropriated.  This same philosophical perspective is seen in how Nash eventually deals with his condition.  Nash and Alicia embrace the postmodern philosophical perspective of not dogmatically subscribing to standard medicine and blindly adhering to doctors.  The philosophical approaches that emerge from Nasar's narrative reside in the realm of rejecting dogmatic notions of the good and rather understanding that a multiplicity of paths in the modern setting represent the pursuit of the good.  This helps to establish a heavily Postmodern philosophical approach in understanding how a mathematician can embrace a pursuit that exists both within and outside of it.

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