We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Hutchison, Terence Wilmot (1912–2007), philosopher and historian of economics, was born in Bournemouth on 13 August 1912, the son of Robert Langton Douglas (1864–1951), art historian, and Grace Hutchison (1870–1935). He was not aware of his father's identity until his teens. He was brought up as a Christian Scientist by his Australian mother (in his forties he was confirmed in the Church of England) and developed a lifelong interest in cricket, attending, at the age of fourteen, the entire Ashes test at the Oval, about which he was interviewed on Channel 4 almost eighty years later. He attended a preparatory school in Hampstead, Tonbridge School (1927–31), and Peterhouse, Cambridge (1931–4), where he started reading classics before switching to economics, in which he graduated with a first. He was tutored by Joan Robinson, and attended lectures by, among others, A. C. Pigou and J. M. Keynes (later rueing the loss, during the war, of his notes on the latter). In his final year he encountered Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy through two friends, to whom Wittgenstein was dictating his lectures.

After graduating Hutchison studied at the London School of Economics, as an occasional student, living with his mother in Golders Green. Having had his interest in philosophy aroused at Cambridge, he encountered Lionel Robbins and Friedrich Hayek at the London School of Economics, and attended lectures by Rudolf Carnap. He was one of the first economists to read Karl Popper's Logic der Forschung in 1934, and soon achieved his first publication in the Review of Economic Studies, the journal recently established by a group of young economists. During this time his political views were moving away from a socialism inspired by George Bernard Shaw, and he was repelled by the activities of the Marxists he encountered. However, he never swung as far as the free-market liberalism of Robbins and Hayek. He maintained his contacts with the London School of Economics during the 1930s, later recalling that a particularly important influence had been the philosopher Felix Kaufmann.

After his mother's death Hutchison decided to pursue his interest in the German methodological literature by working in Germany, and obtained a position of Lektor at the University of Bonn, where his duties were to deliver lectures that could be on any subject, so long as they were in good English. Intending to stay six months, he remained for three years, returning periodically to the London School of Economics. In Germany he met Loretta Hack (1910–1981), a philosophy student, and daughter of Wilhelm Hack, the socialist mayor of Traben-Trarbach and a vineyard owner. They married within three months of meeting, at Hendon register office on 23 December 1935, and had two daughters and a son. Hutchison continued to publish on methodology while in Bonn, his first book, and most important work on economic methodology, The Significance and Basic Postulates of Economic Theory, being published in 1937. Early in 1938 Kaufmann invited him to Vienna to help with some translation, but given the Anschluss it was fortunate that he did not go.

With an interest in the Middle East, Hutchison took a position at a teacher training college in Baghdad in 1938. There, during wartime, he responded to a lengthy critique of his book by the eminent Chicago economist Frank Knight, the exchange, in the Journal of Political Economy, publicizing his work. In 1941, with the advent of a pro-Nazi regime in Iraq, he and his family left for India, where he joined the Indian army as an intelligence officer, and served in India and the Middle East. He was lucky in being able to pursue his interest in cricket in Egypt.

Hutchison's British academic career started in 1946 with a one-year temporary lectureship at Hull, at the end of which he obtained a post at the London School of Economics, continuing his association with Robbins. He was promoted to a readership in 1951. This was when he turned to the history of economic thought, and wrote A Review of Economic Doctrines, 1870–1929 (1953). In 1956 he was appointed Mitsui professor of economics at the University of Birmingham, a post he held until his retirement in 1978. He continued to teach the history of economic thought until 1980. After the death of his first wife, in 1983 he married an American academic, Christine Donaldson (1917–2003), and subsequently divided his time between Birmingham and Connecticut.

During the post-war period Hutchison established himself as one of the leading writers on economic methodology and the history of economic thought. In methodology he held to many of the ideas in his first book, emphasizing the need for economic theories to be testable and relevant to policy. He was a controversialist, clearly enjoying the accusation in the New Statesman that his Economics and Economic Policy in Britain, 1946–1966 (1968) constituted ‘the publishing outrage of the year’ on the grounds that he held economists to account for what they said in the correspondence columns of The Times. Neither was he afraid of controversy in the history of economic thought. He held a lifelong antipathy to David Ricardo and those on the left who found inspiration in his work, and in Before Adam Smith: the Emergence of Political Economy, 1662–1776 (1985) he challenged the view that the eighteenth century was a fallow period in economic thought. He vigorously criticized the interpretation of history of his Cambridge teachers Joan Robinson and Maurice Dobb, linking this to their political stance.

Hutchison was at various points a visiting professor at universities in the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Germany. He was elected a distinguished fellow of the History of Economics Society in 1984, a fellow of the British Academy in 1992, and an honorary member of the European Society for the History of Economic Thought in 2003. He continued writing almost to the end of his life, publishing On the Methodology of Economics and the Formalist Revolution in 2000. At the age of ninety he was working on his final manuscript, a reflection on the ‘formative decade’ of the 1930s, published posthumously in 2009 as part of a special issue of the Journal of Economic Methodology examining his views on economic methodology. He died at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester, Hampshire, of heart failure on 5 October 2007 and was cremated at Basingstoke crematorium on 16 October. He was survived by his three children.

Roger Backhouse

Sources  

A. W. Coats, Methodological controversy in economics: historical essays in honor of T. W. Hutchison (1983) · K. Tribe, ed., Economic careers: economics and economists in Britain, 1930–1970 (1997), 126–39 · J. Hart, ‘A conversation with Terence Hutchison’, Journal of Economic Methodology, 9/3 (2002), 359–77 · The Independent (22 Oct 2007) · The Guardian (30 Nov 2007) · The Times (5 Dec 2007) · R. E. Backhouse, ‘Terence Hutchison’, New Palgrave dictionary of economics online (2008); www.dictionaryofeconomics.com/article?id=pde2008_H000190, accessed on 5 Aug 2010 · PBA, 161 (2009), 179–203 · D. W. Hands and others, ‘Symposium on Terence Hutchison and economic methodology’, Journal of Economic Methodology, 16/3 (2009), 287–350 · WW (2007) · personal knowledge (2011) · private information (2011) · m. cert. [1935] · d. cert.

Archives  

U. Birm. L.


Likenesses  

Elliott & Fry, quarter-plate glass negative, 1951, NPG · obituary photographs · photograph, repro. in PBA

Wealth at death  

£296,633: probate, 6 May 2008, CGPLA Eng. & Wales