Johnson, Alexander Bryan

Johnson, Alexander Bryan, 1786–1867, American philosopher and semanticist, b. Gosport, England. He immigrated (1801) to the United States and eventually became a wealthy banker in Utica, N.Y. Johnson anticipated many of the concerns of logical positivism and modern linguistic philosophy, but his views were ignored in his lifetime and were lost sight of for nearly a century. He held that a statement meant, for a speaker, whatever evidence he adduced or could adduce in its support: Language does not explain the world, rather the world explains language. He showed that many philosophical problems were the result of projecting distinctions of language onto nature, resulting in confusion. In addition to his philosophical works he wrote on politics, economics, and banking. His books included The Philosophy of Human Knowledge; or A Treatise on Language (1828), Religion in its Relation to Present Life (1841), The Philosophical Emperor (1841), and The Meaning of Words (1854).

See Centennial Conference on the Life and Works of Alexander Bryan Johnson, ed. by C. L. Todd and R. T. Blackwood (1969).

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