A memorable evening with Joan Robinson

25 Oct, 2017 at 22:32 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment

After dinner – by now I had had a couple of glasses – I decided I had to make something of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage with one of my heroes.  Joan … was in the armchair again, and I sat down on the floor facing her at her feet.  I began by asking her what it was like being a student at Cambridge back in the Twenties.  After recalling the lectures of the literary critic I. A. Richards, she moved on to Wittgenstein and Sraffa and their weekly one-on-one discussions over tea … Soon the whole room of economists was debating the meaning of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. And, bizarrely, something was about to happen that would change the course of my life.

Joan-Robinson-What-Are-The-Questions-And-Other-EssaysAs the debate continued it occurred to me that perhaps no one in the room had really read the Tractatus.  Joan Robinson stayed out of the debate and, although I was still sitting at her feet, I now had my back to her. Then suddenly from behind me her loud raspy voice broke into the conversation. Here are her exact words.

“The world is all that is the case.  The world is the totality of facts, not of things.  The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.  For the totality of facts determines what is the case, and also whatever is not the case.  Those are the first four propositions of the Tractatus.  I’ve never been able to understand them.”

It was a magic moment for me – the relaxed integrity of her intellect was so plain to see.  And such a contrast to the outcome of my conversation sixteen years before.  I wasn’t yet in a position where I could change my life’s course, but in time I was, and if it hadn’t been for that evening with Joan Robinson and the Tractatus I would never have become an economist.

Edward Fullbrook

1 Comment

  1. It seems that what Sargent and Krugman and their like find difficult to understand (or accept) is that what is important is not models, but the facts.

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