Professor Gordon was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He attended public schools there and obtained his bachelor's degree from Dalhousie University in 1944. He did his graduate work in economics at Columbia University and McGill University. At McGill, he was a lecturer in economics in 1947-1948 and then went to a new institution - Carleton College - that was being established in Ottawa. He organized an economics department at Carleton and was its chairman for six years. In 1966, he came to Indiana University as professor of Economics, and was the chairman of the department from 1970-1973. His appointment at Indiana was split, in 1983, between the Economics Department and the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science. In 1970, Professor Gordon was appointed to the faculty at Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario) to teach a summer course for graduate students in the history of economic theory. He continued to do this until 1996.
In recognition of his role in the establishment of an economics curriculum at Carleton (now Carleton University), a symposium in Professor Gordon's honor was held there in 1988 and published as a festschrift. At its Convocation in 1992, Carleton awarded him the honorary degree of Ll.D. His other honors include receipt of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1965, the presidencies of the Canadian Economics Association and the Western (U.S.) Economic Association in 1976-77, and appointment to give IU's Distinguished Faculty Research Lecture in 1990.
Professor Gordon's initial research centered on monetary theory and policy, and the economics of natural resource industries; a paper of his on the economic theory of common property resources such as sea fisheries was frequently reprinted since its publication in 1954.
Professor Gordon's scholarly interests gravitated, in the 1960s, towards the study of the history of economics and broadened to embrace the history of all of the social sciences, and the epistemological problems of social research. In 1990, his book on The History and Philosophy of Social Science was published by Routledge, and a book entitled Controlling the State: Constitutionalism from Ancient Athens to Today was published by Harvard University Press in 1999.