Is “Cambridge Philosophy” dead, in Cambridge? Can it be resurrected, there? Case Study: Renford Bambrough (& Subroto Roy) preceded by decades Cheryl Misak’s thesis on Wittgenstein being linked with Peirce via Ramsey…

“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?”  Wittgenstein, letter to Malcolm, 1944

 

 

 

1.  In my current excursions into “Physics and Reasoning”, I stumbled some days ago upon Professor Cheryl Misak’s 2012 lecture at the Cambridge philosophy department about Ramsey having linked Peirce with Wittgenstein https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQuNWNjYcVY  also her 2014 lecture at London’s Royal Institute of Philosophy  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_Nxr3ZQxqA.  I note too Professor Misak has a 2016 book titled Cambridge Pragmatism whose contents are advertised by Oxford University Press as follows

Part I Cambridge, Massachusetts
1: Peirce
2: James
3: Bridges across the Atlantic
Part II Cambridge, England
4: The Anti-Pragmatism of Pre-War Cambridge
5: The Pull of Pragmatism on Russell
6: Ramsey
7: Wittgenstein: Post-Tractatus
Conclusion

I have not seen the book, I enjoyed her talks published at YouTube,  and I look forward to seeing results of her original archival work with Ramsey’s papers. 

Whether Wittgenstein’s later work was affected by Peirce more than a dozen years after Peirce’s death in 1914, and how it may have done so through Ramsey in particular, has been studied extensively if sporadically over years by Jaime Nubiola of the University of Navarre “Scholarship on the Relations Between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Charles S. Peirce” in I. Angelelli & M. Cerezo, eds., Proceedings of the III Symposium on History of Logic, Gruyter, Berlin, 1996; Mathieu Marion of Quebec University, “Wittgenstein, Ramsey and British Pragmatism” in European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy [Online], IV-2 | 2012, 24 December 2012; Albert Atkin of Sheffield University http://www.iep.utm.edu/peircebi/ and doubtless others. Professor Misak’s findings in Ramsey’s papers will add to existing scholarship that is already large. 

2.  What I found disconcerting even shocking, however, has to do with  her audience at the Cambridge philosophy department in 2012.  That audience, with its noted Professors in attendance and participating, was evidently clueless that two Cambridge people, namely Renford Bambrough, philosophy, and myself, economics, decades ago in the 1980s had described the link between Peirce and Wittgenstein via Ramsey.   If someone asserts at Cambridge today a claim of linking Peirce with Wittgenstein through Ramsey, one expects a Cambridge philosophy audience to be sufficiently informed to know Bambrough, in an extremely difficult achievement, had already done so in 1979.

Bambrough sent me, then in Blacksburg, the proof of his article reproduced below; a clearer copy of the published article may be found at

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-4975.1981.tb00439.x/abstract.

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My Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of  Reason in Economic Inquiry published in 1989 in Routledge’s International Library of Philosophy was 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.  Chapter 5 and Chapter 9 had long passages placing Peirce and Wittgenstein together in regard to doubt and certainty, and the use of mathematics. Keeping with my purpose of addressing extant problems in economic theory while using philosophy as discreetly as possibly, I noted Bambrough had established the link between Wittgenstein and Peirce via Ramsey:

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To repeat:

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3.  Now before its publication my book manuscript had been mostly under contract with University of Chicago Press, not Routledge.  About 1984 one of Chicago’s half a dozen reviewers hit me with a large surprise: my argument had been anticipated decades earlier in America by MIT’s Sidney Stuart Alexander!   I had no idea of this though I knew Alexander’s publications on other subjects the balance of payments.

Alexander, who was Paul Samuelson’s contemporary and Robert Solow’s teacher, was extremely gracious, read my manuscript and immediately declared with great generosity it was clear to him my arguments had been developed independently of his own.  Alexander had come at the problem from an American tradition of John Dewey, Peirce’s pupil, I had done so from Wittgenstein through John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough.  Alexander and I had arrived at similar conclusions but had done so completely independently!

Before we had met, Alexander wrote in support of my work:

“(This) is a very ambitious work directed at the foundations of normative judgments in economics. The author arrives at some conclusions very closely matching those I arrived at some years ago. It is clear, however, that Dr. Roy arrived at his conclusions completely independently. That is all the more piquant to me in that the philosophical underpinning of his work is the development of philosophy in England  from the later Wittgenstein, while mine derives principally from earlier work in the United States by the pragmatists and those who may loosely be called neo-pragmatists. A prominent Cambridge ethical philosopher of the early thirties referred to the United States as the place where moribund English philosophies were to be hailed as the latest thing. Now the most characteristically American philosophy seems to have arrived first by a wide margin at a position gaining wider acceptance in England as well as America.

Dr. Roy reveals a clear understanding of the methodological positivism that invaded economic policy analysis in the thirties and still dominates the literature of economics…. Following Renford Bambrough (Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge) he 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. Roy develops his position with a great deal of attention to the ramifications of the problem both in philosophy and in economics….”

When we did meet, as he drove me around MIT in his car, Alexander joked how it used to be bad form in his time to make comparisons about a trio of pairs: Cambridge vs Cambridge, baseball vs cricket, and “American English” vs (what is now called) “British English”!

I asked whom he had referred to as the “prominent Cambridge ethical philosopher”, he said C D Broad and decades later I found Broad’s condescending passage

“… all good fallacies go to America when they die, and rise again as the latest discoveries of the local professors…” Five Types of Ethical Theory 1930, p. 55.

No wonder Alexander found “piquant” that I had reached via Wittgenstein and Bambrough an equivalent position to his own decades earlier via American pragmatism. [Besides by Alexander, a most perspicacious review of my book is by Karl Georg Zinn  https://independentindian.com/2007/09/26/karl-georg-zinns-review-of-my-philosophy-of-economics/  https://independentindian.com/2009/04/22/apropos-philosophy-of-economics/.]

Within economics, Alexander and I were pirate ships blowing holes and permanently sinking the positivist Armada of “social choice theory” etc.  Amartya Sen arrived at Cambridge in 1953, the year Philosophical Investigations was published, two years after Wittgenstein’s death the year after Wittgenstein died. Professor Sen told me, in 2006, 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, Arrow graciously admitting when he read my book:

“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.”

 

4. Last week I wrote to Professor Misak at the University of Toronto:

“Dear Professor Misak, I do hope you accounted for Renford Bambrough’s 1979 linking of Peirce, Wittgenstein and Ramsey, here http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-4975.1981.tb00439.x/abstract

My 1989 book Philosophy of Economics applied both, and Sidney Alexander of MIT recognized it. Of course my book was viciously attacked in America.  Your U of T colleague (GBC) was an old friend from Cambridge days and knows all about me.  Cordially Suby Roy …”

I expected to hear back something like:  “Dear Dr Roy, Thanks for this.  Yes I have acknowledged your 1989 book in a footnote, though I was unable to locate the earlier Bambrough piece and will do so now.”  Instead Professor Misak replied

“Dear Suby, Some Americans don’t like anyone to have had thoughts similar to those of their heroes!  Thanks for these references. Cheryl”

Excuse me? “Some Americans don’t like anyone to have had thoughts similar to those of their heroes”?

I have had to take this to mean

“Subroto Roy (doubtless an American national, surely he isn’t still an Indian? Answer: He is) objects to Cheryl Misak having had ‘similar thoughts’ to his hero Bambrough”.

A puzzling response from an eminent Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.  I wrote back:  “Hello, I’m afraid your paragraph is too enigmatic for me”.  Professor Misak’s second reply was even more curious than the first:

“Apologies. I just meant that some Peirce scholars don’t like to think that Ramsey and Wittgenstein might have been promoting the same ideas. The reasoning behind their aversion is enigmatic to me! Cheers, Cheryl.”

I am afraid I do not accept such a completely irrelevant mention of “some Peirce scholars”.  If through negligence or some mishap,  Professor Misak, not having received the effort due to her during the peer review process from either her 2012 Cambridge philosophy department audience or her Oxford University Press referees, has failed to acknowledge in her book the prior work of Bambrough and others including myself it is necessary and sufficient a corrigendum be now inserted into the book giving references to these earlier works, that’s all.

 

5.  The case is evidence that while Cambridge obviously has a  fine department teaching academic philosophy, that could easily be mistaken for a fine department at an Australian or American university or even Oxford, the distinct product once known as “Cambridge Philosophy” in the line descending from Wittgenstein through John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough is quite dead there.   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…” (David Pole, The later philosophy of Wittgenstein, 1958).

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 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 two three 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 Frank Hahn 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 induction 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…

My praise of Wisdom and Bambrough in my 2004 public lecture was extravagant:  “For some 25 years I have been learning of and reflecting upon the work of two great modern British philosophers, John Wisdom (1904-1993) and Renford Bambrough (1926-1999). In the 1980s in America, I came to apply their thinking in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge 1989), a book which got me into a lot of trouble there. Returning to Britain in 2004, I am dismayed to find their work almost forgotten or unknown today, even at the Ancient University that had been their home. “Orientalists” from the West once used to comprehend and highlight the achievements of the East for the peoples of the East who were unaware of them; I am happy to return the favour by becoming an “Occidentalist” in highlighting a little of the work of two of Britain’s finest sons of which she has become unaware. Wisdom and Bambrough played a kind of modern-day Plato and Aristotle to the Socrates played by Wittgenstein (1889-1951); the knowledge they achieved in their lives and have left behind for us to use and apply to our own problems make them, in terms of Eastern philosophy, rather like the “Boddhisatvas” of Mahayana Buddhism. I do not expect anyone to share such an extravagant view, and will be more than satisfied if I am able to suggest that we can have a grasp of the nature and scope of human reasoning thanks to their work which may help resolve the most intractable and seemingly irreconcilable of all current international problems, namely the grave cultural conflicts made apparent since September 11, 2001….”

In 2007 I added:

“I had been attracted to Cambridge partly by its old reputation for philosophy, especially that of Wittgenstein. But I met no worthwhile philosophers there until a few months before I was to leave for the United States in 1980, when I chanced upon the work of Renford Bambrough. Hahn had challenged me with the question, “how are you so sure your value judgments promoting liberty blah-blah are better than those of Chenery and the development economists?” It was a question that led inevitably to ethics and its epistemology — when I chanced upon Bambrough’s work, and that of his philosophical master, John Wisdom, the immense expanse of metaphysics (or ontology) opened up as well. “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes, He star’d at the Pacific…” It has taken me more than a quarter century to traverse some of that expanse; when I returned to Britain in 2004 as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham, I was very kindly allowed to deliver a public lecture, “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, wherein I repaid a few of my debts to the forgotten work of Bambrough and Wisdom — whom I extravagantly compared with the Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism, also saying that the trio of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough were reminiscent of what Socrates, Plato and Aristotle might have been like.  I had written to Bambrough from within Cambridge expressing my delight at finding his works and saying these were immensely important to economics; he had invited me to his weekly discussion groups at St John’s College but I could not attend. Between 1979 and 1989 we corresponded while I worked in America on my application of his and Wisdom’s work to problems in economics. We met only once when I returned to Cambridge from Blacksburg for my doctoral viva voce examination in January 1982. Six years later in 1988 he said of my Philosophy of Economics, “The work is altogether well-written and admirably clear”, and on another occasion he said he was “extremely pleased” at the interest I had taken in his work. The original preface of Philosophy of Economics said he was not responsible for the use I had made of his writings, which I reiterated in the 2004 lecture. At our meeting, he offered to introduce me to Wisdom who had returned to Cambridge from Oregon but I was too scared and declined, something I have always regretted since. It is only in the last few years that I have begun to grasp the immensity of Wisdom’s achievement in comprehending, explaining and extending the work of both Wittgenstein and Freud. His famous “Virginia Lectures” of 1957 were finally published by his admirers with his consent as Proof and Explanation just before his death in 1993. As for Bambrough, I believe he may have been or become the single greatest philosopher since Aristotle; he told me in correspondence there was an unfinished manuscript Principia Metaphysica (the prospectus of which appeared in Philosophy 1964), which unfortunately his family and successors knew nothing about; the fact he died almost in obscurity and was soon forgotten by his University speaks more about the contemporary state of academic philosophy than about him.

Single-handedly I have over a few decades restored the philosophical work of John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough. That there was good reason to do so is now obvious.  

Will Cambridge Philosophy wish to revive “Cambridge Philosophy” within Cambridge?  

Well if so, here’s a reading list from this Indian economist… yes in India (get over those racist thoughts at once!):

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John Wisdom (1904-1993), Main Philosophical Works:

Interpretation and Analysis, 1931

Problems of Mind and Matter 1934

Other Minds, 1952

Philosophy & Psychoanalysis, 1953

Paradox & Discovery, 1965

Logical Constructions (1931-1933),1969

Proof and Explanation (The Virginia Lectures 1957), 1991

Secondary literature:

Wisdom: Twelve Essays, R. Bambrough (ed) 1974

Philosophy and Life: Essays on John Wisdom, I. Dilman (ed) 1984.

 

Renford Bambrough (1926-1999), Main Philosophical Works:

“Socratic Paradox”, Philosophical Quarterly, 1960

“Universals and Family Resemblances”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1960-61

“Plato’s Modern Friends and Enemies”, Philosophy 1962

The Philosophy of Aristotle, 1963

“Principia Metaphysica”, Philosophy 1964

New Essays on Plato and Aristotle (edited by R. Bambrough), 1965

“Unanswerable Questions”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplement 1966

Plato, Popper and Politics (edited by R. Bambrough), 1967

Reason, Truth and God 1969

“Foundations”, Analysis, 1970

“Objectivity and Objects”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1971-72

“How to Read Wittgenstein”, in Understanding Wittgenstein, Royal Institute of Philosophy 1972-3

“The Shape of Ignorance”, in Lewis (ed) Contemporary British Philosophy, 1976

Introduction & Notes to Plato’s Republic (Lindsay trans.), 1976

Conflict and the Scope of Reason, 1974; also in Ratio 1978

“Intuition and the Inexpressible” in Katz (ed) Mysticism & Philosophical Analysis, 1978

Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge, 1979

“Thought, Word and Deed”, Proceedings of Aristotelian Society Supplement 1980

“Peirce, Wittgenstein and Systematic Philosophy”, MidWest Studies in Philosophy, 1981

“The Scope of Reason: An Epistle to the Persians”, in Objectivity and Cultural Divergence, Royal Institute of Philosophy, 1984

“Principia Metaphysica: The Scope of Reason” also known as “The Roots of Reason”; a work and manuscript mentioned several times but now unknown.

Of course it’s more likely Cambridge Philosophy fails to move from its inertia, is uninterested in what I have outrageously called “Cambridge Philosophy”, and instead continues to provide the homogeneous, Americanized, philosophical product that is available in Australia, North America, Oxford etc.  

If so, People, not to worry…. enjoy all this “Cambridge Philosophy” at your leisure… and come to see me… in India…  

 

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[Postscript from Twitter 22 November 2017: I was still not in Kindergarten

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when Wisdom delivered his Virginia Lectures:

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published decades later in 1991 which I bought at a Bethesda bookshop in 1993…I had been to see Prof SF Barker at Johns Hopkins too. I regret I was too scared to meet Wisdom in 1982 when Bambrough suggested it. But yes for a few decades now I have single-handedly restored the work of Wisdom and Bambrough. My intellectual debt to Britain repaid with interest…]

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“I have a student called Suby Roy…”: Reflections on Frank Hahn (1925-2013), my master in economic theory

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1. “What was relatively weak at LSE was general economic theory. We were good at deriving the Best Linear Unbiased Estimator but left unsatisfied with our grasp of the theory of value that constituted the roots of our discipline. I managed a First and was admitted to Cambridge as a Research Student in 1976, where fortune had Frank Hahn choose me as a student. That at the outset was protection from the communist cabal that ran “development economics” with whom almost all the Indians ended up. I was wholly impecunious in my first year as a Research Student, and had to, for example, proof-read Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis for its second edition to receive 50 pounds sterling from Hahn which kept me going for a short time. My exposure to Hahn’s subtle, refined and depthless thought as an economist of the first rank led to fascination and wonderment, and I read and re-read his “On the notion of equilibrium in economics”, “On the foundations of monetary theory”, “Keynesian economics and general equilibrium theory” and other clear-headed attempts to integrate the theory of value with the theory of money — a project Wicksell and Marshall had (perhaps wisely) not attempted and Keynes, Hicks and Patinkin had failed at.

 

 

Hahn insisted a central question was to ask how money, which is intrinsically worthless, can have any value, why anyone should want to hold it. The practical relevance of this question is manifest. India today in 2007 has an inconvertible currency, vast and growing public debt financed by money-creation, and more than two dozen fiscally irresponsible State governments without money-creating powers. While pondering, over the last decade, whether India’s governance could be made more responsible if States were given money-creating powers, I have constantly had Hahn’s seemingly abstruse question from decades ago in mind, as to why anyone will want to hold State currencies in India, as to whether the equilibrium price of those monies would be positive. (Lerner in fact gave an answer in 1945 when he suggested that any money would have value if its issuer agreed to collect liabilities in it — as a State collects taxes – and that may be the simplest road that bridges the real/monetary divide.)

 

 

Though we were never personal friends and I did not ingratiate myself with Hahn as did many others, my respect for him only grew when I saw how he had protected my inchoate classical liberal arguments for India from the most vicious attacks that they were open to from the communists. My doctoral thesis, initially titled “A monetary theory for India”, had to be altered due to paucity of monetary data at the time, as well as the fact India’s problems of political economy and allocation of real resources were more pressing, and so the thesis became “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”. When no internal examiner could be found, the University of Cambridge, at Hahn’s insistence, showed its greatness by appointing two externals: C. J. Bliss at Oxford and T. W. Hutchison at Birmingham, former students of Hahn and Joan Robinson respectively. My thesis received the most rigorous and fairest imaginable evaluation from them…”

 

 

2. “Frank Hahn believed in throwing students in at the deep end — or so it seemed to me when, within weeks of my arrival at Cambridge as a 21 year old Research Student, he insisted I present my initial ideas on the foundations of monetary theory at his weekly seminar.

 

 

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I was petrified but somehow managed to give a half-decent lecture before a standing-room only audience in what used to be called the “Keynes Room” in the Cambridge Economics Department. (It helped that a few months earlier, as a final year undergraduate at the LSE, I had been required to give a lecture at ACL Day’s Seminar on international monetary economics. It is a practice I came to follow with my students in due course, as there may be no substitute in learning how to think while standing up.) I shall try to publish exactly what I said at my Hahn-seminar when I find the document; broadly, it had to do with the crucial problem Hahn had identified a dozen years earlier in Patinkin’s work by asking what was required for the price of money to be positive in a general equilibrium, i.e. why do people everywhere hold and use money when it is intrinsically worthless. Patinkin’s utility function had real money balances appearing along with other goods; Hahn’s “On Some Problems of Proving the Existence of an Equilibrium in a Monetary Economy” in Theory of Interest Rates (1965), was the decisive criticism of this, where he showed that Patinkin’s formulation could not ensure a non-zero price for money in equilibrium. Hence Patinkin’s was a model in which money might not be held and therefore failed a vital requirement of a monetary economy. The announcement of my seminar was scribbled by a young Cambridge lecturer named Oliver Hart, later a distinguished member of MIT and Harvard University.”

 

 

3.   Then there was Sraffa…I saw him many a time, in the Marshall Library… He would smile very broadly at me and without saying anything  indicate with his hand to invite me to his office.. I fled in some fear… It was very stupid of me of course… Joan Robinson cornered me once and took me into the office she shared with EAG… She came at me for an hour or so wishing to supervise me, I kept declining politely… saying I was with Frank Hahn and wished to work on money… “What does Frankie know about India?” she said… I said I did not know but he did know about monetary theory and that was what I needed for India;  I also said I did not think much about the Indian Marxists she had supervised… and mentioned a prominent name… she said about him, “Yes most of what he does can go straight into the dustbin”…

 

 

4.   “I had been attracted to Cambridge partly by its old reputation for philosophy, especially that of Wittgenstein. But I met no worthwhile philosophers there until a few months before I was to leave for the United States in 1980, when I chanced upon the work of Renford Bambrough. Hahn had challenged me with the question, “how are you so sure your value judgements promoting liberty blah-blah are better than those of Chenery and the development economists?” It was a question that led inevitably to ethics and its epistemology — when I chanced upon Bambrough’s work, and that of his philosophical master, John Wisdom, the immense expanse of metaphysics (or ontology) opened up as well. “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes, He star’d at the Pacific…””

 

 

5. “I went to Virginia because James M. Buchanan was there, and he, along with FA Hayek, were whom Hahn decided to write on my behalf. Hayek said he was too old to accept me but wrote me kind and generous letters praising and hence encouraging my inchoate liberal thoughts and arguments. Buchanan was welcoming and I learnt much from him and his colleagues about the realities of public finance and democratic politics, which I quickly applied in my work on India…” Hahn told me he did not know Buchanan but he did know Hayek well and that his wife Dorothy had been an original member of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947 or 1948. Hence I am amused reading a prominent NYU “American Austrian” say about Frank’s passing “I do think economics would have been better off if the Arrow-Debreu-Hahn approach had not been taken so seriously by the profession. I think it turned out to be an intellectual straight-jacket that prevented the discussion of valuable outside-the-box ideas”, and am tempted to paraphrase the closing lines of Tractatus — “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent/About what one can not speak, one must remain silent” — to read “Of that of which we are ignorant, we should at least try not to gas about…” Hahn and Hayek were friends, from when Hayek taught at the London School of Economics in Robbins’ seminar, and Hahn was Robbins’ doctoral student.

 

 

6. “The Hawaii project manuscript contained inter alia a memorandum by Milton Friedman done at the request of the Government of India in November 1955, which had been suppressed for 34 years until I published it in May 1989. Milton and Rose Friedman refer to this in their memoirs Two Lucky People (Chicago 1998). Peter Bauer had told me of the existence of Friedman’s document during my doctoral work at Cambridge under Frank Hahn in the late 1970s, as did N. Georgescu-Roegen in America. Those were years in which Brezhnev still ruled in the Kremlin, Gorbachev was yet to emerge, Indira Gandhi and her pro-Moscow advisers were ensconced in New Delhi, and not even the CIA had imagined the Berlin Wall would fall and the Cold War would be over within a decade. It was academic suicide at the time to argue in favour of classical liberal economics even in the West. As a 22-year-old Visiting Assistant Professor at the Delhi School of Economics in 1977, I was greeted with uproarious laughter of senior professors when I spoke of a possible free market in foreign exchange. Cambridge was a place where Indian economists went to study the exploitation of peasants in Indian agriculture before returning to their friends in the well-known bastions of such matters in Delhi and Calcutta. It was not a place where Indian (let alone Bengali) doctoral students in economics mentioned the unmentionable names of Hayek or Friedman or Buchanan, and insisted upon giving their works a hearing. My original doctoral topic in 1976 “A monetary theory for India” had to be altered not only due to paucity of monetary data at the time but because the problems of India’s political economy and allocation of resources in the real economy were far more pressing. The thesis that emerged in 1982 “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India” was a full frontal assault from the point of view of microeconomic theory on the “development planning” to which everyone routinely declared their fidelity, from New Delhi’s bureaucrats and Oxford’s “development” school to McNamara’s World Bank with its Indian staffers. Frank Hahn protected my inchoate liberal arguments for India; and when no internal examiner could be found, Cambridge showed its greatness by appointing two externals, Bliss at Oxford and Hutchison at Birmingham, both Cambridge men.”

 

 

7. “I have a student called Suby Roy…”  Frank sends me to America in 1980 to work with Jim Buchanan… One letter from him was all it took…

 

 

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And then five years later in 1985 he calls me “probably the outstanding young Hayekian”, says I had brought “a good knowledge of economics and of philosophy to bear on the literature on economic planning”, had “a good knowledge of economic theory” and that my “critique of Development Economics was powerful not only on methodological but also on economic theory grounds” — all that to me has been a special source of delight.

 

 

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We did not meet often after I left Cambridge but he wrote very kindly always, and finally said, hearing of my travails and troubles and adventures, “well you are having an interesting life…”…

 

 

In America, I once met Robert M Solow in a hotel elevator as we were on a  panel at a conference together; I  introduced myself as Hahn’s student… “Aren’t you lucky?” said Solow with a smile…and he was right… I was lucky…

 

 

I said of Milton Friedman that he had been “the greatest economist after John Maynard Keynes”;  Milton’s critic, Frank Hahn, may have been the greatest economic theorist of modern times.

 

 

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                                                                      Frank Hahn (1925-2013)

“Oh, Renford? He’s a genius!”: A post-War Cambridge story

“Oh, Renford? He’s a genius!” That is what the late Dharma Kumar (1928-2001) said to me in the summer of 1998 at her Delhi home in what would be our last meeting.

I was taken aback.  She and I had met after a long decade.  Discussing what I had been up to, I had mentioned my application of the work of Renford Bambrough to economic theory in my 1989 book Philosophy of Economics.

“Oh, Renford? He’s a genius!” —  Dharma repeated blandly, seeming surprised that I did not get it.

“Oh, Renford? He’s a genius!” — she said a third time more slowly, and then, seeing my uncomprehending stare,  explained to me that that was the common saying at Cambridge about the young Renford Bambrough back in the post-War years when she had herself arrived there as an undergraduate.

Now, finally, I got it.  “Oh, Renford? He’s a genius!”

In “Conflict and the Scope of Reason”, Renford Bambrough recounted that he had, around 1948, crossed the great Bertrand Russell himself at a meeting of the Labour Club.  Russell had made a proposal (which he apparently denied later ever having made) of preventive atomic war against the USSR.  Sooner or later there would be conflict between the USSR and the West, the argument went, on balance it would be worse  to live under pax Sovietica than pax Americana; therefore, Russell had argued, the West’s existing power should be used to ensure the Soviets never acquired the same.   At question-time, young Renford, aged 22, asked Russell why, from a purely philosophical point of view, it mattered  “if the human race did destroy itself rather than die of natural causes later”.  There was laughter among the audience, and then Russell said he had enormously liked the question, and wished he could “achieve the degree of detachment here displayed by one so young.  But I confess that I, for my part, have never been able to overcome my feelings of concern for the welfare of the species of which I am a member”.  Russell had misunderstood the question or deftly avoided it, but even so he had noticed in his young interlocutor the calm detachment that would mark all his later thought.

John Renford Bambrough was born on April 29 1926 and died on January 17th 1999.  I have written a little about him here and shall write more fully about him anon.

Subroto Roy

Alfred Marshall (1842-1924)

Alfred Marshall (1842-1924), founder of modern economics, master of Maynard Keynes, concluding his 1885 Inaugural Lecture: “It will be my most cherished ambition, my highest endeavour, to do what with my poor ability and my limited strength I may, to increase the numbers of those, whom Cambridge, the great mother of strong men, sends out into the world with cool heads but warm hearts, willing to give some at least of their best powers to grappling with the social suffering around them; resolved not to rest content till they have done what in them lies to discover how far it is possible to open up to all the material means of a refined and noble life”.