Critique of Amartya Sen: A Tragedy of Plagiarism, Fake News, Dissimulation

Critique of Amartya Sen:

A Tragedy of Plagiarism, Fake News, Dissimulation

by

Subroto Roy

July-October 2021 et seq

[This will be an extended ongoing critique of Amartya Sen’s works, starting today 26 July 2021 when his latest book reached my hand… it will continue sporadically… I will inform Professor Sen’s Harvard University office of this start today… Any reply by or on behalf of Professor Sen shall be published here unedited, not only in the Comments but as a special Post too or alternatively, following the text.]

Drafts 26 July 2021, 27 July 2021, 28 July 2021, 30 July 2021, 31 July 2021, 1 Aug 2021, 2 Aug 2021, 3 Aug 2021, 4 Aug 2021, 5 Aug 2021, 6 Aug 2021, 7 Aug 2021, 8 Aug 2021, 9 Aug 2021, 10 Aug 2021, 11 Aug 2021, 12 Aug 2021, 13 Aug 2021, 6 Sep 2021, 16 Sep 2021. 18 Sep 2021, 20 Sep 2021, 21 Sep 2021, 22 Sep 2021, 23 Sep 2021, 24 Sep 2021, 27 Sep 2021, 28 Sep 2021, 29 Sep 2021, 1 Oct 2021, 2 Oct 2021, 3 Oct 2021, 4 Oct 2021, 5 Oct 2021, 6 Oct 2021, 7 Oct 2021, 8 Oct 2021, 9 Oct 2021, 10 Oct 2021, 11 Oct 2021, 12 Oct 2021, 13 Oct 2021, 14 Oct 2021. 16 Oct 2021, 18 Oct 2021, 19 Oct 2021
(NB: I was tied up for some weeks with the Afghanistan issue, and return to this subject now.... 6 Sep, 16 Sep 2021)

Contents:

1. Those Soviet Communists — Bukharin, Khruschev (initial)

2. Cambridge 1961 : Hahn (& Kaldor & Arrow & DH Robertson & Sukhamoy)

3. The SC Bose Nazism Whitewash/Cover-Up, MK Gandhi’s Five Rupees, Rabindranath & the Babies

4. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory I 1989: KJ Arrow’s response to the Subroto Roy criticism

5. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory II 2006 : the Subroto Roy Amartya Sen dialogue

6. “I was never in the Communist Party (nor ever tempted to join it)”: Amartya Sen, a Non-Party communist?

7. Tokenism: the mention of Robertson, Hicks, Buchanan, Bauer; and why does the Amartya Sen Principles of Economics textbook not exist?

8. Amartya Sen’s genius insight into Soviet Communism! But also a KGB blind-spot perhaps?

9. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory III: Did Amartya plagiarize my work in his 1998 Nobel Banquet speech? Is he about to do so again?

10. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory IV: Exactly what Subroto Roy, Renford Bambrough, John Wisdom (and Wittgenstein) have already done… for the kind information of Amartya Sen & Team Amartya

11. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory V: Implications of my work for Economic Theory & Policy: Sidney Alexander, Karl Georg Zinn, TW Schultz and other assessments

to be continued….


1. Those Soviet Communists — Bukharin, Khruschev (initial)
Bukharin, we are told by Kolakowski, published three main books: Historical Materialism, English translation 1928, The ABC of Communism (with Preobrazhensky) 1924, Imperialism and World Economy, 1929.

We are told by Professor Amartya Sen in his new autobiographical work published in July 2021, he “knew well” the writings of Bukharin — not merely in his mature years as a student or professor but “a decade earlier”, ie as a boy while at Santiniketan school c. 1946!
Viz.,

Now it gives me absolutely no pleasure to have to point out errors, inconsistencies, self-contradictions, whether trivial or incorrigible, in this or other works of Amartya Sen, not least because of our initial encounter in 1964 Hindustan Park:

8 November 2019: …. I am sorry to hear #NabaneetaDevSen #NabanitaDebSen died. “Naren Deb and Manindranath Roy were friends and neighbours, and we still have the signed copy of a book gifted by the former to the latter” I said in 2013… the book is Meghdoot in the original, the place Hindustan Park; “14 Hindustan Park Ballygunge, where the Roys had been moved during WWarII because Surendra Bhavan in Behala was requisitioned as a military hospital”… later we lived the whole of 1964 at Tapodham also at Hindustan Park and #NabanitaDebSen #NabaneetaDevSen visited us frequently; She liked me much as a Xaverian in Class IV at the time (we never met later), told me she’d introduce me to her husband when he came and he was “an economist”, first time I ever heard the word… on a sunny very hot day on the empty street at Hindustan Park, I, a noisy nine year old, met a slim tall brilliant man named Amartya Sen..”

Also, I flatter myself it was because of my 2013 criticism Amartya Sen, if anyone, really should get down to writing his memoirs, and candidly so in order to explain his own thinking and deeds over the decades to himself and to the world in order that needless confusions do not arise” that we have this new volume from him which are said to be his memoirs… an autobiographical work authored in his mid 80s. …

The Nobel Prize academy apparently allow information updates too and have kindly said in Professor Sen’s case:

A person’s memories while awake like the person’s dreams while asleep are purely subjective — until and unless these start to get to be described by the person. Once a memory or a dream is described by the person himself/herself and claimed to be authentic, it becomes a subject of general logical and empirical testing like any claim to truth. When a person’s purely subjective dreams start to be described by the dreamer himself/herself, the hearer (eg a Freudian psychoanalyst) or reader of the description has to judge its authenticity and practical usefulness (is that honestly what the dream was?) … It is the same with the species of our thoughts we call memories; a person’s memories are purely subjective but once the person starts to describe such memories to himself or others they become part of language, and the reader or hearer must judge for authenticity what is being said like anything else.

Some of what Amartya Sen has published here (or perhaps Team Amartya has published in his name?) is, if not fictitious or fully fantastical, at least very unlikely or highly implausible… Amartya knowing well the works of Bukharin as a boy even before he reached Presidency College, i.e. a decade before Khruschev’s denunciation of Stalin, seems one such wholly implausible claim… One has to wonder what the point is of making such claims; it cannot be merely a result of a publisher’s sloppy editing. Why would Professor Amartya Sen in 2021 want to give out an impression that he, alone in the world in 1956, found the Khruschev denunciation of Stalin “completely unsurprising”? (Placing him with his Soviet hero Bukharin, “the leading Leninist philosopher of his time”, somewhat left of Stalin and right of Trotsky?).

There are several situations in this autobiography where, to put it charitably, the adult grown-up Amartya Sen has transposed his current mental state/ wisdom/ knowledge/experience etc upon the Boy Amartya or youthful Amartya. The result is a modern publisher’s product under the brand name of a celebrity author but not any genuine memoir or autobiography or account of history, at least in these places which are many. There are other problems too with Amartya Sen’s memoirs, specifically instances of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi… we will try to identify these one by one.

2. Cambridge 1961 : Hahn (& Kaldor & Arrow & DH Robertson & Sukhamoy)

Amartya says he returned to Cambridge in 1961 to find Frank Hahn had been appointed due to an intervention of Nicholas Kaldor.

Kaldor, says Amartya Sen, “had been very impressed by Frank after meeting him at a seminar exactly once…” Amartya “told Nicky I was very pleased that he had taken that initiative, since Frank was a splendid economist… and also… that it was very good (Kaldor) could form such a strong opinion about a person on the basis of only one meeting. Nicky replied that…”

This is just false/nonsensical. Amartya and Team Amartya are clueless on the matter, and have published as being true and accurate an apparently false memory of either Amartya or Kaldor or both, which de facto amounts to production of disinformation or “fake news”, to use the modern term. For the kind information of Amartya Sen and Team Amartya, Kaldor was Hahn’s initial PhD supervisor at the LSE…! Robbins later became Hahn’s supervisor when Kaldor left for Geneva; it was also said Kaldor and Hahn clashed too much. Amartya was at the time starting undergraduate economics at Presidency after Santiniketan, and would have been unaware of all this. Hahn’s doctoral thesis was published in 1972 more than twenty years after it was submitted; had Amartya seen it or discussed the matter with Frank, his “close friend”, he would have known this; or even if he checked with Frank’s Wikipedia entry. He did not. Instead he has published what is evidently an imaginary/fictitious conversation with Kaldor dated 1961 about Hahn. Why do so?

Kaldor in 1961 may have, if he did, backed Hahn, his former doctoral student, because Hahn and Pasinetti are acknowledged by Kaldor doing the mathematics of a growth model of his in 1958, which came to be published in 1961. NB for future reference here, there were long publishing lags back then, nothing instantaneous.

Secondly, Frank Hahn had already met Kenneth Arrow in America several years earlier, and had commenced the 17 year collaboration with Arrow that led in 1971 to publication of General Competitive Analysis. Amartya makes no reference to this major work, though he makes clear his contempt of what he imagines to be “neoclassical economics”. Viz., page 288, where Amartya dismisses “neoclassical simply as mainstream economics, with a cluster of maximizing agents — capitalists, labourers, consumers, and so on — who follow mechanical rules of maximization by equating marginal this with marginal that”.

At the same time Amartya is keen to persuade us he was introduced to Arrow’s “impossibility theorem” by Sukhamoy Chakravarty as soon as it was first published in 1951, the book flying immediately from the hot presses of RAND or the Cowles Foundation to College Street bookshops in Calcutta by jet planes not yet flying, allowing Sukhamoy to borrow a copy from a shop and discuss it with his fellow Presidency freshman Amartya Sen at once…

This from the 2017/2018 Harvard University Press edition of his 1970 book is in summary repeated in the 2021 Memoir too. Amartya Sen says he wanted to work on “social choice theory” at Cambridge from the start but was dissuaded by Joan Robinson and even Sraffa to whom he was closest at Cambridge. Does Amartya know even today that another Cambridge economist he has claimed much of a relationship with, DH Robertson, had published on utility theory & the rationality of homo oeconomicus in the early 1950s referring to the “convinced & eminent ordinalist Mr K J Arrow” while tracing thought from Marshall & Pareto to Pigou Hicks Allen Samuelson? Apparently not. In fact, Robertson taught the central (and presumably “compulsory?” or as nearly compulsory as possible in the anarchic system at the time?) Economic Principles course of the Cambridge Economics Tripos to undergraduates between 1946/47 and 1956/57! Did Amartya miss those lectures in his undergraduate years at Cambridge 1953-1955? Does he know Robertson published those Economic Principles lectures in the late 1950s, early 1960s? As recently as June 2021, Professor Sen has told the Harvard Gazette There was a kind of gulf, because in Calcutta, I was quite used to doing rather technical economics, and suddenly, I found myself attending classes in Cambridge with people who had done very little technical economics”. This is either preposterous in view of Robertson’s masterly lectures for undergraduates at Cambridge from 1946/47 to 1956/57 (see below), or indicative of young Amartya Sen not knowing or even knowing of Robertson’s lectures at all at the time despite the current Amartya Sen claiming Robertson was one of his teachers (a non-Communist one at that)! My own bet is on the latter. Robertson is in this volume supposed to provide the balance to Amartya Sen’s Communist heroes at Cambridge, Dobb and Sraffa — except it seems in fact our protagonist knows nothing of Robertson’s economics and missed his masterly lectures (see below)! Amartya’s supervisor Joan Robinson was uglily intolerant in her opinion of Robertson and Robertson’s attempt to keep Marshall’s economics alive at Cambridge; did Amartya not know that? Besides, there was no “technical economics” being taught at Calcutta University or Presidency College or anywhere else in India at the time; mostly descriptive Indian economics.

Joan Robinson did publish on the back of one of her books a classic 1927 photo of Sraffa, Keynes, Robertson, and one might wonder if her hostility

in the 1950s along with Sraffa, Kaldor, Kahn? and other communists/leftists against Robertson was merely to contest Keynes’s legacy — Keynes, dead prematurely in 1946 at age 63, himself considered Robertson and Hawtrey to be pupils who had taught him monetary economics! Amartya Sen was evidently unfamiliar with Robertson’s economics then and remains so today (see below).

If Amartya had been so impressed with Arrow’s “social choice theory” which was relatively obscure in its first 1951 edition, did he write to Ken Arrow in America about it? If he did, why not publish that letter and any reply? Did Amartya ask Hahn about Arrow as of 1961 with whom Hahn was working already? Amartya says James Mirrless had joined as a Research Student and was sitting in on his lectures; did he not come to know Arrow would visit Cambridge too shortly, being at Churchill College with Hahn, and also being the External PhD Examiner of Mirrlees? In fact Arrow and Sen were both at Cambridge in 1963-1964 but perhaps missed meeting. Arrow’s memoir of his visit to Hahn at Cambridge in 1963-1964 mentions Kaldor, Robinson, even Sraffa, plus Mirrlees too whom he examined, but not Amartya Sen nor indeed any “social choice theory”. Did Amartya discuss Arrow or any utility theory at all with Robertson, his teacher at Trinity College he says in the late 1950s, and if so, did Robertson not get him to read what he had himself said about the “convinced & eminent ordinalist Mr KJ Arrow”? The answer is apparently “No” to all of this.

So the mysteries of Amartya Sen’s new autobiographical work just get added to…

Unless of course Amartya has, accidentally and/or deliberately, gotten his dates and memories of those decades 1943-1953, 1953-1963 all wrong!

Sukhamoy might have talked to him at some point about Arrow’s theory but Amartya’s original Preface dated 1 August 1969 to his 1970 compendium Collective Choice and Social Welfare states clearly it was his Master Dobb at Cambridge who introduced him to the subject! Why has Professor Sen in 2017-2021 claimed Sukhamoy Chakravarty started him on the road to “social choice theory” in 1951 before he ever got to Cambridge, when he himself declared in 1969 it was his Cambridge teacher Dobb, the British Communist, “a decade and a half ago” ie 1954?

Sukhamoy, his colleague at the Delhi School at the time, does not even get a mention in these 1969 Acknowledgments! Has Professor Sen just invented a tale about Sukhamoy borrowing a copy from a College Street bookshop back in 1951 (as if such a copy appeared instantly at College Street after publication in America) then sharing it with Amartya Sen in heavy discussion? Why invent this? It is a mystery. In 1969 the American Economic Review published a Survey of “Contributions to Indian Economic Analysis”, edited by Jagdish Bhagwati at MIT and Sukhamoy Chakravarty at the Delhi School. It had been commissioned by the American Economic Association under editorship of the Canadian economist Harry G Johnson. Was that Survey a source of some kind of difficulty or tension between Amartya and Sukhamoy, which led him to exclude the latter completely from his 1969 Acknowledgements, only to construct a story crediting him now decades later? We simply do not know, except there is plain self-contradiction on the part of Amartya Sen about who got him started on the Arrow “social choice” theory: Dobb in 1954 as he said in 1969 or Sukhamoy in 1951 as he says now? It cannot be both, and whichever it is, the other needs an explanation.

Sukhamoy and I had two long conversations, one in 1977 when I was given his Delhi School office, one in 1987 when I visited him at the Planning Commission trying to persuade him to join my Manoa perestroika-for-India project, and he due to ill-health recommended C Rangarajan instead and gave me his last signed copy of his famous 1985 RBI report; yes Amartya Sen his college year-mate appeared in both conversations, and I seem to recall, perhaps incorrectly, Sukhamoy saying Amartya had done Arts subjects at the “IA” level, and was initially headed to read English at Presidency; but I could be wrong; Amartya has now said he was strong at Physics in school and “majored” in Economics with a “minor” in Mathematics at Presidency!

Sukhamoy’s death in his mid 50s in 1990 was a tragedy for Indian policy-making, and India’s economists too… Amartya dedicated an edited UN book to his memory within weeks or months of his passing…

Nor did Amartya Sen start his “dabbling” in Western philosophy until the 1960s or really much later. His initial years spent at Cambridge, Jadavpur, Warsaw, Berkeley etc were mainly spent with Dobb, Sraffa, Joan Robinson, Marglin, and assorted other Marxists and leftists doing mostly Marxism and Marxist political economy of some kind or other, not any analytical economics or philosophy! His Prize Fellowship thesis of 1955-57, which later “was also submitted for a PhD degree of Cambridge University” and published as Choice of Techniques, acknowledges his Master Dobb, the British Communist and Soviet specialist, “I owe him my interest in this particular topic”, and seems to make best sense only in a context of collectivized Soviet agriculture (Appendix B, pp 88-92, 1975 third edition).

Then too there is the whole absence of Indian planning! Despite the first name alphabetically on the list of economists advising on India’s Second Five Year Plan being none other than Amiya Kumar Dasgupta (1903-1992), friend of Amartya Sen’s family and his father’s colleague at Dhaka University, who was also Amartya’s mentor (getting him to Cambridge?) and (with Joan Robinson) his Cambridge PhD co-supervisor,

young Amartya Sen has no normal ambition in his 20s to put his shoulder to the wheel as an economist at Nehru’s new and highly prestigious Planning Commission! Joan Robinson, Kaldor, Peter Bauer, even Milton Friedman and numerous others are involved in Indian economic policy surrounding the Second Five Year Plan… but not India’s brightest young spark at the time, Amartya Sen. He accepts an offer in his early 20s to start an Economics department at Jadavpur, and even visits Delhi for a little gossip and adda, but he doesn’t apparently request Amiya Dasgupta or Joan Robinson or Kaldor to get him into the Planning Commission during the Second Five Year Plan! Backed by Dasgupta, Joan Robinson, Kaldor, even Bauer, Amartya Sen would have quickly become the Emperor of Indian Economic Planning with a massive impact on government policy — for the better from the quasi-Soviet perspective at least of his Master Dobb. But he has no such ambition, and merely seems to want to return to the West as soon as possible… All the things Professor Amartya Sen has been with his friends and allies moaning about the Government of India not having done over the decades for India’s masses could have been possible if he had himself taken a leadership role in Indian planning in the mid or late 1950s. He chose not to do so himself.

Amartya’s assiduous Presidency class-mate Sukhamoy, also on the Left but not any ideological Sovietized Left, does work on Indian planning and creates this by 1959:

Amartya Sen is in the main not interested as of 1953 at Cambridge or for the next decade until his 1963 return to Delhi

either in philosophy (“you know my philosophy was not an important thing at the time”, he told me frankly in 2006), notwithstanding Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations published in 1953 being all the rage in Cambridge Philosophy;

or in Keynesian economics, being all the rage in Cambridge Economics;

or in Indian economic planning, being all the rage among policy-makers in America, Britain, India etc.

Consistent with his leftism from Santiniketan and Presidency College days, what Amartya Sen is mainly interested in is the work of the British Communist Dobb, and perhaps the ideological work of the Italian Communist Sraffa (not his monumental editing of Ricardo or his 1960 theoretical book in preparation), and perhaps (like his friend Manmohan Singh) the work of Joan Robinson and Kaldor…

The Polish Communist Oscar Lange (Stalin himself reportedly got FDR to give Lange, then an American, permission to be a USA-USSR interlocutor on Poland; later Lange gave up his US citizenship), makes a point of visiting at Cambridge in 1956 young Amartya Sen from India, and two years later in 1958 Amartya Sen makes a two week invited visit via East Berlin to Warsaw — but remembers of this visit only “Chopin’s beautiful home” near the city! New mysteries needing to be explained! After a few years, Arrow’s “social choice theory” material gives Amartya Sen a way back to return from his Delhi School professorship to the West, to Berkeley and Harvard and eventually LSE.

3. The SC Bose Nazism Whitewash/Cover-Up, MK Gandhi’s Five Rupees, Rabindranath & the Babies

One can have every sympathy for Professor Amartya Sen in his late 80s, approaching his 90th year, not being aware of basic misrepresentations being made in his name. But Team Amartya, of his ghost writers, chelas, chamchas, dalals, and assorted vested interests deserve only contempt for what they have done in manufacturing this publisher’s product.

Consider what they have done with reference to three Indian national heroes, Subhas Chandra Bose (SC Bose), MK Gandhi, and Rabindranath Tagore.

Bose is well-known to have escaped from British India and made his way to Nazi Germany, hoping to meet with Hitler. He was kept waiting by Hitler for more than a year in Berlin, granted an audience only after Hitler had launched his attack on the USSR.

Bose in 1941/1943 was hardly the first Indian Nazi sympathizer in Berlin. Nehru’s Autobiography published in 1936 referred to one Champakaraman Pillai, who died in Berlin in 1934. Nehru says this Pillai “was perfectly at home” with “the Steelhelmets”. “He was one of the very few Indians who got on with the Nazis”, wrote Nehru in 1934. And Nehru added, the Indians who had been trying since World War I to enlist German support, were in difficult straits after the War. Nehru said in 1934: The Nazi regime since early in 1933 has added to their misfortunes, unless they fall in completely with the Nazi doctrine. Non-Nordic, and especially Asiatic, foreigners are not welcome in Germany; they are only suffered to exist so long as they behave. Hitler has pointedly declared himself in favour of British imperialist rule in India, no doubt because he wants to gain the goodwill of Britain, and he does not wish to encourage any Indians who may have displeased the British Government”.

Bose waited for Hitler, who finally shook his hand and was photographed doing so, Bose sat at the same table as Himmler for a meal or drinks, toured a few Indian PoWs held by the Nazis, and was then sent on a Nazi submarine to their Imperial Japanese ally, where he became one of Tojo’s subalterns.

None of this about SC Bose has anything at all to do with the life or work of the Thomas W Lamont University Professor at Harvard University. Yet what Team Amartya have done is use Amartya Sen’s book to assert (pages 145-146),

“… the German commitment to Indian independence seemed to Bose to be rather minimal. He decided to relocate again, and ultimately managed to reach Japan during the early months of 1943 after a perilous sea journey, mostly in a submarine…” (italics added).

Bose “decided to relocate again“? Or had tried and failed to enlist his Nazi friends’ support, was then sent by them instead to be a subaltern to their ally Tojo? Even Team Amartya’s next claim that Bose “raised a significant number of troops from the captured Indian soldiers” is false: Bose was never a soldier or officer, though is said to have dressed up in a uniform like a British Field Marshall as early as 1928, and he did not raise the “Indian National Army”; that was done by Captain Mohan Singh, from Indian PoWs who had been angered by British racism, evacuating white soldiers but leaving the Indians to be captured by the Japanese. In any event, the behaviour of the Japanese military towards the Indians was mixed, ranging from creating some subaltern Indian regiments, to murdering and even cannibalizing some Indian soldiers who refused to join them. As for Team Amartya claiming “the German commitment to Indian independence seemed to Bose to be rather minimal”, during the Nazi-Soviet pact it was known Hitler wished to see Stalin’s Russia, his biggest satellite power, take over rule of India once the British Empire had collapsed; indeed Bose was said to have moved to Berlin via Russia. “What have we done to deserve this?” Molotov moaned to the German ambassador in Moscow when Hitler attacked.

Amartya Sen, I have said, has at several points transposed his adult grown-up self’s current mental state/ wisdom/ knowledge/experience etc upon Boy Amartya or the youthful Amartya.  In the SC Bose matter, if Amartya is aware at all of what Team Amartya has tried to do, namely use his book to add to the ongoing whitewash/cover-up of Bose’s sojourn with the Nazis, Amartya has done the opposite: perhaps as a boy or youth he did not know about the Nazi connection or photographs, but surely he has learnt since then of the whole issue though seems to have consented to the whitewash/coverup!

Elsewhere in the book (page 137), may be found to be promoted the Sarat Bose/Suhrawardy idea backed by MA Jinnah of an unpartitioned Bengal! Haren Ghosh was murdered conveying to SP Mookerjee the 1946 plot of that which he had overheard waiting to meet Suhrawardy. An apt cartoon from 17 May 1947 described the Suhrawardy, SP Mookerjee, British, and MK Gandhi alternatives in Bengal:

The Pakistanis wanted India to begin at Howrah, had even suggested Calcutta could be the capital of Pakistan as Delhi would be of India. Does Amartya Sen or Team Amartya consider “a united and secular Bangladesh a feasible and elevating idea” (p. 137 italics added)? That is what they have published in 2021; yes it is an illegal wish in India, against our Constitution.

The clear influence of Team Amartya with or without the protagonist of the book appears too in a story on page 49 about how the Boy Amartya visited MK Gandhi in December 1945 during the latter’s Santiniketan visit, and paid a required “five rupee donation” for the great man’s autograph and the privilege to discuss issues with him briefly.

Our author reportedly says five-rupees was “a fairly small sum by any world standard” (italics added) and it was paid from his pocket money which he had “luckily” saved.

Five rupees in 1945/1946 in Bengal, India, a “fairly small sum by any world standard” says at age 12 the future eminent economist and scholar of the Bengal famine? It is beyond bizarre. It is inconceivable that these are Amartya Sen’s words or thoughts being published.

First, is it plausible MK Gandhi charged for his autograph? Very much so; Nehru himself noted Gandhi’s banya shrewdness, and it would have been good economics to put a price on his autograph. But five rupees in 1945 might have been charged to G D Birla or such friends, not a 12 year old boy in Santiniketan. Perhaps the price was five annas and Team Amartya not knowing what an anna was, made that into rupees? We do not know. Before the 1949 devaluation of Sterling and hence the Rupee with the US dollar, those five rupees exchanged quite freely for about an American dollar and a half at the time, whose purchasing power today is close to twenty dollars. Or alternatively, in terms of rupee inflation, those five rupees in 1945 might be about 350 rupees today, or several kilograms of rice in Bengal, whether then or now. It’s said Amartya paid his saved pocket money (hey, I’ve said years ago I aged 7 paid my “saved pocket money” in 1962/1963 to Nehru for the defence against PRC aggression) to get Gandhi’s autograph, which was “unadorned”, in “Devanagari”, and “only his initials and surname”. Doubtless, Amartya having invested so much in the Gandhi autograph has kept it (especially as the great man seems to have usually signed his name in English and not Hindi)? And has Amartya kept the photographs (mentioned on page 191) of himself as a child literally on the shoulders of PC Mahalanobis, another “close family friend”? But no, this volume prepared by Team Amartya has but a few dull photos of only Amartya himself, and not any such interesting images.

As for the brief 1945 conversation with MK Gandhi that the 12 year old Amartya reportedly purchased a right to with his saved pocket money equivalent to several kilos of rice, it was said to be about the lad’s “fight against the caste system” and the great man’s fight against “the inequities of the caste system”. Definitely Gandhi fought strongly against, to use the term the West loves so much, “Untouchability” in Hindu or Indian society; is that the same aspect of the caste-system as what Amartya Sen has appeared to be against? Professor Sen appears in this book someone very self-conscious about his personal caste and its members and allies, while being antagonistic towards eg the “priesthood”; ie Brahmins. The caste-competition among the “higher” classes of Hindus of Bengal, ie prejudices, tensions, jealousies between “Brahmin”, “Kayasth”, “Boddi” etc, especially in the past, are generally known about. To battle against “Untouchability” as Gandhi did is a “fight against the caste system”; Kayasth and Boddi antagonism towards Brahmins or vice versa is more a fight within the caste system! As late as June 2021, Professor Sen has allowed the Harvard Gazette (see below) to say about him that he “(comes) from a long line of Hindu intellectuals and teachers”, “Teaching was in his blood”…! No Brahmins I know of would ever make such a genetic claim!

The lad also wanted to talk about Gandhi’s “dispute with Rabindranath on the Bihar earthquake” in 1934 when Amartya had been a baby but was told by the great man’s “minders” that his time was up.

Then there is that other great man and world figure, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), whom Nehru reports Gandhi to have called “Boro Dada”, Elder Brother, the founder of Santiniketan.

Amartya Sen claims a close “family friendship” with Rabindranath via his maternal grandfather Kshitimohan Sen (1880-1960), a Sanskrit scholar and school-teacher, whom Tagore invited to help run his new secondary school. Amartya has said as a baby he was named by Tagore. As it happens the Wikipedia entry of Nabaneeta Dev Sen says she too was named as a baby by Tagore some years later. For the revered patriarch of a traditional community to name babies would have been quite a normal thing. Someone would have come to Tagore and sought his blessings: “Gurudev, Omitaer chhele hoyeche, apnar ashirbad chaichhe” (Master, Amita has had a boy and seeks your blessing); in case of Nabaneeta, “Gurudev, RadhaRanir meye hoyeche, apnar ashirbad chaichhe”… (Master, Radha Rani has had a girl and seeks your blessing), and Tagore might have said “Omitar chhele ke Omorto naam dao” (Name Amita’s son Amartya), “Naren RadhaRanir meyer naam Noboneeta dao” (Name the daughter of Naren Radha Rani Noboneeta)… And that’s it. That would be that!

But no, Team Amartya, wishing to tailor things for an American Democratic Party East Coast-West Coast readership?, had to add “Rabindranath persuaded my mother that it was boring to stick to well-used names and he proposed a new name for me. Amartya… immortal…” (italics added)… I.e. Gurudev, in between his many travels at the time to Ceylon, Iran, Iraq or wherever, found the time to have (and win) a quick debate with the mother of the newborn Amartya about novel and boring names for her baby… Hmmm… Ok….

4. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory I, 1989: K. J. Arrow’s response to the Subroto Roy criticism

In September 1989, after a struggle of numerous years, my Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry was published in London and New York; the next month, I, from Honolulu, gifted a copy to Kenneth Arrow at Stanford.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is scan0004.jpg

My inscription praised Arrow’s work (from which I had learnt so much in its market theory aspects) and said I had always seen it as a scientific challenge. [Uploading the inscription today 29 September 2021, I find the words “inspiration and magnificent challenge” not “scientific challenge” as I remembered it, and also mean now.]

Arrow’s 17 year collaboration with Frank Hahn that resulted in General Competitive Analysis was known to me, and Hahn had paid me fifty pounds sterling back in 1976/1977 to proof-read it for a second edition. Arrow and I had met briefly in the early 1980s at an American Economic Association meeting, and I had sent him in 1982 “Knowledge and Freedom in Economic Theory Parts I and II”, a discussion paper I had published with Jim Buchanan’s Center for Study of Public Choice. The thrust of my criticism at that time was the contradiction present in Arrow’s work between his assumptions about information in market theory (or general equilibrium) work and in his “social choice” theory. The same discussion paper had been sent to F A Hayek in Freiburg, and Hayek had very encouragingly said:

“I was grateful for the reminder of the passage of Aristotle at which I had not looked for many years and found the criticism of Arrow well justified and important.”

I do not think Arrow understood this aspect of my criticism but by the time of the 1989 book there had been a vast expansion and development of my thinking. Arrow’s response in 1989 was both gracious and accepting: “I shall have to ponder your rejection of the Humean position which has, I suppose, been central in not only my thought but that of most economists. Candidly, I have never understood what late Wittgenstein was saying, but I have not worked very hard at his work, and perhaps your book will give guidance”.

Amartya Sen arrived at Cambridge in 1953, the year Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations was published, two years after his death. Professor Sen told me, in 2006 (see below), John Wisdom and C D Broad both knew him at the time, all at Trinity College; if anyone, Amartya Sen should have conveyed to Kenneth Arrow in America in the 1960s and 1970s the implications for economic theory of Wittgenstein’s later work. But he never did.  Instead I had to do so in 1989.

The last letter I have from Amartya is from Harvard to Honolulu in 1987, and said he had put the manuscript of my book on the back-burner.

My 1987 manuscript contracted at the time for several years with University of Chicago Press came to be instead published in 1989 by Routledge in its International Library of Philosophy, the first work by an economist in that series, known earlier as the International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method and even before that as the International Scientific Series. It sold out quickly and was in paperback two years later. I had asked the publisher to send Amartya at Harvard a complimentary copy which I think he received though did not acknowledge. Imagine my surprise hearing Amartya Sen’s 1998 Nobel Banquet Speech sound as if I’d written a bit of it :D… (see below)!

Did Ken Arrow or Frank Hahn talk of Suby Roy’s 1989 criticism, trying to solve some theoretical problems in economics by applying the later Wittgenstein? Of course they did.

But Amartya Sen was not going to follow up his 1987 letter saying to a fellow-Indian : “Dear Suby, Congratulations on your book and thanks for the copy. Ken Arrow was talking to me about it, and I think we should like to hear you give a talk about your criticisms of our social choice theories…” That’s a letter I did not get… ! Amartya as of 1989 and much earlier (Hahn told me at Stanford in the summer of 1983) was in single-minded pursuit of you know what, and couldn’t take any kind of academic risk exposing the Arrow-Sen “social choice theory” to be “not merely wrong but even absurd” as my Blacksburg colleague I. J. Good, Cambridge probability and statistical theorist and co-worker of Turing during the World War II code-breaking, said upon reading my criticism. Besides, Amartya might have seen himself as Arrow’s gate-keeper as far as any other Indians were to be allowed access to the great man… and what I had and have done is not only bypass him completely but identify the errors of Arrow as well as his own; the “social choice theory” peddled by Professor Sen and his friends Eric Maskin, Kaushik Basu et al has been long sunk by the work of myself and Sidney Alexander. It is Zombie economics I said in 2017:

5. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory II, 2006 : the Subroto Roy Amartya Sen dialogue

In 2006 The Statesman was invited by the publisher of a new book by Amartya Sen to send someone to talk to him about it, as long as it was recorded on tape; the Editor asked me if I would like to; I said yes but Professor Sen knew me and should expect a broad discussion not confined to his new book. Amartya sent a message back that he hadn’t met me for a long while and would be happy to chat.

The published on the record result follows:

ROY: …The philosophers Renford Bambrough and John Wisdom would have been with you at Cambridge….
SEN:
Wisdom I knew better; he was at my College; but you know my philosophy was not an important thing at the time. Among the philosophers there, it was C. D. Broad with whom I chatted more. But Wisdom I knew, and he mainly tried to encourage me to ride horses with him, which I didn’t.
ROY:
You went to Cambridge in …
SEN:
I went to Cambridge in 1953.
ROY:
So Wittgenstein had just died…
SEN:
Wittgenstein had died.
ROY:
Only just in 1952 (sic; in fact he died in 1951.
SEN:
But I knew a lot about the conversations between Wittgenstein and Sraffa because Sraffa was alive; I did a paper on that by the way.
ROY:
Well that’s what I was going to ask, there is no trace of your work on Wittgenstein and the Wittgensteinians.
SEN:
I don’t know why. My paper was published in the Journal of Economic Literature a couple of years ago. Now mind you it’s not a conclusion, just an interpretation, what was the role of Gramsci in the works of Sraffa and Wittgenstein, what is it that Sraffa actually did in intermediating between them.
ROY:
In your book Identity and Violence, I was curious to find you call yourself a “dabbler” in Philosophy yet at the same time you are an eminent Professor of Philosophy at Harvard for decades. The question that arose was, were you being modest, and if so, truly or falsely?
SEN (laughs):
I think if you make a statement which you suspect might have been made out of modesty and then I said it was because of modesty I think I would have eliminated the motivation for the statement as you identify it. I am not going to answer the question as to what I think.
ROY:
But surely you are not a “dabbler” in Philosophy?
SEN:
I am interested in Philosophy is what I meant, and whether I am a dabbler or whether I’ve succeeded in making some contribution is for others to judge. But not for me to judge.
ROY:
Okay.
SEN:
As for me, the right description is that I am a dabbler in Philosophy. But then that diagnostic is… mine, and I won’t go to war with others if someone disputes that. But it’s not for me to dispute it.
ROY:
Would you, for example in reference to our discussion about Wittgenstein, say that you have contributed to Philosophy in and of itself regardless of Economics?
SEN:
Most of my work on Philosophy has got nothing to do with Economics. It is primarily on Ethics, to some extent on Epistemology. And these are not “economic” subjects. I have never written on the “Philosophy of Economics” at all.
ROY:
How about Ontology? I mean the question “What there is” would be…..
SEN:
I am less concerned with Ontology or with Metaphysics than some people are. I respect the subject but I have not been involved.
ROY:
You have not been involved?
SEN:
Well, I have read a lot but I haven’t worked on it. I have worked on Ethics and Political Philosophy and I have worked on Epistemology and I have worked a little bit on Mathematical Logic. Those are the three main areas in which I have worked.
ROY:
Why I say that is because, if the three main philosophical questions are summarised as “What is there?” (or “Who am I?”), “What is true?”, “What should I do?”, then the question “Who am I?” is very much a part of your concern with identity and a universal question generally, while “Is this true?” is relevant to Epistemology and “What should I do?” is obviously Ethics. Morton White summarised philosophy in those three questions. It seems to me you have in this book had to look at…
SEN:
At all three of them.
ROY:
Well, some Ontology at least.
SEN:
But you know I agree with your diagnostic that the second question “What I regard myself to be, is that true?”, is a question of Epistemology, because that’s the context in which “Is it true?” comes in. The second is primarily an epistemological question. The third is, as you said, primarily an ethical question, though I do believe that the dichotomy between Epistemology and Ethics is hard to make. On that subject I would agree with Hilary Putnam’s last book, namely when he speaks of “the collapse of the fact-value dichotomy” which is sometimes misunderstood and described as the collapse of the fact-value distinction, which is not what Hilary Putnam is denying, he’s arguing that the dichotomy is very hard to sustain, because the linkages are so strong, that pursuit of one is always taking you into the other. But the first question you are taking to be an ontological question, “Who am I?”, and at one level you can treat it as that, but there is a less profound aspect of “Who am I?”, namely what would be the right way of describing me, to myself and to others, and that has a deep relationship with the second question. If the separation or dichotomy between the second and third raises some philosophical questions of significance, the dichotomy between the first and second would too. So “Who am I?” can be interpreted at a profound ontological level but it could also be interpreted at a level which is primarily fairly straightforward Epistemology. And it is at that level that I am taking that question to be. Namely: Am I a member of many different groups? Do I see myself as members of many different groups? If I do not see myself as members of many different groups, am I making a mistake in not seeing that I belong to many different groups? Is it the case that implicitly I often pursue things which are dependant on my seeing myself as being members of other groups than those which I explicitly acknowledge? These are the central issues of the “Who am I?” question in this book.
ROY: Well you haven’t used the word “identity” here but when you speak in your book of people having a choice of different identities, you are plainly not referring to multiple identities in the sense of the psychologist; are you not merely saying that everyone has different aspects or dimensions to his or her life, and is required to play different roles at different times in different contexts? Or is there something beyond that statement in your notion of “choice of identities”?
SEN: What I mean by “multiple identities” is, at one level, the most trivial, common but, at another level, most profoundly important recognition that we belong to many different groups: I’m an Indian citizen, I’m a British or American resident, I’m a Bengali, the poetry I like is Bengali poetry, I’m a man, I’m an economist, I belong to all these groups. Nothing complicated about that, and the multiple identity issues of the psychologist that you’re referring to indicate a certain level of complexity of humanity, and sometimes even of pathology perhaps, but that’s not what I am concerned with here, it’s just a common fact that there are many different groups to which any person belongs. And it’s on that extraordinarily simple fact that I am trying to construct a fairly strong, fairly extensive set of reasonings, because that forces us to see the importance of our own choice, our own decisions in deciding on how should I see myself, how would it be correct to see myself given the problems I am facing today, and given the priorities that I will have to examine.
ROY: But if we don’t use the word “groups” just for a minute, then we are not too far wrong to just say that everyone has different aspects or dimensions to their lives, so one dimension could be nationality, one dimension sexuality, one dimension one’s intellectual upbringing, then any person, any character in a novel would have different dimensions….
SEN: The difficulty with that, Subroto, is that in the same aspect we may have more than one…
ROY: Dimension?
SEN: Well dimension tries to capture in a Cartesian space a rather more complex reality, and you know I don’t think this is a metric space we are looking at, so dimensionality is not a natural thought in this context. One thing I am very worried about is when something which is very simple appears to people as being either profoundly right or profoundly mistaken. I’ll try to claim that it is right and it is not very profound but that it is not very profound does not mean people don’t miss it and end up making mistakes. In terms of the aspects of my life which concern my enjoying poetry, there may be many different groups to which I belong, one of them is that I can appreciate Bengali poetry in a way that I will not be able to appreciate poetry in some language which I speak only very little, like Italian poetry for example. But on the other hand, in addition to that, in the same aspect of my appreciating poetry, there may be the fact that I am not as steeped into historical romance which also figures in poetry or patriotic poetry and these are all again classifications which puts me in some group, in the company of some and not in the company of others, and therefore an aspect does not quite capture with the precision the group classification that I was referring to does capture.
ROY: Well, groups we can quarrel about perhaps because groups may not be well- defined…
SEN: Don’t go away Subroto but that does not make any difference, because many groups are not well-defined but they are still extremely important…
ROY: Of course there are overlapping groups…
SEN: Not only overlapping, but you know that is a different subject on the role of ambiguity, that is a very central issue in Epistemology, and the fact of the matter is that there are many things for which there are ambiguities about border which are nevertheless extremely important as part of our identity. Where India begins and China ends or where China begins and India ends may not be clear, but the distinction between being an Indian and being Chinese is very important, so I think that this border dispute gets much greater attention in the social sciences than it actually deserves.
ROY: Well, one of the most profoundly difficult and yet universally common dilemmas in the modern world has to do with women having to choose between identities outside and inside the home. Does your theory of identity apply to that problem, and if so, how?
SEN: I think the choice is never between identities, the choice is the importance that you attach to different identities all of which may be real. The fact of the matter is that a woman may be a member of a family, a woman is also a member of a gender, namely being a woman, a woman may also have commitment to her profession, may have commitment to a politics…
ROY: Does your theory help her in any way, specifically?
SEN: The theory is not a do-it-yourself method of constructing an identity. It is an attempt to clarify what are the questions that anyone who is thinking about identity has to sort out. It is the identification of questions with which the book is concerned, and as such, insofar as the woman is concerned… indeed the language that you use Subroto, that what you have to choose between identities, I would then say that what I am trying to argue is that’s not the right issue, because all these would remain identities of mine but the relative importance that I attach to the different identities is the subject in which I have to make a choice, and that’s the role of the theory…
ROY: They are all different aspects of the same woman.
SEN: Yes indeed. If not explicitly then implicitly, but that is part of the recognition that we need, it is not a question that by giving importance to one of those compared with the others you’re denying the other identities. To say that something is more important than another in the present context is not a denial that the other is also an identity. So I think the issue of relative importance has to be distinguished from the existence or non-existence of these different identities.
ROY: Well, you’ve wished to say much about Muslims in this book….
SEN: That’s not entirely right. I would say that I do say something about the Muslims in this book….
ROY: … yet one gets the impression that you have not read The Quran. Is that an accurate impression?
SEN: No, it’s not.
ROY: You have read The Quran?
SEN: Yes.
ROY: In English, presumably?
SEN: In Bengali to be exact. Not in Arabic, you probably have read it in Arabic.
ROY (laughs): No, just in English. Is it possible to understand a Muslim’s beliefs until and unless one sees the world from his/her perspective? I had to read The Quran to see if I could understand — attempt to understand — the point of view of Muslims. Does one need to read The Quran in order to see their perspective?
SEN: Well it depends on how much expertise you want to acquire. That is, if you have to understand what the Quranic beliefs are, to which Muslims as a group – believing Muslims, who identify themselves as believing and practising Muslims – as opposed to Muslims by ancestry and therefore Muslims in a denominational sense, yes indeed, if you want to pursue what practising and believing Muslims practise and believe then you would have to read The Quran. But a lot of people would identify themselves as Muslim who do not follow these practises or for that matter beliefs, but who would still identify themselves as Muslims because in the sense of a community they belong to that. I mean even Mohammad Ali Jinnah did not follow many of the standard Muslim practises, that did not make him a non-Muslim because a “Muslim” can be defined in more than one way. One is to define somebody who is a believing and practising Muslim, the other is somebody who sees himself as a Muslim and belongs to that community, and in the context of the world in which he lives that identity has some importance which it clearly had in the case of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
ROY: Well, Muslims like Jews and Christians believe the Universe had a deliberate Creation; Hindus and Buddhists may not quite agree with that. Muslims will further believe that the Creator spoke once and only once definitively through one man, namely Muhammad in the 7th Century in Arabia. Would you not agree that no person can deny that and still be a Muslim?
SEN: I think you’re getting it wrong Subroto. It said Muhammad was the last prophet, it does not deny that there existed earlier prophets. Therefore it’s not the case as you said that God spoke alone and uniquely and only once.
ROY: Definitively?
SEN: No, no, Muslims believe that it was definitely spoken at each stage — as a follow up, like Christians misunderstood what message the prophet called Jesus was carrying and they deified Jesus, there was a need for turning a page, that’s the understanding; it’s not the case that’s what Muslims believe, that is not the Quranic view at all, that God spoke only once to Muhammad, that’s not the Quranic belief
ROY: True, true enough..
SEN: But you said that Subroto!
ROY: What I meant was “definitively”, the word “definitively” meaning that…
SEN: Definitively they would say that at each stage there was a memory, and the memory and the understanding got corrupted over time and that’s why they were also so wild about idolatry for example
ROY: Well the Ahmadiyas, for example, are considered non-believers by many Muslims because they claim that there …
SEN: That also brings out the point I was making, that Ahmadiyas see themselves as Muslim….
ROY: Indeed.
SEN: …and in terms of one of the definitions of Muslim that I am giving you, namely as a person who sees himself as a Muslim, or herself as a Muslim, and regards that identity to be important is a Muslim according to that definition; another one would apply a test which is what many of the more strict Sunnis and Shias do, namely, that whether they accept Muhammad as the last prophet, and insofar as Ahmadiyas don’t accept that, then they would say then you are not Muslim…
ROY: Well they do actually…
SEN: Well they do, but in terms…I think what I am telling you is that in terms of the Shia-Sunni orthodox critique they say that in effect they don’t accept that, that is the charge against them, but those who believe that would say that on that ground Ahmadiyas are not Muslim. So I think there is a distinction in the different ways that Muslims can be characterized…

6. “I was never in the Communist Party (nor ever tempted to join it)”: Amartya Sen a Non-Party communist?

This on page 333-334

“I was never in the Communist Party (nor ever tempted to join it)”

is the most important statement made by Professor Sen in his 400+ page Memoirs. It will come as a relief to Professor Sen’s many associates, friends and colleagues.

Father Laszlo Ladany in The Communist Party of China and Marxism, 1921-1985, Stanford 1988 said of Zhou Enlai he was “one of those men who never tell the truth and never tell a lie. For them there is no distinction between the two. The speaker says what is appropriate to the circumstances. Zhou Enlai was a perfect gentleman; he was also a perfect Communist”.

It will be a relief to Professor Sen’s friends and associates that he, who has been an eminent British and American and Indian academic, never thought about joining the Communist Party as a member.

Of course formal Communist Party membership remains a somewhat peculiar thing, worldwide. Mr Jack Ma for example has been apparently a Chinese Communist Party member, along with some 82 million others in PRC, some fraction of his large income going to the Party as his contribution, almost a tithe you might say. In Bengal under the Communist regime eventually ousted after decades by Mamata Banerjee, it was an open secret Government officials, academics, schoolteachers, etc were encouraged to be Party-members, though apparently under an altered similar sounding name in code! So for example, a “Sushmita Mitra” might be renamed by the Party in its confidential records as being a “Smita Maitra” and that latter name would be the code-name used by Party functionaries in Party meetings! I know this thanks to a Party-insider friend! Hadn’t Lenin and Koba/Stalin themselves acquired Party names before the Revolution?! And everyone always knew the Americans demand of foreigners landing in the USA whether they have been a member of the Communist Party! As it happens, before our 2006 discussion began at the Taj Bengal Hotel, Amartya Sen joked that he as a State of West Bengal guest was now being protected by the Bengal Police, which he found ironic since these were the same police who had been after him decades ago as a communist or leftist youth! I was supposed to appreciate the joke but I don’t think I did…

Even so Professor Sen’s Memoirs are an interesting source of material as two of his favourite teachers during his Cambridge years, Dobb and Sraffa, were prominent Communists of Britain and Italy respectively, while Joan Robinson, Professor Sen’s thesis supervisor and herself a pupil of Dobb, was an expounder of Marxist economic doctrine and openly sympathetic to the new Communist China and North Korea.

The Canadian economist Harry G Johnson, in his second stint at Cambridge teaching as a lecturer, attended his fellow lecturer Dobb’s lectures; they were on the Economics of Socialism, and Dobb would start with “40 or 50 students” end up with only his colleague Johnson and “a very small band of Communist Party members who felt obliged to reciprocate the services he had done for the party by listening to the lectures”.

Dobb, of whom Amartya Sen was an admitted “devotee” (page 368) had “visited the Soviet Union in 1921 and when his train crossed the frontier he said, “how thrilling to be moving across this sacred soil at last”; he was reported to have been intimately involved in Communist recruitment, and under police scrutiny.

“Between 1925 and 1928, Dobb lived in the Soviet Union, and produced one of the first serious accounts of the transformation of the Russian economy under the Bolsheviks. In 1937, he produced one of his most famous works Political Economy and Capitalism helping update Marxian theory into a critique of Neoclassical economic theory, which earlier Marxists had largely ignored, drawing particular attention and emphasis on the question of value theory. In 1948 Dobb returned to the Soviet experience and produced one of the first detailed accounts of the Soviet planning debate, bringing him into the arena of development economics more generally, which he would continue pursuing parallel to his work on Marxian economic theory.”

Amartya Sen, Dobb’s future Indian student and “devotee”, had been “bowled over” (page 346) in Calcutta undergraduate days by Dobb’s 1937 book.

“Dobb joined the Communist Party in 1920 and in the 1930s was central to the burgeoning Communist movement at the university. One recruit was Kim Philby, who later became a high-placed mole within British intelligence. It has been suggested that Dobb was a “talent-spotter” for Comintern. Dobb was a highly placed communist revolutionary in Britain at the time. He was politically very active and spent much time organizing rallies and presenting lectures on a consistent basis. As an economist commonly focused on vulnerability to economic crisis and pointed to the United States as a case of capitalist money assisting military agendas instead of public works.” (A recent documentary on Philby says the euphemism of Comintern recruitment was “to work for peace” or “against fascism”).

Trinity College Chapel has honoured Maurice Dobb and Pierro Sraffa with commemorative brasses inscribed in Latin. The English explanation in case of the former even mentions his recruitment of Philby, whose own grave as a KGB officer is in Moscow! The British are so tolerant!

Trinity College Chapel informed me they could not identify when a commemorative brass gets put up except it would be at least five years after the death of the person being honoured. Professor Sen has remained a Fellow of the College and was Master too between 1998 and 2004; it would be interesting to know if the Dobb and Sraffa commemorations were put up during his tenure as Master, a tribute to his two teachers.


7. Tokenism: the mention of Robertson, Hicks, Buchanan, Bauer; and why does the Amartya Sen Principles of Economics textbook not exist?

Now oddly enough, Professor Sen titles his Chapter 22 “Dobb, Sraffa and Robertson”, the last being Sir Dennis Robertson, the pupil colleague collaborator and critic of Maynard Keynes:

Amartya Sen claims all three as his teachers, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels at Cambridge.  Yet while Dobb and Sraffa, both prominent Communists, were Amartya Sen’s main interlocutors according to his autobiography, there is absolutely no hint or scrap of evidence from him that he knew of, let aside attended, Robertson’s Economic Principles lectures for undergraduates at Cambridge, held from 1946/47 to 1956/57!  Robertson published these in three slim volumes, and also, much later, in one joint volume too:

The Canadian economist Harry G Johnson, in his first stint at Cambridge after World War II still dressed in his corporal’s uniform, found Robertson’s lectures “brilliant” though “you had to know at least enough economics for a PhD before you could understand them” The Shadow of Keynes, 1978, p. 129.  Nor did Amartya apparently know Dennis Robertson had as of 1954 started discussion of Amartya’s American hero, “the convinced & eminent ordinalist Mr K J Arrow”.  
The Cottage Industry backing Professor Sen which I have named Team Amartya has in October 2021 put out a trial balloon suggesting the two main intellectual influences upon him have been Tagore and Adam Smith!  In fact, as far as is known publicly at present, Amartya Sen had in his youth a Bolshevik hero, the murdered Bukharin (tho not the also murdered Trotsky!), and then a British Stalinist hero, Dobb; later came the American “social democrat” hero Arrow who allowed the Sen “social choice theory” work to arise; and now recently appears the long-dead Italian Gramscian Communist Sraffa, to create a most tenuous of claimed links to Cambridge philosophy!   So that’s it, the four intellectual heroes of Amartya Sen as far as may be ascertained were: Bukharin, Dobb, Arrow, Sraffa… no Tagore really, and definitely no Adam Smith!

As noted earlier, Professor Sen has told the Harvard Gazette in June 2021 “There was a kind of gulf, because in Calcutta, I was quite used to doing rather technical economics, and suddenly, I found myself attending classes in Cambridge with people who had done very little technical economics”. This is just preposterous in view of Robertson’s masterly lectures for undergraduates that young Amartya did not seem to know of despite the current Amartya Sen claiming Robertson was one of his teachers! Besides Calcutta or India as a whole had no “technical economics” being taught anywhere at the time, only descriptive Indian economics.   Is Amartya willing to admit today, as I think he must,
“I did not know of or I neglected to attend Dennis Robertson’s masterly lectures on Economic Principles at Cambridge held during my time there that Suby Roy has now brought to my attention. What I have indicated in my Memoirs is merely that Dennis and I were friendly acquaintances at Trinity. I really knew nothing then and know nothing now of Dennis Robertson’s economics. Had I known of his lectures or mastered them I would have definitely used them in some manner in my teaching at Jadavpur, in America, at Cambridge, Warsaw, Delhi and LSE. But I seem not to have done, or at least have no records of having done so“?

In my first year as an undergraduate at LSE, 1973-74, Economic Principles were divided into three streams examined separately: Economics A taught by Amartya Sen; Economics B taught by Meghnad Desai and George Psacharopolous and others, Economics C taught by Kenneth Binmore. Economics C was specified as for those with A-level mathematics only and would be an applied mathematics paper; Economics B was for most of us intending to continue with Economics; and Economics A was supposed to be for those in History, Politics, International Relations etc who absolutely did not intend to continue with Economics after a year but wanted a nominal introduction to it. George Psacharopolous made clear to us that Meghnad Desai had wished to talk about Sraffa’s system a bit and had been allowed to do so by his colleagues only as a way to enter Leontief models, and was then quickly required to cover normal microeconomics and macroeconomics (the influence of Frank Hahn and Harry G Johnson being strong at LSE then though each had left recently); as for Economics A by Amartya, this was said by his colleagues to be something of a vanity course for the fashionable — and a fashionable friend of mine who took it told me the students were thrilled to be addressed by such an eminent Professor but had no idea what it was all about.

This aside, the fact remains Amartya Sen seems never to have tried to write up a normal Economics textbook for undergraduates, something even his supervisor Joan Robinson did at one point with John Eatwell. Even if Amartya Sen has no textbook in Economics, perhaps he can publish his lecture notes (or better still, the notes taken by an assiduous student) on what he has taught over the decades as being principles of the subject as he has seen it.

Similar phenomena to that of Dennis Robertson seem to take place in the Amartya Sen autobiography with respect to Hicks’s Value and Capital and also the public finance work of, of all people, Jim Buchanan — Subroto Roy, viz., myself, having been sent by Hahn to work with Jim in 1980, and having been the first Indian with whom Buchanan and Tullock worked!

Then too there is the new praise of Amartya Sen for Peter Bauer despite Bauer being allegedly “right wing”.

Milton Friedman happened to be a Fulbright lecturer visiting the Cambridge Economics Department in Amartya’s first year at Trinity as an undergraduate 1953/54. Milton was at Gonville & Caius College, along with Stanley Denison and Peter Bauer (before they moved to becoming Professors at Hull and LSE respectively). Milton’s 1998 Memoirs with his wife Rose report the following conversation with Peter about one of his undergraduate supervisees who, if it was not Amartya himself, was like Amartya a follower of the Communist Maurice Dobb:

Peter and I became friends after I had left LSE and was at Cambridge as a Research Student under Frank Hahn, and later when I moved to work with Jim Buchanan in America. It was Peter who specifically made it a point of telling me in 1979/1980 about the economic policy memorandum Milton Friedman had been invited to write by the Government of India in November 1955 which the Government had then suppressed — and which I eventually published for the first time at Manoa in May 1989.

On 29 May 1984, The Times of London wrote its lead editorial about my critique of Indian economic policy, published that same day by the Institute of Economic Affairs, deriving from my Cambridge doctoral work. The result was a massive impact on policy and opinion at the time. I later found this editorial had been authored by the former editor William Rees-Mogg with his friend Peter Bauer. On 16 June 1984, I had to publish a letter correcting The Times on one aspect, namely I had not said anything about famines in India and they had:

I knew Amartya had been writing about famines though I did not know what, and I did not want to enter that particular debate at that time. More of these issues about Indian economic policy anon.

8. Amartya Sen’s genius insight into Soviet Communism! But also a KGB blind-spot perhaps?

I have noted at the outset the incredible insight of genius into Soviet Communism that Professor Sen has claimed of finding the Khruschev denunication of Stalin “completely unsurprising (italics added).

The Soviet Communist Party had not expected the speech, viz., Roy Medvedev, Khruschev 1982:

Khruschev himself as a Stalin protege took three years to gather the courage to give the speech; it was kept strictly confidential though apparently “foreign communist leaders” at the February 1956 Soviet Congress got to read it just ahead of time but got no copy; it is said a Russian Jew present at the Congress got it to Israeli domestic intelligence, thence it reached the CIA, who released it to a few Western newspapers at the end of June 1956. The first time it appeared in the Western press is said to to be then, at the end of June 1956. However, the mastery of young Amartya Sen of the nuances of Soviet ideology and Stalinist practices was such that he, alone in the world, had “a decade earlier” anticipated all the USSR’s rot under Stalin and its inevitable exposure. One of Amartya’s Indian Communist associates tells him in Calcutta 1956 “I hate Khruschev more than any revolting little insect” to which Amartya acquiesces sufficiently to publish it in his 2021 Memoirs tho’ he himself remains loyal enough to the cause not to name who this “old loyalist” may have been!

The great Harvard Russia scholar Adam B Ulam (teacher of a not great Harvard Russia scholar named Henry Kissinger) noted de-Stalinization in the USSR took at least another four years to start, with the 1960 Soviet Congress, and only after one of Lenin’s female comrades in her dotage suddenly turned up at the Congress and declared that Lenin had appeared in a dream to her and demanded the moving of Stalin’s mummified body from beside his own to somewhere else.

But Professor Sen’s Memoir contains too an unusual account of his 1958 two week visit to Warsaw via East Berlin to deliver some unspecified academic lectures, even though he felt himself “totally under-qualified”, as it was before he received his PhD degree. Two years earlier in 1956, the noted Polish Communist Oskar Lange — who, while an American economist, was known to Stalin himself, and who later renounced his American citizenship as a Polish-American — visited Cambridge we are told specifically to meet, via Dobb and Sraffa, the young Amartya Sen of India and discuss matters with him. Amartya Sen two years later in 1958 is invited to visit Warsaw via East Germany for two weeks, the sojourn seeming notable in this volume only for his visit to Chopin’s “beautiful home nearby” as well as meeting students, pages 300-301.

Coming from an Indian foreign service background, my personal curiosity has been provoked by this Warsaw incident for the following reason: in the winter of 1970/71,

my father then India’s Consul General in Odessa, immediately vetoed an apparent KGB honey-trap plot that I, to celebrate my 16th birthday, visit Leningrad alone in the company of the lovely 25 year old Tanya; my mother was sent too by him as a chaperone!

Young Amartya Sen, not being a Communist Party member though fraternizing or working closely with College Street and later Cambridge University Communists, was able to acquire unique foresight and insight about the Soviet system predicting Khruschev’s denunciation of Stalin a decade before it happened, hence finding it “completely unsurprising” when it did. But a reader of his Memoirs is left longing to know more about his two week 1958 Warsaw visit…! Whom did he meet? What did he lecture on for two weeks? How much did he receive as honorarium (he refers to a phonecall, I think but will have to check the text, that said his hosts could not send him cash in East Berlin where he was short of it for travel but would make up for it when he got to Warsaw)? There was no Berlin Wall in 1958; did he make any diary notes at the time observing differences between West and East Berlin, between West and East Germany? In retrospect is he able to see any apparent KGB attempt to compromise him, in Warsaw itself or somewhere else? Was he drugged and unwittingly transported to Moscow briefly perhaps 😀 ?! Or, perhaps, had his Master Dobb shared with him the feeling of Soviet land being “sacred soil”, and arranged an official visit to it? Inquiring minds want to know! But all we get to learn is that Chopin’s “beautiful home” is near the city 😦 …

9. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory III: Did Amartya plagiarize my work in his 1998 Nobel Banquet speech? Is he about to do so again?

I have every reason to think Amartya’s responses in 2006 to my first questions were completely genuine, viz.,

ROY: …The philosophers Renford Bambrough and John Wisdom would have been with you at Cambridge….
SEN: 
Wisdom I knew better; he was at my College; but you know my philosophy was not an important thing at the time. Among the philosophers there, it was C. D. Broad with whom I chatted more. But Wisdom I knew, and he mainly tried to encourage me to ride horses with him, which I didn’t.
ROY: 
You went to Cambridge in …
SEN: 
I went to Cambridge in 1953.
ROY: 
So Wittgenstein had just died…
SEN: 
Wittgenstein had died.
ROY: 
Only just in 1952 (sic; in fact he died in 1951.
SEN: 
But I knew a lot about the conversations between Wittgenstein and Sraffa because Sraffa was alive; I did a paper on that by the way.
ROY: 
Well that’s what I was going to ask, there is no trace of your work on Wittgenstein and the Wittgensteinians.
SEN: 
I don’t know why. My paper was published in the Journal of Economic Literature a couple of years ago. Now mind you it’s not a conclusion, just an interpretation, what was the role of Gramsci in the works of Sraffa and Wittgenstein, what is it that Sraffa actually did in intermediating between them.
ROY: 
In your book Identity and Violence, I was curious to find you call yourself a “dabbler” in Philosophy yet at the same time you are an eminent Professor of Philosophy at Harvard for decades. The question that arose was, were you being modest, and if so, truly or falsely?
SEN (laughs): 
I think if you make a statement which you suspect might have been made out of modesty and then I said it was because of modesty I think I would have eliminated the motivation for the statement as you identify it. I am not going to answer the question as to what I think.
ROY: 
But surely you are not a “dabbler” in Philosophy?
SEN: 
I am interested in Philosophy is what I meant, and whether I am a dabbler or whether I’ve succeeded in making some contribution is for others to judge. But not for me to judge.

Amartya said to me in 2006 most honestly and plausibly about his arrival at Cambridge in 1953 you know my philosophy was not an important thing at the time”. Now fifteen years later in 2021 in this book the mental state in 1952/53 of the young Amartya Sen has been transmogrified by himself and Team Amartya! It has become: “I also knew a fair amount… about Russell, Whitehead, Moore and Wittgenstein” (p. 240)… all before he had even applied to Trinity College! Besides knowing all about Dobb, Sraffa, Robertson, and Newton, Bacon, Dryden, Marvell, Byron, Tennyson, Housman, Hardy, Littlewood, Ramanujan too! Amartya says he, sitting in Calcutta, chose Trinity because of all this rich heritage!… It is, frankly, preposterous that an Indian undergraduate in 1952/53 would have even listed all these names as a reason to choose a Cambridge College, let aside been a master of their works.

The one person Amartya had plausibly read was his Master Dobb… Hahn, my doctoral supervisor at Cambridge 1976-1980, at one point, perhaps 1979 or 1980, said to me “Look I’m not advocating it in any way but I am advising you to look at the Marxian perspective too”… and I did… and it was good advice… I however did not read the work of Dobb which had “bowled over” Amartya Sen, and it is linked here now. Dobb died in 1976, and was I think associated with Jesus College at the time; due to his Communist Party membership, Dobb may have been pushed in and out of different Colleges, Pembroke, Jesus, Trinity among them. Harry Johnson immediately after the War found Dobb to be at Jesus College, not Trinity, where he was said to have become a Fellow in 1948; he also joined Sraffa in 1948 as an assistant in editing the works of Ricardo, and Sraffa had been a long-standing Fellow at Trinity College (and brought out of war-time internment as an “enemy alien” by Maynard Keynes himself)…

Amartya now claims he “knew a fair amount… about Russell, Whitehead, Moore and Wittgenstein” even before he got to Cambridge in 1953, whereas in 2006 he had told me, most plausibly and credibly, you know my philosophy was not an important thing at the time”. Amartya even claims (page 354) he knew as of 1953 about the Sraffa Wittgenstein conversations (which had ended years earlier) : “When I arrived in Trinity (sic) in 1953, not long after Wittgenstein’s death, I was aware that there had been something of a rift between the two friends”, Sraffa and Wittgenstein!

Fake news conversation 1953: Porters’ Lodge: “Good day Mr Sen, Sir, welcome to Trinity College! May we take your bags? And do you know, the discussions between Mr Sraffa and Dr Wittgenstein ended just after the War?” Young Amartya: “Yes, thank you for confirming that now that I have arrived at Trinity; I had surmised it to be so from Calcutta“.



The claim Professor Sen makes is that “by the time I met him”, Sraffa “had already helped to bring about one of the most critical developments in contemporary … Anglo-American philosophy, namely Ludwig Wittgenstein’s momentous rejection of his early position in his path-breaking book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the development instead of his later philosophy published in Philosophical Investigations” p. 351-352. Sen claims “between 1958 and 1963 we had long walks after lunch nearly every day”. “Was Sraffa thrilled by the impact that his ideas had on, arguably, the leading philosopher of our times? When I asked him that question more than once in our regular afternoon walks, he said no, he was not” (page 354).

These “regular afternoon walks” of Sraffa and Sen between 1958 and 1963 “after lunch nearly every day” presumably were only when both were in Cambridge, not one in Italy or America or Warsaw etc. A modest estimate, excluding times away from Cambridge, weekends, etc, would yield several hundred purported Sraffa Sen post-lunch conversations including most especially about Wittgenstein (nothing else is mentioned), yet Amartya Sen never mentions his Sraffa experience anywhere apparently until two decades after Sraffa’s 1983 death (and a dozen years after publication of my 1989 Philosophy of Economics which Arrow knew.)

Where is the Amartya Sen obituary notice of his friend and teacher Sraffa? Such an obituary would definitely have mentioned these hundreds of conversations with Sraffa especially about Wittgenstein if they in fact took place. For that matter, did Sraffa write copiously or even talk much to anyone else about Wittgenstein anywhere? Of course he did not.

I have said “I would be sincerely grateful if any of Harvard Professor Amartya Sen’s fans or pupils or friends was able to locate in this list of his works leading to the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics the slightest reference to any of the following: Wittgenstein Sraffa “Reason” “Dogmatism”“.

Professor Sen’s 1998 Nobel Prize Banquet Speech did resoundingly endorse “Reason” and deplore “Dogmatism”… just like my 1989 book Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry had done 😀 !!… as we have seen, Amartya acknowledged in 1987 having received my manuscript at Harvard from me at Manoa! There is no similar discussion by Professor Sen anywhere as far as I know before 1998 let alone before 1989 or 1987 which might have made him seem to be, as of 1998, the big critic of Dogmatism and the big backer of Reason that he seemed to be claiming to be in the 1998 speech! Of course I had pointed out in 2013 too:
“Can you see any reference in this 1997 survey to TW Schultz’s 1960 American Economic Association Presidential Address or to Schultz’s classic 1964 book Transforming Traditional Agriculture or to his 1979 Bank of Sweden Prize address?  I could not.   If one did not know better, one might have thought from Professor Sen’s 1997 survey that there was nothing done worth talking about on the subject of “human capital” from the time of Adam Smith and David Hume until Amartya Sen finally came to the subject himself.” 
So at least I am in the eminent company of my friend and benefactor Ted Schultz in having been evidently plagiarized by Amartya Sen!

Now Professor Sen says he spent the four years of his Prize Fellowship (1956-1960?) “to learn some serious philosophy”, after returning to Cambridge from Jadavpur which was in “Spring 1958” according to page 335 or in 1957 according to page 346; perhaps it was both and he had become a jet-setter or rather a frequent flyer on the Super Constellations of the time. (He had left for Jadavpur in “the summer of 1956”). Back at Cambridge, he attends “lectures on mathematical logic and recursive function theory”, and says he “hung around in philosophy seminars and discussions”. Also he “approached C D Broad, a fine philosopher at Trinity” for philosophical advice and tutoring. He does not apparently attend the lectures of the two Professors of Philosophy at Cambridge at the time, John Wisdom and Richard Braithwaite; in fact, he told me in 2006 that his interaction with John Wisdom amounted to Wisdom (a keen horse-lover) trying to get him to ride horses which he did not do. Braithwaite was a leading philosopher of science; I, driven by my Science S levels, attended an excellent seminar run by Mary Hesse that he attended too decades later; Amartya Sen did Physics not the Arts, he says, at Santiniketan yet apparently gives Braithwaite’s lectures a miss at Cambridge during his claimed philosophy education.

Professor Sen has newly claimed in 2021 that he as of 1953 “knew a fair amount… about Russell, Whitehead, Moore and Wittgenstein”, and he decided as of 1956/57 “to learn some serious philosophy” (“plunge into”?). Whitehead and Wittgenstein were dead, Russell may have been absent but Moore was receiving visitors for tea and philosophical talk until his final hospitalization! Broad was Moore’s successor and his editor, as well as being Amartya Sen’s philosophical guide according to Professor Sen himself; why did Broad not take him to tea with Moore? Perhaps because as a matter of fact rather than fantasy, contrary to his present claim in 2021, Professor Sen was not familiar with Moore’s or anyone else’s philosophy in the 1950s (except the Marxists) — as he said to me in 2006, “you know my philosophy was not an important thing at the time”! A narrative about Amartya Sen’s engagement with world philosophy via Sraffa or CD Broad in the late 1950s, early 1960s, while being busy too with Dobb’s Marxism, just does not cohere together plausibly… It is internally inconsistent, and reeks of self-contradiction and fabrication….

In 2013, Professor Sen allowed one Harvard alumnus to flatteringly describe him as having been all along really a “neoclassical economist” who also happens to be “the greatest living scholar of the original philosopher of the free market, Adam Smith”
Now as recently as June 3 2021, Professor Sen has permitted Christina Pazzanese of the Harvard Gazette to create further #FakeNews/disinformation about him, eg

— Tagore was “an associate of” Amartya’s maternal grandfather Kshitimohan Sen (not his employer?)!
— that Amartya Sen “(comes) from a long line of Hindu intellectuals and teachers”, “Teaching was in his blood”…

— that Amartya Sen “left a prestigious teaching job in India to return to Cambridge to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy”; “I was always interested in philosophy. I had studied on my own a certain amount of philosophy…. including philosophy of mathematics. I fully enjoyed doing them. But when the college suddenly said, “Now, for four years, you can do what you like. We’ll give you a salary,” I said, “This is a really good chance to do some philosophy systematically,” which I did”. Contrary to this Fake News and apparent delusion and self-deception in 2021, Amartya told me categorically in 2006 in response to my questions:

ROY: …The philosophers Renford Bambrough and John Wisdom would have been with you at Cambridge….
SEN: Wisdom I knew better; he was at my College; but you know my philosophy was not an important thing at the time. Among the philosophers there, it was C. D. Broad with whom I chatted more. But Wisdom I knew, and he mainly tried to encourage me to ride horses with him, which I didn’t.
ROY: You went to Cambridge in …
SEN: I went to Cambridge in 1953.
ROY: So Wittgenstein had just died…
SEN: Wittgenstein had died.
ROY: Only just in 1952 (sic; in fact he died in 1951.
SEN: But I knew a lot about the conversations between Wittgenstein and Sraffa because Sraffa was alive; I did a paper on that by the way.
ROY: Well that’s what I was going to ask, there is no trace of your work on Wittgenstein and the Wittgensteinians.
SEN: I don’t know why. My paper was published in the Journal of Economic Literature a couple of years ago. Now mind you it’s not a conclusion, just an interpretation, what was the role of Gramsci in the works of Sraffa and Wittgenstein, what is it that Sraffa actually did in intermediating between them.
ROY: In your book Identity and Violence, I was curious to find you call yourself a “dabbler” in Philosophy yet at the same time you are an eminent Professor of Philosophy at Harvard for decades. The question that arose was, were you being modest, and if so, truly or falsely?
SEN (laughs): I think if you make a statement which you suspect might have been made out of modesty and then I said it was because of modesty I think I would have eliminated the motivation for the statement as you identify it. I am not going to answer the question as to what I think.
ROY: But surely you are not a “dabbler” in Philosophy?
SEN: I am interested in Philosophy is what I meant, and whether I am a dabbler or whether I’ve succeeded in making some contribution is for others to judge. But not for me to judge.
ROY: Okay.
SEN: As for me, the right description is that I am a dabbler in Philosophy. But then that diagnostic is… mine, and I won’t go to war with others if someone disputes that. But it’s not for me to dispute it.
ROY: Would you, for example in reference to our discussion about Wittgenstein, say that you have contributed to Philosophy in and of itself regardless of Economics?
SEN: Most of my work on Philosophy has got nothing to do with Economics. It is primarily on Ethics, to some extent on Epistemology. And these are not “economic” subjects. I have never written on the “Philosophy of Economics” at all.
ROY: How about Ontology? I mean the question “What there is” would be…..
SEN: I am less concerned with Ontology or with Metaphysics than some people are. I respect the subject but I have not been involved.
ROY: You have not been involved?
SEN: Well, I have read a lot but I haven’t worked on it. I have worked on Ethics and Political Philosophy and I have worked on Epistemology and I have worked a little bit on Mathematical Logic. Those are the three main areas in which I have worked.
ROY: Why I say that is because, if the three main philosophical questions are summarised as “What is there?” (or “Who am I?”), “What is true?”, “What should I do?”, then the question “Who am I?” is very much a part of your concern with identity and a universal question generally, while “Is this true?” is relevant to Epistemology and “What should I do?” is obviously Ethics. Morton White summarised philosophy in those three questions. It seems to me you have in this book had to look at…
SEN: At all three of them.
ROY: Well, some Ontology at least….

Amartya has been just as he said in his 2006 book and talking with me, a dabbler in academic philosophy, and perhaps his association with John Rawls was enough to make him Professor of Philosophy at Harvard, it hardly matters. And yes he has, decades after Sraffa’s death, tried to put a Marxist spin on the later Wittgenstein by suggesting it was all really in the Italian Communist Gramsci, friend of Sraffa… But he has not been a backer of “individual liberty and freedom” as he claims…! There seems to be no significant evidence of any such through his apparent defence in the 1980s of Communist China’s forced one-child policy to his ignoring the fact one young man named Khemka was tossed into jail for being rude to the Communist Government of Bengal the same day he was feted by that Government for his 1998 Nobel! We will return to the Sraffa issue immediately after the next.

10. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory IV: Exactly what Subroto Roy, Renford Bambrough, John Wisdom (and Wittgenstein) have already done… for the kind information of Amartya Sen & Team Amartya

Just so absolutely no future confusion arises, and Professor Sen or Team Amartya suddenly do not think they remember his mental state in 1953 to have also contained all this that follows too, it may be best to outline what I’ve said (since 2017 or a bit earlier) that I and Bambrough and Wisdom have done, applying the later work of Wittgenstein.

Several lines descended from Wittgenstein through his several disciples, including Max Black whom I visited and talked extensively with at Cornell throughout the Fall of 1983, and whom I was privileged to count as a friend, an experience I have yet to write of. “But there is one disciple who stands apart from the rest; the work of Professor Wisdom is truly Wittgensteinian, yet at the same time original and independent…Wisdom carries Wittgenstein’s work further than he himself did, and faces its consequences more explicitly… Wisdom’s approach is much less esoteric than Wittgenstein’s, and his conclusions are perhaps easier to come to grips with.  We see in Wisdom something like a new application of Wittgenstein’s ideas; we recognize the same forms there, yet cast, as it were, in a new medium…” said David Pole in his 1958 book The later philosophy of Wittgenstein.

Wisdom in his obituary notice of Wittgenstein said if he was asked to say in one sentence what was the biggest contribution of Wittgenstein he would say it was asking the question “Can you play chess without the Queen?”  Wisdom’s disciple Bambrough in turn said if he was asked to say in one sentence what was the biggest contribution of Wisdom he would say it was Wisdom replying to such a question about Wittgenstein as he had done.  

I said in my 2004 public lecture at the University of Buckingham: “If I was asked to answer in one sentence what has been the combined contribution to human thought of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough, indeed of modern British philosophy as a whole, I would say it has been the proof that there are no unanswerable questions, that there is no question to which there is not a right answer.  By “common reasoning” I shall mean merely to refer to the structure of any conversation well-enough described by F R Leavis’s operators in literary criticism: “This is so, isn’t it?, Yes, but….”.  My “yes” to your “This is so, isn’t it?” indicates agreement with what you have said while my “but…” tells you I believe there may be something more to the matter, some further logical relation to be found, some further fact to be investigated or experiment carried out, some further reflection necessary and possible upon already known and agreed upon facts. It amounts to a new “This is so, isn’t it?” to which you may respond with your own, “Yes, but…”; and our argument would continue.  Another set of operators is: “You might as well say…”; “Exactly so”; “But this is different…” This was how Wisdom encapsulated the “case-by-case” method of argument that he pioneered and practiced. It requires intimate description of particular cases and marking of similarities and differences between them, yielding a powerful indefinitely productive method of objective reasoning, distinct from and logically prior to the usual methods of deduction and induction that exhaust the range of positivism.  We are able to see how common reasoning may proceed in practice in subtle fields like law, psychology, politics, ethics, aesthetics and theology, just as objectively as it does in natural science and mathematics. Wittgenstein had spoken of our “craving for generality” and our “contemptuous attitude towards the particular case”. Wisdom formalized the epistemological priority of particular over general saying: “Examples are the final food of thought. Principles and laws may serve us well. They can help us to bring to bear on what is now in question what is not now in question. They help us to connect one thing with another and another and another. But at the bar of reason, always the final appeal is to cases.” And “Argument must be heard”.  In all conflicts – whether within a given science, between different sciences, between sciences and religion, within a given religion, between different religions, between sciences and arts, within the arts, between religion and the arts, between quarreling nations, quarreling neighbours or quarreling spouses, whether in real relationships of actual life or hypothetical relationships of literature and drama – an approach of this kind tells us there is something further that may be said, some improvement that can be carried out, some further scope for investigation or experiment allowing discovery of new facts, some further reflection necessary or possible upon known facts. There are no conflicts that are necessarily irresoluble. Where the suicide-bombers and their powerful adversaries invite us to share their hasty and erroneous assumption that religious, political or economic cultures are becoming irreconcilable and doomed to be fights unto death, we may give to them instead John Wisdom’s “Argument must be heard….”

Bambrough, applying Wisdom applying Wittgenstein, and integrating all this with his deep classical scholarship and knowledge of Aristotle and Plato in particular, showed how objectivity and reasoning are possible in politics, in ethics, in theology, in aesthetics, in literature, as much or as little as in science or mathematics.  Bambrough’s  path-breaking works of general epistemology and ontology are four humble papers in  Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society “Universals and Family Resemblances”
https://www.jstor.org/stable/4544648 
Unanswerable Questions” https://www.jstor.org/stable/4106729?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

“Objectivity and Objects”

https://www.jstor.org/stable/4544817?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
“Thought, Word and Deed”
https://academic.oup.com/aristoteliansupp/article-abstract/54/1/105/1779886?redirectedFrom=PDF

I, applying all of this from Bambrough to the economic theory of Marshall, Keynes, Hicks, Hayek, Hahn, Friedman, Arrow and others showed in 1989 the same for economic policy and normative economics.  I have since then tentatively applied similar methods of reasoning to diplomacy, politics, psychology, religion, literature, and presently explore  physics.

What Wisdom did was far more astonishing, showing, among many other things, how the confluence of Freud and Wittgenstein could be found to help us comprehend all that seems so irrational: hopes & fears, dreams & the unconscious, psychoses & neuroses, everything said or done has an explanation, usually when there has been an adequate description.   Modes of reasoning are manifold, well beyond the deduction and statistical inference known to the positivist.  Then besides, there’s reflection about known facts too.  Really if you can make reasonable sense of dreams and the unconscious, of  the psychotic and the neurotic, as Wisdom did, the differences between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, between the West and Islam, between Einstein and Quantum Mechanics too become amenable…

11. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory V: Implications of my work for Economic Theory & Policy: Sidney Alexander, Karl Georg Zinn, TW Schultz and other assessments

Professor Sen has made much of his memory of purported discussions with Sraffa about Sraffa’s conversations with or memories of Wittgenstein, at least a decade after the Sraffa Wittgenstein conversations had ended, and about which Sraffa was said to have himself little memory. If Sraffa affected Wittgenstein with his Neapolitan gesture on a train as deeply as has been said by many, Sraffa probably did not remember or care very much and had many other things on his mind… Yes Wittgenstein’s famous preface lauded Sraffa’s contribution to his thinking, but as is known Philosophical Investigations was collated and published only in 1953, two years after his death, and it is mostly anticipated in his pre-World War II lectures — first in 1930-1933, recorded in copious notes taken by GE Moore, and now published, then in 1933-1937 in the student-notes known as The Blue and Brown Books and other recollections, eg that of John Wisdom in his Mind obituary notice in 1951. Professor Sen makes out as if the vast change in Wittgenstein’s thinking between his first published book and his second posthumously published book turned on the specific interaction with Sraffa, and the evidence for that is given by the great man himself in the Preface. Not so. Doubtless Sraffa and Wittgenstein were friends, and as the Ray Monk biography of the latter shows, Wittgenstein was deeply concerned about his nationality status and visa status after Hitler took Austria, and had relied on the advice and help of his friend. There was a quite natural gratitude in Wittgenstein for his friend’s advice, which may have also been on his mind in respect of the mention in the Preface.

Professor Sen’s implicit suggestion that he had a special vantage point at Trinity College thanks to his friendship with Sraffa (let aside his pre-knowledge as an undergraduate at Presidency even before he met Sraffa), to comprehend (the recently deceased) Wittgenstein’s work (then in the hands of his Literary Executors especially GEM Anscombe), does not hold water. Indeed how to see Wittgenstein’s later work itself may be helped by seeing a slight analogy there is between the later Tolstoy and later Wittgenstein.

FR Leavis reported in his masterly assessment of Anna Karenina, “The later Tolstoy…refused to see anything impressive in Anna Karenina. “What difficulty is there”, he said, “in writing how an officer fell in love with a married woman? There is no difficulty in it, and, above all, there is no good in it…” Analogously, there is some considerable evidence Wittgenstein did not like his own Tractatus very much even before he returned to Cambridge in 1929 (where it was submitted as and became his doctoral thesis, more than eight years after its first publication) and years before he started to give his Blue and Brown Book lectures in the 1930s which two decades later became his posthumous Philosophical Investigations. An author, especially an author of a work of genius, may see shortcomings in his/her own work which others, whether admirers or critics, have missed.

The evidence for this is Wittgenstein’s apparent disdain for the so-called Vienna Circle of scientists and philosophers who had taken most keenly to Tractatus as soon as it was published in 1921 and who apparently longed to acquire him as a leader. Wittgenstein kept them waiting for long, for five years!, and when he did meet them he apparently refused to discuss philosophy with them and instead read from the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore!

Amartya Sen, being a Tagore specialist and having been named as a baby by Tagore himself a few years later, would have known this story if he knew Wittgenstein’s work, or the work of Wittgenstein scholars; but he didn’t, because he doesn’t. No post-lunch conversation with Sraffa among the hundreds such apparently went:

“Sraffa: You know LW told me once he snubbed the Vienna Circle reading Tagore, the poet from your India, rather than discussing philosophy as they had wished…

Sen: That’s interesting. I was told by my mother that Tagore himself named me “Amartya” as a baby!”

And with this arrival at the Vienna Circle of exactly a century ago we also get to the point where the implications for Economic Theory start to become apparent of the work I applied in my 1989 Philosophy of Economics, i.e. the work of the later Wittgenstein, John Wisdom, Renford Bambrough. Namely, the Vienna Circle positivism which penetrated and since then dominated all of Economic Theory is firmly if quietly put to final rest...

I have myself arrived at a view that exactly three or four statements of the later Wittgenstein are necessary and sufficient for us in 2021 to grasp the core of his point of view in ontology, epistemology, ethics, ie his point of view in philosophy:
(1) & (2) … his deploring the “craving for generality” and our “contemptuous attitude towards the particular case”;
(3)… his 1944 statement to Malcolm: “What is the use of studying philosophy if all that does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?”
(4) his statement to John Wisdom when Wisdom said his talk with anot
her philosopher had not gone well:
“Perhaps you made the mistake of denying something that he asserted”…
and “Say what you like”

No, Wittgenstein is not asking we not deny 2+2=5…
Significance? Not that truth is absent or consistency not a value but that truth in any subtle complex discussion of diplomacy, statecraft, science, mathematics or family psychology emerges thru dialogue, or, better, dialectic… “Without contraries is no progression” (Blake).
My view is developed via those of John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough. I am, as an economist, economizing…🙂 “Keeping with my purpose of addressing extant problems in economic theory while using philosophy as discreetly as possibly”…

Sidney Alexander of MIT, teacher of Solow and contemporary of Samuelson, came to a similar point of view within Economic Theory years earlier not via the later Wittgenstein but via Dewey, pupil of Peirce, who also may have affected Wittgenstein via Ramsey. “Following Renford Bambrough … (Dr Roy) arrives at a position equivalent to that of the American pragmatists, especially Dewey, who insist that the problematic situation provides the starting point for the analysis of a problem even though there are no ultimate starting points. The methodological implication is the support of inquiry as fundamental, avoiding both scepticism and dogmatism” said Alexander in 1985…. He and I were pirate ships sinking permanently the positivist Armada in Economics, especially that in so-called “social choice theory” beloved of Amartya Sen. Hahn, and I think Arrow too through him, knew I was right.

to be continued….

Glimpses of Indian Politics (& World Events) Seen Via Some Statesman Editorials 2005-2008

I am not a journalist but came to be invited by the Editor of The Statesman, Ravindra Kumar, to be Contributing Editor between October 2005 and June 2008. Besides many signed op-ed articles and analyses that have been re-published elsewhere here, I also contributed to the team efforts of the paper’s daily editorial stance. Some of these have now been digitized by my new assistant librarians, and offer Glimpses of Indian Politics (& World Events) during that time, besides in some cases having a continued relevance…

Pakistan’s games 22 October 2005
A British Gandhi 31 October 2005
Whose Congress is it? 2 November 2005
Why Natwar must go 6 November 2005
French Revolution 10 November 2005
Bihar speaks 23 November 2005
No forex for Pakistan 23 November 2005
House-train them 28 November 2005
Party must end 8 December 2005
Not up to scratch 9 December 2005

Naushad’s eye 12 December 2005
Prevention is better 17 December 2005
Packer’s revolution 29 December 2005
India’s space science 31 December 2005
Congress & Gandhis 24 January 2006
Mysteries explained 26 January 2006
Was Gandhi Hindu?
Too old to bat 15 June 2006
Who are we? 22 June 2006
Advantage Lebanon 28 July 2006
Ministerial incompetence 10 August 2006

What Taliban? 8 September 2006
Iraq war deaths 12 September 2006

More to come… 2006, 2007, 2008….