Critique of Amartya Sen

[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

Contents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory III: (A) Has Amartya plagiarized my work or is he about to do so? Introduction

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

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

to be continued

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 this month, he “knew well” these 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, whether trivial or incorrigible, in this book 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..”

Further, 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 now 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:

Now a person’s memories while awake, like his/her dreams while asleep, are purely subjective… until they get to be described by the person.

Once a memory or 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.

I.e., a person’s dreams are most definitely something purely subjective… until a moment the person starts to describe them whether to himself or others… if and when that happens, the hearer or reader of the description has to judge their authenticity (is that honestly what the dream was?) and their practical usefulness…

It is the same or analogous with the species of our thoughts we call memories… A person’s memories are definitely something purely subjective… But once the person starts to describe such memories to himself or to 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 (or rather Team Amartya Sen has published in his name?) is, if not fictitious, 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 famous secret speech — seems one such unlikely claim, wholly implausible… It is inevitable to ask the point of making such a claim; it cannot be merely a result of a publisher’s sloppy editing.

One problem with this volume is that there are numerous such situations, where, to put it most charitably, the adult grown-up Amartya has transposed his current mental state/wisdom/ knowledge/experience etc upon the boy Amartya or the youthful Amartya.

The result is definitely a modern publisher’s product under the brand name of a celebrity author. But it is not any genuine memoir or autobiography or account of history, at least in these places which are many.

There are numerous other problems as well with Amartya Sen’s memoirs, which we will identify one by one.

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

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 “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.

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” in “social choice theory” by Sukhamoy Chakravarty, his friend during undergraduate days at Presidency, as soon as it was first published in 1951. Amartya says he wanted to work on this 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?


If Amartya had been so very 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 K J Arrow”?

The answer is apparently “No” to all of this.

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

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 aged 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, and granted an audience only after Hitler had launched his attack on the USSR.

Bose in 1941/1942 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 apparently for a meal or drinks, apparently 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 has 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 (“or Netaji” i.e. Respected Leader) “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 the 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 (p 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)?

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 three or four 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!

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 school. Amartya has said as a baby he was named by Tagore. As it happens the Wikipedia entry of his first wife 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”; in case of Nabaneeta, “Gurudev, RadhaRanir meye hoyeche, apnar ashirbad chaichhe”… Tagore might have said “Omitar chhele ke Omorto naam dao”, “Naren RadhaRanir meyer naam Noboneeta dao”… 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 : 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.

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. 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 “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 had been 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 accepted 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 (viz., infra), 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.  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 (accepted in 1988 and published in 1989) on the back-burner.

(uploaded 16 Sep 2021)

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

In 2006 The Statesman was invited by the publisher of a new book by Amartya 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, our off the record chat preceding it will also appear in due course when it is relevant to the matter at hand of his new book:

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…

A Philosophical Conversation between Prof. Sen & Dr Roy | Independent Indian: Work & Life of Professor Subroto Roy ….

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

Even so Professor Sen’s Memoirs may be a rich are an interesting source of material , not least because 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, was apparently openly sympathetic to the new Communist China as well as Communist 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 “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, 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.”

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 us 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”.

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“?

A similar phenomenon seems also to take place in Amartya Sen’s 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).

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, 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 just left); as for Economics A by Amartya, this was said by his colleagues to be something of, shall we say, 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 about). This aside though, 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.

7. 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 “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 had “a decade earlier” anticipated all the USSR’s rot under Stalin and its inevitable exposure.

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 turned up at the Congress suddenly 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 himself felt he was “totally under-qualified”, as it was before he received his PhD degree. Two years earlier, Oskar Lange had apparently visited Cambridge specifically to meet, via Dobb and Sraffa, the young Amartya and discuss matters with him. But Amartya’s 1958 Warsaw visit via East Germany makes no mention of the Lange encounter, and was notable 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 16 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 “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? There was no Berlin Wall in 1958; did he make observations of the difference 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 😦 …

8. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory III: (A) Has Amartya plagiarized my work or is he about to do so? Introduction

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 absurd, 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.

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! 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 more than two decades after Sraffa’s 1983 death! 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.

Now too Amartya says he spent some of 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.

For several reasons, sSuch 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, upon inspection, just does not cohere together plausibly… It is internally inconsistent, and reeks of self-contradiction and fabrication…. We shall try to see why.

9. Wittgenstein & Economic Theory IV: (B) Has Amartya plagiarized my work or is he about to do so? 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 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 Wittgenstein had accomplished 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 Wisdom accomplished 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…

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

(NB: I have been tied up for some weeks with the Afghanistan issue, and return to this subject now.... 6 Sep, 16 Sep 2021)

Professor Sen has made much of his memories of 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 (in the early 1930s) that became the student-notes known as The Blue and Brown Books. Professor Sen makes out as if the vast change in Wittgenstein’s thinking between his first book and his second 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 to comprehend Wittgenstein’s work at Trinity College thanks to his friendship with Sraffa (let aside his pre-knowledge as an undergraduate at Presidency even before he met Sraffa) 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 early 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…

to be continued….