Amartya Sen's first volume of memoirs, Home in the World
October 1, 2021
I'm sure it will come as no surprise that Amartya Sen was my primary early influence in economics-and-ethics. His book On Ethics and Economics was tremendously influential to my thinking, and I always mention his discussion of commitment in his seminal "Rational Fools" paper whenever I discuss my own approach to Kantian economics. I have had only one point of contact with him, an encouraging message from him in 2000 (!) during my earliest venture in economics-and-ethics, but I hope to touch base with him again. (I have tried, to be sure!)
This week I became aware of the impending publication of Home in the World: A Memoir, covering the first thirty years of his life (1933-1963). As such, it covers "only" his formative years, but you can see in this review by Umang Poddar how his experiences in those first three decades, traveling widely and meeting prominent intellectuals from many fields, shaped much of his academic work and popular writing to follow.
Of particular interest to academics will be Sen's experience with graduate school, journal publication, and his first academic position, as he describes in an excerpt published several months ago. At the age of 22, he completed his dissertation for Cambridge after just one year, short of the required three. He secured permission to go to India for the remaining two years, where he was soon invited to launch and head a new economics department in Calcutta, designing the curriculum and teaching most of the classes at first (as many as 28 hours of teaching per week). He confirms what many of us working in education know: "I was learning so much from teaching that I felt convinced I could not really be sure of knowing a subject well until I had tried to teach it to others."
I'll finish this post with a quote from the excerpt that shows not only Sen's humility but also how things may have changed a bit since 1956 in academic publishing (although perhaps not for him!):
Thanks, Mark! I hadn't heard of this book, and look forward to reading it.
I totally agree about not knowing a subject until you have taught it. Although I've teaching for 40 years, I am still acquiring a more nuanced understanding of opportunity cost and the construction of the supply curve based on it. Careful attention to this provides great insights (I think) into the ethics of entrepreneurs and markets, and into the ethics of consumer and producer surpluses.
Posted by: Jonathan B. Wight | October 2, 2021 at 10:16 AM