John Neville Keynes

From New World Encyclopedia

John Neville Keynes (August 31, 1852 – November 15, 1949) was a British philosopher and economist. Best known as the father of the influential economist John Maynard Keynes, whom he outlived, he was also a renowned scholar in his own day. Keynes' most significant contribution in philosophy was his work on non-categorical syllogism, and in economics his attempt to unify the methodologies of the Austrian School and the German Historical school of economics. Keynes also made significant contributions to the educational program at the prestigious University of Cambridge where he served both on the faculty and in administration. His legacy includes both his scholarly work improving methods for advancing our knowledge, and the significant contributions made by his children.


John Neville Keynes was born on August 31, 1852, in Salisbury, Wiltshire in England. He attended Amersham Hall School, where he showed an aptitude for classics and mathematics. In 1869, he won Gilchrist Scholarship to University College, London, the school specialized to teach Nonconformist students, who were excluded by the Religious Test Acts from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. After receiving his B.A. with honors in 1870, Keynes somehow managed to enroll at the University of Cambridge, in his third attempt. He was awarded a mathematical scholarship to Pembroke College.

Keynes eventually decided to switch his major to Moral Sciences, and graduated with a B.Sc. in 1875 and an M.A. in 1876. The same year he became a fellow of Pembroke, and of University College, London, coaching in logic and political economy. Influenced by his former teacher, Alfred Marshall, Keynes became interested in economics, but still remained focused primarily on logic.

In March, 1881, Keynes was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Local Examinations and Lectures Syndicate, and in 1892, he became Secretary, holding the post until 1910. In 1884, he was appointed University Lecturer in Moral Sciences, a position which he held until 1911. He also served as Chairman of the Special Board for Moral Sciences (1906-1912) and as Chairman of the Special Board for Economics and Politics (1908-1920).

In 1882, Keynes married Florence Ada Brown, daughter of a prosperous Congregationalist family. The couple settled down just on the outskirts of Cambridge, where they bought a house. Their first son Maynard was born in 1883. They had two other children, Geoffrey born in 1887, and Margaret in 1890. Florence later became a prominent social reformer and the first female Councilor of Cambridge Borough Council, and its Mayor in 1932.

In 1884, Keynes published Studies and Exercises in Formal Logic, based on the lectures he gave to his students. The book became an important pedagogical textbook in formal logic, going through four editions. In 1888, Alfred Marshall tried to persuade Keynes to accept the position of a lecturer in economics at the University of Oxford, but Keynes refused. He published in 1891, the Scope and Method of Political Economy, the work which earned him the degree of the Doctor of Science, awarded to him the same year.

In 1892, Keynes became a Member of the Council of the Senate, the governing body of the University of Cambridge. He was elected as Registrar in 1910, and held that office until 1925, the year he retired. During that time he was instrumental in establishing the Economics Tripos, the program of studies that allowed students to graduate with a degree in economics.

Keynes outlived his elder son Maynard by three years and died in 1949 in Cambridge, England. He was 97 years old. His wife Florence was also 97 when she died.



Keynes published his first book in 1884, under the title Studies and Exercises in Formal Logic. The book was based on his lectures given to his students, and was full of interesting and ingenious problems in formal logic for the students to work on. He defended formal logic, in its pure form, against the influences of philosophical logic of Kant or Hegel, and empirical logic of John Stuart Mill.

Keynes also elaborated on the concept of non-categorical syllogism, a form of logical inference which uses whole propositions as its units. While categorical syllogisms use premises and look at their internal structure to make a conclusion, non-categorical syllogisms deal with the values of proposition in relation to other propositions. Propositions are viewed as single, non-decomposable units, with their internal true value. Non-categorical syllogisms can be either hypothetical or disjunctive. This form of syllogistic is traceable to the Stoic logicians, but was not fully appreciated as a separate branch of until the work of Keynes.


Keynes was a close friend and former student of Alfred Marshall, an icon of British economics for half a century. Keynes however did not strictly follow Marshall’s ideas, and it was said that he disappointed Marshall by failing to live up to his expectations.

Keynes published his first greater work in 1891, under the title Scope and Method of Political Economy. In it he tried to find the solution for the methodological difference which had stirred much conflict in the 1870s and 1880s. At that time, the German-speaking world was engaged in the Methodenstreit ("battle of methods"), between the Austrian School of economics led by Carl Menger, and the German Historical school of economics led by Gustav Schmoller. The Austrians insisted on a deductive approach and stressed the importance of pure theory, while Schmoller's German group emphasized the importance of inductive studies.

Keynes adopted a syncretistic position. He believed that the “Methodenstreit” could be solved by taking both inductive and deductive methods into consideration, and making a “unified” model. He claimed that both induction and deduction were required to understand how the economy functions. Inductive reasoning provided the general premises needed for the deduction to take place, and deduction created general laws which had to be tested by inductive procedures.

Keynes divided economics into:

  1. "positive economics" (the study of what is, and the way the economy works),
  2. "normative economics" (the study of what the economy should be), and
  3. "applied economics" (the art of economics, or economic policy).

The art of economics relates the lessons learned in positive economics to the normative goals determined in normative economics. It generally means that the goal of applied economics is to find how to come from positive to normative economics.


John Neville Keynes was a noted economist and philosopher, although his work is somewhat unfairly forgotten today. His work in philosophy remains mostly noted for his elaboration on non-categorical syllogisms, while in the area of economics he tried to synthesize deductive and inductive approaches to economics in order to bring together the Austrian School of Carl Menger and the historical school of Gustav Schmoller.

John Neville Keynes is mostly remembered today however, as the father of his famous children:


  • Keynes, John Neville. 1884. Studies and Exercises in Formal Logic. London: Macmillan.
  • Keynes, John Neville. [1891]. 2007. The Scope and Method of Political Economy. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 1430491132

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External links

All links retrieved August 3, 2022.


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